Preaching is Like… An Uncomfortable Mattress

uncomfortable mattress


I’ve been putting some work towards a book on preaching and since I didn’t preach this last weekend, I thought that I would share a thumbnail of some of that content in place of the Monday afternoon “Something More from the Sermon” post.

The gist, the pitch to Preaching is Like… Speed-Dating- Preaching is easy and preaching is hard. Because of that tension, we as preachers struggle a bit to find our own voice while delivering a sermon. In the midst of this gap, we tend to try to mimic our favorite preachers. Some of us can do this well, at times, and in others… yeah, not so much. Leaving our people a bit worried for us and a bit uninspired.

So, I thought that I would put together some thoughts of how I’ve encountered the process of developing a talk and of being a preacher. Instead of presenting the sermon more formally (talking about outlines, theory, expository vs topical, blah blah blah) I am going to go at this topic from a via negativa, or using images, illustrations, indirect comparisons, etc., to talk about preaching. My hope is that someone reading it will, at some point in their experience with the book, “Oh, I get it now!” And from there, they can just have fun and be themselves when giving a talk, barely remembering where the shift in their thinking took place, a bit like inception, or something.

Aside: preaching is one of those things that is awkward to suggest that I love. But, I do love it. I love it so much that I might be like that guy who buys a fancy ski boat before I am an advanced skier. I know that I am more passionate about preaching than even my competence in preaching. Are you with me?

So, I believe that preaching is like an uncomfortable mattress. A mattress that is just comfortable enough to not give up trying to sleep on it and going to the couch, but not comfortable enough to get deep, restful sleep. In other words, have you ever been to a hotel that didn’t cost a lot of money and right before you booked the reservation you said, “It won’t be bad… It’ll just be one night.”

Huge mistake, right? (In my head right now, I see Jimmy Fallon impersonating Donald Trump and saying, “Huuuuuuge.” Anyone else?)

I find that when I am not completely comfortable while sleeping, I have the most bizarre, vivid dreams. I am a novice dream-rememberer, but when I don’t get the deep, coma-like sleep I remember them all.

In a similar way, preaching gathers people around the word of God in a place of comfort-yet-irritability.

Or, to quote a wiry, Baptist preacher I know (you probably have one in your life, too),

“Sermons are meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

But, the “dreams” we are meant to have during sermons are supposed to provoke, to challenge, and to spook, if I might add. As one protestant theologian has said, the Christian life is meant to give us the “right type of nightmares.” Much like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Those nightmares lead to deep transformation. At the appropriate time, sermons are supposed to say, “Dude, are you kidding me right now? Let’s get it together. You are above this…”

A practice that we see the good preachers of the Scripture text and those most helpful and influential within the corridor of our lovely history, especially in the teaching and preaching ministry of Jesus.

More next time.


Published by joeskillen

I'm a husband, dad of 2, Pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, KS.

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