What are You Thinking on Sunday?

cup.jpgYears ago, Charlotte and I decided to move to Abilene, Texas, where I would go to graduate school.  We could not, however, get the finances together for that.  So, we ended up in Dallas for about eight months while we worked and saved for the fall semester.

 

During that time, I began preaching for a small church outside of Dallas on Sundays.  I remember the first Sunday well.  We were walking from our car into the church building when a couple I had known for many years saw us.  The gentleman, about seventy years of age, said, "Let me encourage you to not speak real long.  The old people here don’t like long sermons."  I probably don’t have to tell you that it was this gentleman who didn’t like "long" messages.  That morning, I began speaking and he was asleep within moments.  As he slept during this sermon, his head was cocked to one side and his mouth was open.

 

In most Sunday assemblies with which I am familiar, there is generally some kind of sermon message, talk, each week.  (I know there are exceptions but I do think this is more often true than not.)

 

A few questions about these messages each week:

 

  • What would you like to see happen during this time? 
  • What drives you nuts? 
  • What causes you to really listen? 
  • When do you hear a message and then leave feeling very blessed?

 

I am not asking you to respond to each of these questions.  Maybe I am just thinking aloud.  I am interested in what you think about this.   Maybe you could respond to one of these questions.  

 

(I do realize this may be difficult for some.  Perhaps you are the person who is usually delivering the messages on Sunday.  Maybe you could think about your experiences in listening to other people.)

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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35 thoughts on “What are You Thinking on Sunday?

  1. What would I like to hear? An actual sermon! Being in a small church, I teach children’s church 7 to 8 months out of the year.  I really miss and envy people who get to be in church week to week and be fed there. 

  2. I am with Tracy.  It is a minor miracle when I can sit through an entire sermon.  That is why I love singing up front.  No distractions!
    I love when God uses you to talk to me about particular things I am struggling with.  I love that in any given sermon, many people can feel this way even when we have different struggles!
    It drives me crazy being in front of someone who talks really loudly during the sermon to her husband.  I get side tracked thinking of that rather than the sermon sometimes.
    This sounds strange, but I love getting to sit down next to my husband for an entire hour when we don’t have kid duty.  It’s a church date!  We always have a good talk afterwards.
    When I am able to sit an listen to an entire one of your sermons, I always leave feeling blessed.  There is always something I can take away that gives me encouragement, reminds me of things I need to work on, and/or feel so incredibly blessed to have such a powerful and merciful God.

  3. One thing that bothers me is when the I hear a story about the pator’s daughter/wife/mother, and it is the same exact story I’ve heard somewhere else about a daughter/wife/mother.  Like there is a book of illustrations that everyone uses as their own. 
    What I love is when the pastor is reading from the Bible, and it just resonates with me.  There is something different about hearing the word from reading it at home alone.   And our pastor usually leaves me with a few unanswered questions – which makes me want to get home and read that chapter and figure it out.  I love that feeling of being anxious to get home and crack my Bible open.
    And don’t get me wrong about the family stories, I do see the use for them.  I just would rather they aren’t passed off as true stories if they aren’t. 

  4. I appreciate sermons which focus on a particular passage of scripture rather than one which takes verses which are pieced together to make the points the minister is wanting to make.  I think the is called "expository" preaching?
    I appreciate sermons which challenge me to think about God in new and higher ways.
    I like sermons which look at Jesus’ life and His call to discipleship.  I like to be encouraged to live the kind of lifestyle that will result in transformation of character.
    I like sermons which connect with real life.  I always like the way you would start each sermon, Jim,  with a "story" of some kind – either from your own life or from something that is happening in the community or in the news. 
    I like the "so what" at the end of a sermon.  "So what" does this particular scripture or story or lesson mean for me in my life here and now?
    I like sermons which include recommendations of good books to read further on the subject that has been discussed.
    In short, I consider good, wholesome preaching to be one of the most valuable experiences in life.  I am eternally grateful for the excellent messages I’ve heard over the years from sincere godly men.  My life would be profoundly different if not for the influence these have had on me.  To any preachers who may be reading this, thank you for all you do each week to bring these messages to those of us sitting in the assembly.
     
     
     

  5. Jim,
     
    I would like to see a pastor speak as long as the Spirit is leading him to. I have sat under pastors who felt like they had to fill 45 minutes and spent 20 of it repeating a point already made. I have also heard a pastor cut a message short in which he was connecting with real life situations in people simply because his "time was up".
    I remember your post a while back about going to T.D. Jakes church. If praise and worship lasts an hour because it is spirit led, then so be it. The same goes for the preaching.
    I would like to see people come to church expecting to meet God face to face. It drives me nuts to see people sitting in the back or on the edges get up an leave near the end of the sermon every week to beat the crowd. They are the ones who usually leave before the invitation and miss seeing God change lives.

  6. My wife and I rarely hear anyone preach besides me unless we’re out of town or listening to an online sermon. It’s disappointing when the chruch we’re visiting on vacation does in-house business on Sunday morning instead of giving us a real sermon.
    I’ve conferred with her about this and we agree that preaching should be both biblical and relevant. We don’t care how well the preacher can memorize or whether he uses notes. It is the content that impresses us (although the delivery can be too monotone or lecture. We prefer a conversational tone). It should also be expository and not a chain of references to back up the preacher’s point. Scripture-in-context should be the preacher’s starting point. Then the text controls him and not the other way around.
    A sermon should connect with real life. It should be relevant to where we live and how we conduct our relationships. It should help us through work and marriage. The best illustrations are not canned "preacher stories" but stories from histroy, literature, the news, and life experience. As I prepare to preach I try to adhere to a kind of Golden Rule by preaching to others as I would want to be preached to.
         

  7. Most sermons have too much content. I don’t mind a guy who gets up and speaks for a long time — heck, I do that every Wednesday night. But it drives me crazy when they tell me the four most common objections to the Christian faith and three ways we can counter those objections and then five verses to remember that can be used to help us love the people in those conversations and finally two things to pray for before we have conversations with others. Now, I’ve got to remember 14 different things! Less is more, preachers! Less is more!  

  8. Being a preacher myself I rarely get to hear other preachers.  But I am really blessed when the expositor really interacts with the text rather than merely using it as a foil for his (or her) own agenda.  If that minister can stand in the gap, so to speak, and look like he or she is doing justice to and can show how it applies to me today … I feel blessed.
     
    One thing that drives me bonkers is listening to a preacher who has all kinds of information wrong.  I am not speaking of minor grammatical slips but information that just a few minutes with a good Bible dictionary could have erased or get information in an illustration awry.  This I find really distracting. 
    But I rarely criticise a preacher.  I love them to much …
    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  9. I find it more meaningful  when the events of the world are not ignored.  An obvious example would be when 9/11 happened.  Even if another sermon were planned or in the middle of a series, etc.  that event begged to be preached about – also, other not so obvious events.  I am eager to hear applications to our life today from the scripture.  I like series on the same book, text, etc.  It makes me want to hear next weeks lesson – The Rest of the Story so to speak. 
    That said I would like to suggest to Tracy’s church what  we do – have the sermon on tape or CD.  That helps me not feel so disconnected when on nusery duty.  Also, she should have some help.  I wish she didn’t have to be out of service so much!
    Carrie

  10. Jim,  What an interesting, provocative post.   One thing I quickly determine as soon as a preacher gets started is whether I think the preacher is prepared.  If I get the impression that the speaker has spent time with the text and with God, and has cared enough to prepare something good, then I sit up and listen.  I am also likely to listen to a sermon if and when a sermon actually begins.  So many preachers go on and on with the greetings and welcomes and hope-ya-come-back-n-see-us stuff.  Preachers, suprise us on occasion and start with a BANG.  Look to the prophets: "Thus says the Lord." 

  11. Thank you Carrie! I wish I had more help too! Fortunately Scott is able to post his sermons to his blog so I can download them there which is great.  Just not the same as sitting in church and being a part of it, ya know?  

  12. Tracy,I feel for you.  7-8 months out of the year is a long, long time for nursery work.  I wish you had more help–not just to hear a sermon but for the sake of sanity.  That must be difficult. 

  13. Elizabeth,A very good post!  A good reminder to all of us that God is working powerfully during these messages–often in very different ways for each of us.

  14. Wade,Thanks for these very good comments.  It is disappointing when on the very few occasions in which you get to hear a real sermon that is the "special" Sunday for taking care of some project in that church.  At the same time, I understand having to do some of that at our own church.I agree with you about being focused on the content.  The experience which that content creates can also be very important as well.

  15. R.C.You are so right.  Stories are very helpful but they should be told with integrity.  These stories should not be told as if they happened to the preacher unless they really did.I love what you said about preaching that leaves one anxious to "crack open the Bible" later.Thanks for this…

  16. Keith,Well said!  What you said about the time factor is so true.  Thanks very much.I too see people leave early most Sundays.  I want to be sympathetic to people who need to leave for very good reasons.  However, far too many people make a habit of it.  It is very distracting to come near the end of a message that is intended to challenge and to see two or three familes gather their things and shuffle out.  More than anything, I sense it is distracting to people around them.

  17. Connie,Thanks so much for your words.  I suspect that many who preach every Sunday find encouragent in what you said.Thanks so much.

  18. Frank,Thanks for this.  As one who has spent too much time on occasion going too long with the preliminaries, your words are an important reminder.  Thanks so much. 

  19. Bobby,Good point.  I too find myself more and more sympathetic with those who attempt to preach.  However, as you said so well, a few minutes checking out thought or fact in a Bible Dictionary (or other resource work) can keep a person from really distracting those who are listening who know what they are hearing is not correct.Good thoughts. 

  20. John Alan,This one took me a long time to learn.  My wife commented to me once (after I had asked for her input regardng a particular sermon) that each one of those "points" could have been a sermon.Yep.  She was right.   Thanks so much! 

  21. The comments on sermon length or other characteristics of the speaking themselves causes me concern because of where our focus seems to be.  It’s tough for me to think that people who are serious about being Christ’s disciples can be concerned about how long the message goes.  I love to see people that are worshiping and serving each other through the Spirit.

  22. I always feel extremely blessed by a message that seems aimed at my own sins.  Where some people I know are offended by this type of ‘conviction’, I feel God’s hand guiding me back to His path. Sermons that illustrate through both scripture and anecdote usually have a greater chance of having that type of affect on me.
      This probably doesn’t help you much. 

  23. I echo John Alan Turner here. "Less is more!" In hearing others, and looking at my own preaching and teaching, I think I’m learning to do this better.
    I either heard Scot McKnight say, or I read it- that over at Paraclete Press they want him to say just one thing per chapter. And I think he mentioned words to the effect that this was challenging to him, or at least different for him (I believe).
    I think much detail, like in Scripture, can be involved, but one thing or theme, or a very few, coming to the fore.
    Also it is better to be too short than too long. Leave with the hearers or participants wanting more, not wanting it to end.

  24. I think it’s good when a sermon doesn’t try to answer all the questions, but leaves me wanting to search, discovery, converse on my own.  I need to be challenged to apply truths to my own life…to LIVE as if I actually believe the stories/truths of the Bible.  I want to go to lunch and feel the need to discuss some of the things just taught.  I want to be challenged to place myself within the context of Biblical story….and begin to think about what that looks like on a day-to-day basis.
     

  25. Brad,You make a good point.  That same point presents another reality that we deal with in these assemblies.  Very often various people come with a variety of expectations and desires for those asemblies (and whatever speaking/teaching goes on within those asemblies).  As a result, the focus is not in one direction (Christ) but seems to be in a variety of directions.Thanks for a good comment. 

  26. Shannon,Actually your comment is helpful.  It is a reminder to me that God often uses messages to point us in the right direction again.  Sometimes, as you suggestion, he uses these messages to make obvious to us where we have moved away from what he has called us to be.

  27. Ted,Very good comment!  This has been very difficult for me.  But–you are correct and it is very important.  I have found particularly helpful, the practice of trying to have one point.  I have found that a message can have so much information that the heart and soul of what I need to say just gets lost.Thanks, 

  28. Pam,Thanks for this comment.  It is helpful just to hear you express these desires.  Thanks very much!  This is helpful.

  29. I guess I am probably too sensitive to this, but I love it when a preacher goes the extra mile to place a sermon, or sermon series, into a comprehensive biblical context. I understand that practical application is important; if we know God’s Word, but are not transformed by it we might as well be reading a history book. But, more than application, I enjoy the preacher who helps me understand how a specific passage works in concert with the whole of God’s revealed Word. I find it helps fine tune a biblical world view.   I really like this blog, Jim. Just came upon it recently. I’ll be back! 

  30. Hi Andy,So glad you came by.I recall one of the first times that I heard a preacher do exactly what you are talking about.  I am thinking about one of the first times I heard a preacher put a story in a larger framework biblically.  I recall that it was very helpful.Years later, I probably have more of an appreciation for the kind of work it takes to do that.  Yet, I do think it is helpful from time to time.

  31. I was just thinking Sunday while I was listening to your sermon that you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium.  That’s how engrossed everyone seemed to be.  Especially my husband and myself.  I like the way you pause after a major point or scripture so it can really sink in for us.  And relating scripture to everyday life is a big help. 

  32. Sometimes I wonder whether people are really listening, whether preaching really matters.  These comments make it obvious they are, and it does – when sincere effort is put into it!  It makes me want to work that much harder.  Thanks, Jim, and thanks to everyone who commented.  You have no idea how motivating this is.

  33. Jim, experience has shown me that many preachers truly want to communicate truth and to be persuasive to some end. As for me, I respond to sermons that address matters that I am currently dealing with in my life or sermons that address questions that I have struggled with but haven’t developed a reasonable conclusion about. I doubt that any preacher is good enough to keep everybody thoroughly enthralled with every sermon. Preachers are human and have bad days in the pulpit and sometimes are trying to preach about a subject that hasn’t completely gelled yet. However, communicating the Word is the important thing regardless of scripture text or topic and that is what is most important to me and what I listen to.
    What drives me nuts is when a preacher uses the pulpit to focus on himself instead of Jesus.

    • Good points. After preaching for many years, I have the greatest respect for preachers who preach week after week and work much, much harder than most people realize.