Our Commitment to the Sermon Series

scripture

Today I read an article by author and pastor, Mandy Smith. She’s the author of The Vulnerable Pastor. Her book is stirring and so was this article. It’s entitled, “Kicking the Sermon Series Habit.”

It begins with these words:

For years I’ve raved to my associate pastors about how much I love liturgy, romanticizing my days attending an Anglican church in England. We’ve incorporated more traditional prayers, songs, and readings into our contemporary service, but then they took the whole liturgy thing a little further than I’d intended: “What if we did away with sermon series and let our sermons be led by the lectionary?”

This sounds a similar path that I’ve been traveling on. This article of mine touches on it.

As Smith acknowledges, sermon series aren’t bad. I don’t think they have to be abandoned full out. But her reflections here do challenge the evangelical church.

This idea of preaching from the lectionary really stretched my love for all things liturgical. Was it worth changing my whole approach to preaching? I eventually had to confess my discomfort: How can I promote the things I think God is saying if I have to preach from the readings dictated by the lectionary? Creating our own sermon series gives me control over what I teach our people and when.

So I had to ask myself: Do I not trust that the Word can lead us? Do I not trust that if the Spirit wants to direct our preaching it can do so even with a limited selection of passages? If I let my preaching be led by readings I haven’t chosen, might I have to be more open to the transforming work of God?

Why do we do sermon series, in general? I think Mandy Smith hits the nail on the head with these words:

We often feel we have to entice folks with pop culture-themed sermon series to get them in the pews. Which can feel like a bait and switch. And it can communicate, “We actually think Scripture is unpalatable and irrelevant so we have to trick you into giving your attention to it.”

Perhaps we are too focused on getting people in the doors rather than focusing on those things central to the church historic – the full counsel of the Word proclaimed rather than our favorite passages, feasting at the table of the Lord regularly rather than occasionally, songs sung unto God regardless of our pedal boards and blue light canisters hanging from the ceiling, authentically deep connections with people beyond our “greeting time” that follows announcements.

Back to the proclamation of the Word. In contradistinction from the church growth measures we still cling to, Smith offers her own testimony:

But the more I have forced myself to bring the questions of Scripture to the world, the more I’ve watched its power. It’s painful at first because Scripture feels so distant, so old, so obscure. How could its world of sheep and tares have anything to say to our world of traffic and apps? But when we, as preachers, submit ourselves to the questions Scripture wants to ask of our lives, we begin to see how very revolutionary this Word is, how the Spirit of the living God can somehow take these ancient stories and make them walk around in our world. If we’re willing to set aside the questions the world is asking long enough to discern the questions the word is asking, we may find ourselves returning to the world’s questions with new imaginations.

I’m actually convinced the church will draw more and more to the historic, ancient practices of the church as we move forward. But not that polished number growth stats may be charted to wow elder boards, congregants and outsiders. That won’t be on our radar. The church going forward – in a postmodern, post-Christian context – will simply long for something a little more authentic, a little more raw, a little more rooted in the story that’s been unfolding for quite some time.

Here’s to the whole of Scripture, God’s word entrusted to his people.

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