The Biggest Differences in Sermons and Delivery in the Past 20 Years
- Tuesday, March 20, 2012
I'm betting you don't preach like Jesus.
Jesus stood up to read His text, then sat down to preach (Luke 4:16,20).
When I preach, I stand up to read and remain standing for the sermon.
Some say that in New Testament days, the congregation stood while the preacher sat.
Sermons change and how sermons are delivered is constantly evolving.
The pulpit, we're told, which had been around since the days of Greek orators, came into its own during the Reformation when leaders wanted to establish the centrality of preaching over the serving of the Eucharist. So, reformers tore out the altars and set up the pulpits.
These days, pulpits are harder and harder to find. No wonder preachers wear sneakers: instead of stationing themselves behind the 'sacred desk," most log a mile or more walking around the platform as they preach.
Recently, while in another state visiting relatives, I worshiped with a nearby church that was pastorless. The interim minister, now almost 80 years old, was well known as a gracious gentleman, a godly leader, and an effective preacher.
His sermon that morning lived up to the billing: it was biblical, well-developed, effectively presented, and well-received by the congregation made up primarily of longtime members.
The sermon was straight out of 1959.
The preacher was immaculately turned out in a sharp suit and expensive tie, he stood behind an ornate pulpit, he wore no microphone at all, and he never strayed. There were no screens, no choruses, no drama, nothing surprising. The sermon had no contemporary illustrations; every allusion was to biblical stories and texts; there was nothing personal or current in its content or presentation.
In fact, that sermon could be moved to 1959 (the year I was baptized as a college student and began paying attention to sermons) without a single tweak.
I told my wife later, "It was a great sermon except for one thing: it never touched the ground."
That is, it did not connect with anyone other than mature believers who are already highly motivated to appreciate Scripture and dig into its riches.
Sermons and sermon delivery have always been fluid, changing and adapting to trends and needs, to doctrinal ebbs and denominational flows.
As one who began preaching in 1961 and pastoring the first of six churches the following year-and who is still at it, let me hasten to add-I have seen many changes in pulpit ministry. After polling a number of friends of all ages and experience, here are five visible changes in sermons and sermon delivery we have observed over the past two decades.
1) MORE VISUAL
On the giant screens behind the choir -- which, following the sermon, has gone down into the congregation, another innovation from the last 20 years -- the audience can see points from the pastor's message. Often his scripture is projected on the screen, and frequently the sermon is introduced by a short film clip. Some of these clips are professionally produced for this purpose, while others may be excerpts from a movie and a television show.
The pastor may interrupt his sermon to present an audience member who walks up and performs a monologue or shares an experience. Recently, in our church, the pastor brought up two deacons to relate in a conversation how one led the other to the Lord some years back.
Posters and banners around the worship center carry out the theme of today's sermon or the title of the sermon series.
2) MORE CASUAL
Fifteen years ago, I introduced a rare phenomenon into the church I was serving. During August, I would wear no tie at all..on Sunday nights. The rest of the year, every man in a leadership position in our church was fully decked out in suit and tie every Sunday.
These days, in the same church and with a congregation numbering several hundred, a half-dozen men may wear suits and ties. But the pastor and staff wear comfortable casual clothes -- khakis, pullovers, slip-ons and even sneakers. And the congregation is fine by that.
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