Homiletical Reflections: Brutally Honest Observations About the 10 Types of Sermons (Part I)
Broadly speaking, my experience in an array of churches is that American preachers pretty well stick to 1, or perhaps some combination of 2, of 10 major categories in their homiletical approaches. They are:
- Entertainment. Ranging from the comedian to the whooper, the intention is clearly to have the people leave feeling like they had such a good time that their tithe can double as recreation in the monthly budget since it basically paid admission to a family-friendly show.
- Meditation. This group, which is unusually recognizable by their widespread affinity for St. Francis of Assisi, prefers homilies to sermons and usually offers some sort of pious reflection exhibiting a sort of devotional quality toward things that were probably written in their private journal.
- Inspiration. Motivational speakers with dramatic flair and a nice suit whose goal is to pump you up on some sort of church camp-like high in order to love Jesus and defeat the devil in the upcoming week; they’re like cheerleaders at the assembly before the homecoming game.
- Conversation. Typically the sort of person who professes to “hate religion but love Jesus,” so they try to mask this overt oratory ritualism by walking down among the congregation, asking people questions, using everyday language, and all sorts of other subtle gimmicks.
- Rambler. This is usually the pastor who didn’t do his prep work or the poor layman who’s filling in last minute, but either way he or she walks up to the pulpit and tries to alleviate internal worry by saying, “I guess I don’t have much to say” before offering almost incoherent improvisation for at least an hour about whatever spiritual thing comes to mind.
- Scholarship. Academics, often of the absent-minded professor ilk, who’ve failed to realize or don’t care that they’re no longer in their ivory towers, so there’s little discernible difference between their sermons and what they’d present at a theological conference.
- Seminarian. The student or recent graduate who must go by the book, so he or she not only gives you the precise title of their talking points for those taking notes but actually enumerates the whole thing with comments like “Roman numeral II is…”
- Business. The ecclesiastical CEO’s sermons are, for all intents and purposes, baptized corporate presentations complete with Powerpoints, data conveniently laid out in charts, easy-to-remember acronyms, feel good video clips, and the all-important mission statement.
- Rally. Preachers who come across like politicians in both content and style, which usually features phrases like “Is he the Lord over all your life?” instead of “Do you believe in a future for the America we know and love?” and offers a sort of interactive dynamic where the people are expected to holler back “Yes!” or “No!” to rhetorically triumphalist questions.
- Debate. Usually these are pseudo-intellectuals who feign accurate representation of other groups like atheists, Muslims, socialists, or Catholics, then, to the people’s self-congratulating delight, proceeds to logically rip apart these straw man arguments before offering oversimplistic assurance of their own view’s trustworthiness and alignment with Scripture.
I’m gonna be honest with ya. About 97.3% of this country’s preachers continuously make my mind alternate back and forth between ‘You’re killin’ me, Smalls!” and ‘For the love of all that is good and holy, when is this going to end?’ Now, don’t get me wrong. Most of these dudes (and a few dudettes) are good folks with whom I’d enjoy striking up a conversation. It’s their homiletics that are awful. Unfortunately, they’re simply a) content with their particular model, b) are like a fish swimming in water in that they aren’t self-aware enough to consider an alternative, or c) aren’t rogue enough to challenge the people’s cultural expectations for what a sermon should be, which in turn may put him or her in financial jeopardy.
This is why I get so frustrated when I tell people I, as a future pastor, am passionate about exegetical sermons. Even when I ask them to please think outside the bun, they almost always unconsciously import all sorts of assumptions about what must I mean by that. They presume what they’ve experienced rather than challenging their schema. For example, even my friends think I:
- Intend to preach for 60+ minutes rather than 15-20ish.
- Will strangely revert to being a fundamentalist biblicist who constantly proof-texts Scripture, i.e. rampant eisegesis, to justify his assorted views on politics, economics, child rearing, the superiority of my own (Anglican) tradition, and whatever else rather than a guy who doesn’t thrown Scripture around lightly and whose stubborn certitude on contested matters has been beaten out of him through repetitious correction.
- Am suddenly going to undergo metamorphosis and emerge as an intellectual hardass devoid of humor who waxes poetically about Greek participles rather than the dude who communicates exactly the same on my blog as I do in person.
- Buy into the cult of the pastorate where a local body lives or dies depending upon whether this guy is a charismatic communicator rather than a guy who passionately holds that the ordained ministers are merely the first among equals in servanthood.
I often think, ‘What in tarnation causes you to think I’d do that? It’s the exact opposite of everything you know about me.’ *slowly rubbing temples*
Whether this holds psychological, pedagogical, or neurological water I couldn’t begin to tell you, but my experience tells me that the best way to break a person’s schema is through negation. That is, you describe what a thing is not instead of focusing your attention on what it is. Then, having cleared away the conceptual baggage, you can start to either start anew or discerningly glean the positive elements without throwing the baby out with the bath water. And that, my friends, is the purpose of this post.
See those 10 sermon types above? I can’t stand them. Right here and now I pledge to avoid them like the plague when I preach.