I’ve been writing about the question of “keeping the cookies on the lower shelf” in Sunday morning sermons. Here are some ways you (as pastor) or your church can raise the level of discussion, and build discipleship of the mind, without leaving any listeners behind. These are just seed thoughts; I’m sure the entire list of possible ways could number 900 or 9000.
- Ask during sermon prep, “Who might have a problem with this message I’m preaching? What might they consider hard about it — hard to believe, hard to accept, hard to live?” State that problem in your sermon, then give a good answer! Timothy Keller’s sermons are masterful examples. Recognize that he adapted his message to his Manhattan congregation; you’ll want to adjust yours to your own. You needn’t quote every author he quotes. Wherever you are, though, you can still ask the problem question and give an answer.
- Include a “For further thought” question list in the bulletin. Make the questions meaty. Encourage Sunday school classes to work through the questions. Even an after-church restaurant group could grab one of the questions for part of their conversation.
- Teach something everyone can understand but few already know. Show a map of Jesus’ walking travels. Tell something about how fishermen worked in the Sea of Galilee. Explain why Paul felt such a need to take a strong tone with the Galatians and the Corinthians.
- Use Lydia McGrew’s Hidden in Plain View to spice up your teaching. You’ll be blown away when you discover how amazingly interesting it is, how new it is to almost everyone — and how easy it is to teach.
- Teach paradoxes. For example: How could John the Baptist be such an incredible model of humility, and still tell people he was the fulfillment of the great Isaiah 40 prophecy? Was that humble, too? (I’ll never forget the lesson I learned when I asked that question.)
- Consider teaching more challenging sermons once in a while. You know you can’t meet everyone’s needs in a sermon, so perhaps you’ve been meeting the needs of those who want a less challenging message all this time. But maybe two to three times a year you can devote a Sunday to aiming higher.
- Prepare two sermons. If a church can have a traditional and a contemporary service, why can’t it have an introductory sermon and a more advanced one, in two different services?
- Think outside the sermon box — and outside yourself, too. Open up other opportunities, elsewhere in your church’s calendar and teaching schedule, for other teachers to go deeper. But don’t leave them out in the cold! Support their ministry. Talk those teachings up during your sermon once in a while.
- Take the big risk! (I’ve said this “has the potential to get a pastor fired for following Jesus’ example.”) Do what Jesus did, and leave some big questions unanswered at the end of your sermon. Then (as Jesus also did, see Matthew 13), offer a follow-up session for the really interested disciples to come find out more.
Those are my first 9 ideas. Got any others?
You’ve noticed these are all directed toward pastors. Lay person, if you think your pastor needs to hear this, he very well might. Feel free to share it — but do it with love and patience, as someone who’s on his side, remembering that he’s got his hands full already. (Pastor, if someone comes blasting you with this, let me know. I’ll post their names publicly on a wall of shame here! 🙂 )
Image Credit(s): Tom Gilson.