What do you want from a sermon?

What do you want from a sermon?

Christian Research has recently published a report on what people look for from a sermon?  Some of their key findings include:

Most Christians still believe sermons are important, but wish vicars would stop trying to be funny. In a survey launched by Resonate on 21st April, only 1.6% said they saw humour to be the most important element in a sermon. Men in particular said they felt Biblical exposition to be the most important aspect in a sermon, at 49%, with women at 39%. Sermons containing more practical application elements were seen more favourably by women, at 44% versus 36% for men. When asked if they felt sermons on the whole were outdated, 88% of the respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed.



Tim Keller Answers: How Much Prep Time for a Sermon?

Tim Keller Answers: How Much Prep Time for a Sermon?

Scot McKnight shares the following email correspondence between Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, and David George Moore. Dave blogs at www.twocities.org

Dear Tim,

I have read several of your books and benefited greatly from each one.  I am also grateful for your willingness to do the Patheos/Jesus Creed interview with me.  Hyperbole and lack of nuance (not two things many associate with you) can be taken literally when the person communicating is well regarded.  I’m afraid that may be the case with the following.  In several places I have seen various iterations of your remarks when it comes to young preachers.  Here is one such example:

I don’t believe you should spend a lot of time preparing your sermon, when you’re a younger minister. I think because we are so desperately want our sermon to be good, that when you’re younger you spend way too much time preparing. And, you know, its scary to say this to the younger ministers… you’re not going to be much better by putting in twenty hours on that sermon–the only way you’re going to be a better preacher is if you preach often. For the first 200 sermons, no matter what you do, your first 200 sermons are going to be terrible. (laughter from the crowd). And, if you put in…fifteen or twenty hours in the sermon you probably won’t preach that many sermons because you won’t last in ministry, because your people will feel neglected.

Similar to Gladwell’s now contested “10,000 hours of practice,” many seem to take the 200 sermons in the most wooden of ways.  I get the point that it may take some five years of preaching to “find one’s voice,” but surely there is a wide variation of gifts and maturity that make the number 200 arbitrary, aren’t there?

Personally, I have heard young preachers whose maturity coupled with a genuine unction of the Spirit made it evident that “they found their voice.”  Conversely, I sadly report hearing some minsters who long ago crossed 200 sermons and still seem in search of their voice.

Sincerely in Christ,

Hi Dave

Certainly we can’t take 200 in a wooden way. Of course there are variations. By the way, I doubt I’ve used the number “200″ more than once or twice in off hand remarks.

You are right in drawing out the broader principle. If you preach regularly, say 40-50 times a year, including Sunday preaching and other speaking at weddings, funerals, and conferences, then, yes, I’d say it takes at least three years of full-time preaching before you get even close to being as mature and skillful a preacher as you are capable of becoming.

There are basically three things that go into the “maturing” process: a) the actual preparation of the message, b) life experience—of your own heart, of pastoral work, of prayer, c) practice.

I’d say that younger preachers a) don’t have enough life experience, and b) don’t preach often enough to be growing in preaching as they should. They tend to put all the emphasis on long hours of academic prep.  It would be better if instead of 20 hrs of prep they did 5-6 hrs of prep and spent the rest of the time out involved in people’s lives, and then simply preached and spoke more often.  That is the balance that is needed. And then give it 3-5 years to come up to whatever level God has gifted you.

And, yes, I have heard some young preachers with pretty good spiritual maturity for their age and God’s anointing–be quite good.  Yet compare the sermons of the young Spurgeon (who was a teenage preaching phenom) with the old Spurgeon. The older Spurgeon sermons are far richer, wiser, better.


Archbishop Justin Welby’s sermon at the Child Bereavement UK carol service

The Archbishop of Canterbury preached this powerful sermon at Child Bereavement UK’s Christmas Carol Service at Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London on 10 December 2015:

Child Bereavement - Justin Welby


There are two prayers that many people here will have prayed. Anyone who’s lost someone in an untimely way, particularly perhaps a child, sibling or parent, very close friend…. One is, ‘Make them better. Lord, make them better. Get them out of this. May they recover and be healed.’

The other is when that prayer has passed. A lot of people pray, ‘Lord, let me join them. Take me as well.’ The fact that we’re all sitting here today is because, for many of us, neither of those prayers were answered in the way we hoped.

But time goes by and we begin to rebuild our lives. We never “get over it” — that’s such an atrocious expression — but we do begin to rebuild. You live with this gap, as Caroline and I did more than 30 years ago when our eldest daughter died, and you begin to rebuild.

In those days Child Bereavement UK was not around, or if it was we didn’t know about it.

Our daughter died five days after a car crash on the way back from France. We were moving back to the UK after several years living in Paris. And so we came back and we came to this church, where we’d been married, and we began to rebuild.

Perhaps as time goes by you come to a Christmas service and you hear that reading about the shepherds and their joy and you think, ‘Fine for them… doesn’t feel much like that to me.’ Some people know what to do and what to say, and others cross the road to avoid talking to you because they’re so frightened of saying the wrong thing — and I think after a while you understand that.

Time goes by. And I remember that, and that sense sometimes of ‘What’s it all about? What’s it all for?’ We were Christians, and sometimes people turn away from God and sometimes they turn to God, and like the psalmist they say, ‘Where were you? Where are you?’ It’s in the Psalms. Tough words, bitter words, of anger with God. Much better said than suppressed.

And if we’re wise, and if we have wise friends who love us — and we did in this place; they loved us and they looked after us, it’s wonderful — and if we’re wise, eventually we begin to look up a bit. We just find the strength. For some people it’s much harder than others. Never, ever tell people what they ‘ought’ to be or ‘ought’ to do or how they ‘ought’ to behave… but somehow, with wise friends we were able to move forward.

We came back eventually to that great puzzle, which there is one child in the whole of human history who died, whose father could have done something and didn’t. Who could with a mere exercise of will have changed the world so it didn’t happen. His beloved child, whom he sent, whom the angels announced, whom he sent to live this risky life, and who died unjustly some 30 years later, out of time, unfairly.

And when we turn to that child and see in that child that there is hope and healing, we find a source of purpose, a source of going on, that is so boundlessly deep, so extraordinarily puzzling sometimes, but so wonderfully embracing, that in the dark moments and the light moments we are held and comforted and carried, often unawares, and the dark moments continue. Many people here will know how suddenly and surprisingly that can catch up on you. You see a face, you think, you hear a tune, you go to a place… and the memories just trip you.

We continue like so many here to live with all of that. But we found over the years that this puzzle of the God that so loved the world that he gave his only son so that all who believe in him should not have that sense of endless death and destruction, but have the hope of life and the knowledge of a future and the life that is somehow rebuilt around us by the grace and love of God.

We found there the transforming hope and purpose which enabled us to rebuild and through many more trials, through many moments almost as bad, to find ourselves where we are, with the bitterness of the memory, and the joy of the memory. With that gap which we remember every 5th November — on the basis that if you don’t attack the birthday, the birthday attacks you. And so we have all the family and we do something silly. Buy a present we can’t afford, have some fun — we have a lot of fun actually. But there’s always that reality, and yet there’s now that hope.

And my prayer for those who are in those darkest of dark moments, which I remember so well, where they are praying that second prayer… and neither prayer is being answered, has been answered, I pray for you and for all of us here, for that hope that heals and strengthens and draws us forward, because that child who was born and risked and died and rose again, and offers life to us and to all we love. Amen.

Archbishop Justin Welby’s Easter sermon

Archbishop Justin Welby - Easter Sermon

Archbishop Justin’s Easter sermon: The one who was dead is now alive. Where there was weeping there is now joy’:

Going through the barrier with a colleague to board my train in a busy station in London, suddenly a loud alarm sounded. A voice came over the public address system advising, no instructing, every person in the station to leave the building immediately. The majority of passers-by stopped, stood still and looked at each other. Visitors to London were already making their way to the exits, Londoners were hurrying their way to their destinations. The message only came once. I looked at the person I was with, we shrugged our shoulders, and went through the barrier to catch our train.

We have, collectively, quite a bit of disbelief and fatigue when we are told that we really must respond, or do something, or change our behaviour or direction.

Mary Magdalene was exhausted by grief. With Jesus everything had died. Who knows why she thought she was going to the garden in which the tomb they had borrowed for him was situated, but who knows why we do lots of things when we are worn out by life? Mary’s emotion represents the emotion of the whole world in the presence of the overwhelming cruelty and irreparable nature of death.

With Mary there are so many that weep. In Syria mothers cry for their children and husbands. In the Ukraine neighbours cry because the future is precarious and dangerous. In Rwanda tears are still shed each day as the horror of genocide is remembered. In this country, even as the economy improves there is weeping in broken families, in people ashamed to seek help from food banks, or frightened by debt. Asylum seekers weep with loneliness and missing far away families. Mary continues to weep across the world.

This is the world we live in, a world which each of us has had a hand in creating. A world of crosses. We can comfort one another and treat the dying with dignity. We can make gardens and graves, we can move stones and wipe away tears. But we can do nothing to defeat death.

But listen, hear the announcement. . . The one who was dead, is now alive! The one whose body had been a corpse, lying motionless in the grave, inert, lifeless, lying flat on the stone ledge of the borrowed tomb – he now stands before Mary, speaking her name. This day he speaks everybody’s name to engage them with the news that he is alive.

When Mary hears her name spoken, we are told, she turns towards him. A moment before and she is in the deepest despair, a second after, her life has changed. For death has more than met its match. It has been defeated. Everything changes.

We cannot expel God, nor the life of God, from his world. In fact this new life insists that there is nowhere God is absent, powerless or irrelevant. There is no situation in the universe in the face of which God is at a loss. The one that was dead is now alive. Where there was weeping there is now joy.

Someone wrote recently ‘Joy might be a greater scandal than evil, suffering or death’. [David Ford]. This is what I have been moved by in Christian communities around the world who face the most devastating of conditions. Their certainty that Jesus is alive enables them to face all horrors with joy. Not happiness, but joy. Joy can exist alongside mental illness, depression, bereavement, fear, because the joy of Christ comes from knowing that nothing and no one less than God has the last word.  I remember sitting in a room with the Bishop who had come over from Pakistan soon after the attack in September on a church in Peshawar. I asked how Christians were coping with the fear that such attacks brought, and wondered if there had been anyone in church the week following the attack. ‘Oh yes’ the bishop replied, ‘ there were three times as many people the next week’. Such action is made possible only by the resurrection. The persecuted church flourishes because of the resurrection. I think of women who I met earlier this year who have survived unspeakable sexual violence, yet who lift their arms in prayer and praise to God. I think of teenagers I met in Luton who have hope and joy, in lives that were dominated by self hatred and harm. This has only been made possible because Jesus is alive.

The announcement that Jesus is alive changes everything; not simplistically or even instantly do circumstances and situations change. But it changes us. It gives us hope where we were in despair, faith where we were lost, light where we were in darkness, joy where we were entirely in sorrow. That joy in huge life of Jesus is present in the food banks, the credit unions, the practical down to earth living that the churches are demonstrating across this country.

But Jesus hasn’t finished with Mary yet. It isn’t simply a personal thing for her. She must now become a witness. So Jesus sends her to the ‘brothers’ to tell them. Please notice, in all four gospels the first witness of the resurrection is a woman. So Mary becomes the apostle to the apostles.

Jesus comes to find us all. In all the gospels when anyone meets Jesus they are given a task. The task is to join the announcement. The meaning of our whole existence is to be witnesses to the new life that is offered by Jesus Christ. The persecuted church bears witness in its joy overcoming fear, in worship in the midst of war, of refugee camps. In an IDP camp in Goma in January, the reminder that Jesus is alive was worth more than many sentences of comfort, for he brings joy.

The new life of Jesus is given to us. We witness to it as we insist that money isn’t our ruler, that self- promotion isn’t King, that pleasure isn’t a fulfilling aim, and that the survival of the fittest simply means some die later than others. The new life of Christ has broken into our world, it cannot be contained, nor restricted, nor managed. The church exists to show by its life and work the transforming power that has been set free in the world. All that we need to do is respond in faith and receive the gift of that life.

To fail to respond is like hearing someone crying ‘fire’ and continuing to walk into the building. Or have someone whisper ‘will you marry me?’ and turn the channel to find something interesting to watch. This is an announcement that calls our attention, catches our lives, heals our brokenness, and send us out with a purpose,a hope and a joy. It is news that the world cannot ignore, that we cannot neglect, it is the news of joy immeasurable.

– See more at: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5303/the-one-who-was-dead-is-now-alive.-where-there-was-weeping-there-is-now-joy-archbishop-justins-easte#sthash.xOYgE068.dpuf

Do They Know Its Christmas?

Luke 2-10 - lego bible

Here’s a copy of the talk I gave at our 14-18 year olds alternative carol service on Sunday evening:


Well, it’s the last Uncover of the year, we’ve come together to worship God.  We have sung carols and prayed and read the Bible and now we come to the sermon.

What I want to do then is to focus on Luke 2:10

‘But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”’

This is part of the story of the announcement to the shepherds of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  After Jesus is born in Bethlehem and placed in the manger by his mother Mary, Luke switches attention to the hills around Bethlehem and to some shepherds keeping watch over their flocks of sheep at night.  An angel, a supernatural messenger from heaven, appears to them and makes this announcement: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

Now you will see that the verse naturally divides into three: “Do not be afraid/I bring you good news of great joy/that will be for all the people.”

Therefore I want to say three things to you this morning.

God is mighty & powerful but we do not need to be afraid

The very first thing the angel says is “Do not be afraid”.  This, you will discover if you look, is a typical phrase to be found in the mouth of an angel.  Why does he say what he says?  Well, the fact is that the shepherds were terrified by the appearance of this angel. It was undoubtedly a frightening thing to witness his appearance.

Sometimes we get afraid when we think of the greatness of God and his eternity or of our own mortality.  Part of the Christmas message is that we should not be afraid.  Sometimes the world inadvertently stumbles on this truth and understands a little of it.

If you know the lyrics of the Band Aid single “Do they know it’s Christmas?” often heard at this time of the year, you may remember that it starts in a rather odd way.  The first line is a rather predictable “It’s Christmastime” but then, rather unexpectedly there is the angel’s line “there’s no need to be afraid”.

Fear is an odd word to associate with Christmas, and yet for so many people that is the case sadly.  The Band Aid single was originally written to highlight Africa.  This winter once again many people are struggling with famine and starvation, currently over 35,000 people a day die of treatable illnesses such as malnourishment.

Surely no-one in Britain associates Christmas with fear?  But Christmas is a time when money is a worry, for many people sadly it is a time when they spend lots to keep up with the Jones’ and then spend so much of the year trying to pay it off.  Also for those who live with alcoholics, drug addicts, and broken families Christmas can be a nerve wracking time trying to make everything feel normal when it is anything but normal.

So further on in the song we are encouraged to “say a prayer” to “pray for the other ones” the reasoning being that for them, unlike for us, “at Christmastime it’s hard”.  And so we are exhorted when we’re having fun to remember that there is:

“a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear.  Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.  And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.”

The way to deal with fear is not simply to “spread a smile of joy” and “throw your arms around the world” but to look above for some comfort and some encouragement.  Yes, it is Christmas time and there is no need to be afraid – but not because we live in the UK and are comparatively wealthy, living in a world of plenty when compared with the wider world.  It is because those charged with doing us good say “Don’t be afraid” just as God himself calls on us not to fear.

God is mighty and he does work powerfully but we do not need to be afraid if we listen to the message in this verse we are focussing on: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

We have good news to share that brings great joy.

The angel goes on then “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy … .”  There is an argument here. Why should the shepherds not be afraid and why should I not be afraid either, this Christmas time?  The Band Aid idea is that “at Christmastime we let in light and we banish shade” which is a good metaphor but puts the emphasis on what we can do.  “In our world of plenty” they say “we can spread a smile of joy.  Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime.”  But the good news of Christmastime is not really to do with brotherly love or the idea that we can all help each other, although these are great concepts.

Rather, the angel says “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy … .”  Here is good news and it will make you really, really joyful.  But what was that good news?  We know don’t we.  It was the news that a baby had been born in Bethlehem.  Now the birth of a baby is always good news but this was a very special baby, of course, who had been born.  This was the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ himself – the one who would grow up to be the Saviour of the World.  This is good news and it should fill us with joy – Good news from heaven not from earth.

When we turn on the news on the radio or television we expect to hear bad news and it usually is bad news.  I tried this morning – flooding around the UK, distrust of the police over Plebgate, the CPS examining the death of the nurse who took the hoax call, Syria building chemical weapons, a Pakistani mob beating to death a Muslim accused of blasphemy, the aftermath of the Connecticut shootings.

Sometimes there is so much bad news that it can make us very depressed.  I found an article online headed “How to cope with so much bad news in the world”.  The article begins:

“These days there seems to be a lot of bad news in the world. Many people are struggling economically. Some people are even losing their homes. The winter weather has been treacherous in spots. Wars are still raging in numerous locations all over the globe. So what can you do to fight off depression during these difficult times?”

Three basic answers are given:

  1. Listen out for the good news stories that are there too
  2. Switch the radio and TV off
  3. Especially avoid stories that you find very upsetting.

Again, this may be of use for some people but it isn’t that helpful really.  Rather, we need to see all the bad news in the context of this wonderful good news that Jesus Christ has come.  God has sent his one and only Son into the world to save the world through him.

This is our focus this evening then – it’s on good news, the good news of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who can save us from our sins and from death.  What greater good news could there be?  What joy it is, what great joy, to know that God so loved this world that he gave his one and only son into the world to save us.

According to the news this morning the Archbishop of Canterbury has recently been preaching about the fact that children are growing up too fast in our society and that may be so but it is not the message he should be preaching for Christmas Day is it?  No we say “Do not be afraid here is good news of great joy” – sing through all Jerusalem, Christ is born in Bethlehem!

This good news of great joy is for everyone who will hear

The whole sentence spoken by the angel is this: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  That last phrase is very significant.  He doesn’t say “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all of you shepherds” or “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the Jews.”  No, he says, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  This is good news of great joy for everyone.

That means good news for all of us present this evening.  You can know real joy and solid good news if you know that God has sent his Son into the world so that whoever believes in him can be forgiven and know every blessing in him.  Try and meditate it on this today – it’s Christmas time – no need to be afraid.  Why? Not because we have plenty to eat and lots of family and friends around us but because Jesus has come into the world to save us!

It also means good news for all those who are not present this evening.  They too can know real joy and solid good news if they know that God has sent his Son into the world so that whoever believes in him can be forgiven and know every blessing in him.  The question for us is how we are going to get that message out in the year to come.  There is no need to be afraid because Christ Jesus has come into the world to save people.  Let’s begin with our own family and friends and see what we can do.

The shepherds we read in verses 17-18, spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  We also ought to spread the Word and as we do others will be amazed and turn to Christ.