A while ago a friend of mine (who is not a preacher) made a good observation. She noted that when she began attending a certain congregation, she found the pastor’s sermons to be mostly just OK. There was nothing wrong with the sermons. They were solid, fairly interesting most of the time, and very biblical.
Recently I was interviewed for a podcast in connection with a blog I write for a couple of times each month. The interviewer asked the question, “What is the difference between a blog and a sermon?” It was a good question and not one I’d thought about much before. Whether what I came up with by way of an answer was very good or complete I don’t know.
In one of the congregations I served, a friend of mine went through the training to become a Stephen Minister. Stephen Ministers work alongside the church’s elders and pastors in providing pastoral care to members of the congregation. One week the training focused on how to handle mental health issues. The training was given by an expert from a local Christian mental health hospital, and among the topics covered that week were depression but also more severe chronic conditions including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
When I began to write this article, it had been only a few days since philosopher Alvin Plantinga formally received the 2017 Templeton Prize at a ceremony in Chicago. Through his teaching at Calvin College and then at the University of Notre Dame—and through a bevy of influential articles and books—Plantinga revived serious philosophical engagement with theological and religious topics.
For a long time—the thirty years and more that I was the pastor of the same church—I prided myself in never preaching the same sermon twice. There were exceptions, of course. If I went off somewhere on vacation or for some other reason and was given the opportunity to preach, I took with me a sermon or two, usually a recent sermon, adapted it some for the new place, and preached it over again. These occasions were rarely wholly satisfying. The message, usually part of a series, often seemed slightly off in a new context and preached to people I hardly knew.