Wednesday, May 18, 2016

is there another sermon in the room

I arrived at church on Sunday to preach. It had been a message I’d worked on faithfully part of Wednesday morning, and again Friday and Saturday evenings. I had a full script and powerpoint.

Within minutes of walking into the auditorium, I began to wonder if there was another sermon in the room. It is only the 2nd time in 22 years of ministry that this has happened. Deep breathe. What to do?

tablecloth

The trigger – On arrival, I commented to the worship leader on the visual display, including the bright red tablecloth spread for Pentecost. “Oh,” she said, “it comes from PNG.” Now, I was raised in PNG. I often share a story from PNG when talking about mission and link it to the Pentecost story in Acts 2. Was the tablecloth an invitation to offer another sermon, a story and some insights about Pentecost and mission?

The points for doing an impromptu sermon.
1. It was Pentecost Sunday. Such days are always a more pointed reminder of the need to trust the Spirit. Was the tablecloth an invitation to me to trust the Spirit in fresh ways?
2. A helpful part of my call to be Principal at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership was a comment made in the interview process – “Could you return to your story?” (for more on the impact of this on my research at the moment, see here). It was a question – posed by someone with the ability to connect two quite different parts of my presentations – in ways that offered me new eyes. My story felt held. My experience felt important. It was a moment, of care, of hope, and potentially of guidance. Seeing that table cloth from PNG, I heard again the question – “Could you return to your story?”
3. There was a sense of energy and immediacy. It would allow a very contextual engagement with that service, that Sunday.
4. The group gathering for worship was smaller in number and older in age than I had expected. A more conversational sermon was, I felt, more likely to work in that setting.

The points against doing an impromptu sermon
1. I had no idea of length. How long could a few jotted notes last? Related, as a visiting speaker, I did not want to appear lightweight or under prepared or waffly. Would it link logically? Could it be landed?
2. I had put a good amount of work into the existing sermon.
3. Going impromptu would generate a significant amount of adrenaline, which after a demanding week, needed to be considered.
4. I’ve seen a few preachers “throw away their notes” and I’ve always wondered whether it was real, or just attention seeking. So if I went impromptu, how would I want to frame it?

Four reasons for. Four reasons against. A draw.

What to do? I gave myself the worship time to further test the discernment. I had a sermon already as a backup. As the congregation sang, at the front, I was frantically making notes. I mapped out a possible opening that noted the two possible sermons and linked to the table cloth. I identified three headings that would give some structure. Each was related to the Lectionary text (Acts 2). I find myself able to make some contemporary connection for each of the points. I realised I had a conclusion, that returned to the tablecloths. The Evernote function on my cell phone was great. I cut and pasted, moving phrases around, adding more insights as the sung worship continued. A couple of comments made during the worship were further encouragement. They could be woven in, adding connectivity to the message.

As I stood to preach, it was decision time.

I decided to go with the impromptu. It was, after all Pentecost. There were a few stutter steps. There were a few moments when the logic was not as strong as I would like. But it was connective. There was energy in the room. A number of folk afterward expressed how important the message was for them. After I spoke, the worship leader shared some more about the story, sharing of reconciliation and justice, a story that would never have been told if I had not gone impromptu.

Would I do it again? Yes.

Would it matter if I had done the original? No. That also would have blessed, I am sure. (Just a different set of folk).

Oh, it lasted 18 minutes. And what I shared might actually be useful for a writing project that I need to finish …

Posted by steve at 09:37 PM

2 Comments

  1. When the Spirit is moving… go with it. :)

    Comment by Maureen Howland — May 19, 2016 @ 3:33 pm

  2. Agreed. Question is – what was Spirit, what was overcharged imagination?

    Steve

    Comment by Steve — May 19, 2016 @ 8:01 pm

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