Monday, December 5, 2011

Fifteen Things Not to Do in a Sermon

Here’s a short list of fifteen things not to do in a sermon, compiled after watching the video of a sermon preached at an LCMS church. The context of this “message” was the completion of the congregation’s study of Pastor Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life. If you doubted President Harrison’s lament about the quality of preaching in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, doubt no more. I'm certain this preacher is doing what he thinks is best, yet his limited liturgical toolbox makes too frequent a use of the Law, and in a way that it wasn't meant to be used, as a pry bar.  All quotes are direct quotes from the sermon.

The List of Fifteen Things Not to Do in a Sermon:
  1. Begin the sermon with “Uh, hey.”
  2. Start out with your hands in your pockets – this problem is easily solved by wearing liturgical vestments.
  3. Cede your pastoral duty to rightly handle the Word of Truth by allowing Pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, to catechize your flock.
  4. Talk about your pretty awesome-sounding new drum set that is an investment in the growth of the Kingdom for which your parishioners forsook “spending money on vacations or cars or stuff” to purchase – a thought which directly reflects the pietism taught in The Purpose-Driven Life.
  5. Say that life is simply a preparation for eternity, destroying God’s wonderful First Article gifts of vocation and Creation by saying “And the fact is there’s more to life than the here and the now, there’s more to this life than your mundane job, there’s more to this life than just the family you have at home, and whether or not you eat dinner together, whether or not your car runs.” This is, again, more Rick Warren pietism.
  6. Distract your hearers the whole time by waving about the paper outline that’s stuck to your hand.
  7. Expound The Purpose-Driven Life concept of “worship,” which is to bring God pleasure – a complete dismantling of sacramental Lutheran theology: “I was planned for God’s pleasure so I have to worship.”
  8. Have the congregants raise their hand during the sermon if they’ve been involved in a growth group.
  9. Teach that we grow spiritually through commitments, and that it takes more than just sitting and listening in church to grow. “You have to take it to the next level.”
  10. Spend part of your fleeting sermon time talking about upcoming church scheduling logistics and growth opportunities.
  11. Teach that blessing comes from doing the purposes of God as though God is the fast food drive-thru window attendant: Hand Him a good work, get back a steaming-hot blessing - in eternity of course.
  12. Use Alcoholics Anonymous quotes in the sermon: “If you want to keep it, you’ve got to give it away.”
  13. Treat the sermon like you’re teaching Bible class.
  14. Actually push your parishioners to study The Purpose-Driven Life and take it to heart, a book which is a perversion of Law and Gospel.
  15. Forget to kill and make alive through the power of God’s Word – otherwise you’re just wasting your time and their time.
This sermon was in line with the theology of Rick Warren - an Evangelical synergistic pietism. I listened to a second sermon about Christmas preached by the same person, thinking that an escape from the Rick Warren mindset on his part might improve things. There was no “comfort ye, comfort ye my people” given. The outline, a downloadable pdf, contains thirteen blank spots for the parishioners to fill in as the sermon progresses.

The first three blanks read “I MUST _________________.” The next seven blanks:

1. __________________________ FOR FRIENDS AND FAMILY
4. __________________________________________SOMEONE
5 _______________________________________ TO SOMEONE
The last three blanks:
I MUST ______________________________________.
MY PART: ____________________________________.
GOD’S PART: _________________________________.

You fill in the blanks. It seems that our part is very large, and God’s part very small. Kyrie eleison.

Note: After completing the rough draft of this blog post, I went to the LCMS website to check on this person's "credentials." He wasn't listed. After Googling his name I discovered that he is a Specific Ministry Program (SMP) Vicar. Hopefully you'll forgive the oversight. The church's website calls him Pastor John Doe, not Vicar John Doe.

Vicars should not be held to the same preaching standards as an ordained pastor. I can understand if a vicar doesn't have a polished "delivery." However, while some of them may only be fledgling theologians, they should know the difference between Law and Gospel. With seminary training of some sort fresh in this vicar's mind, he doesn't have the years of experience as a few of our more seasoned pastors have, with which to "forget" his confessional Lutheran training for a more desirable paramour.

I don't think it would be fair to reveal this person's identity.  Perhaps someone will have a word with his supervisor, so that Advent will become a blessing rather than a curse.


Fallhiker said...

I am happy to report during sermons at my church I have only seen two of those items during a sermon. In all fairness, one was committed by the Vicar (Number 1) and Number 8 (not in the context of the growth group) has been used numerous times

Anonymous said...

I have watched both the "sermons" that Scott refers to, and after some thought, I think the word that most describes them is, "Scandalous." A scandal in contemporary usage, as well as Biblical (a "stumbling block" for the hearers).


Christopher D. Hall said...

When I was a student at the seminary, one fellow was removed from vicarage and expelled from the M.Div program for calling himself "Pastor" while on vicarage.

This was in 1998.

Scott Diekmann said...

We've had quite a few vicars at our congregation, and it's not unusual for people to accidentally call the vicar "pastor," so the website calling him "pastor" may be an oversight. He did however, say this in the same sermon:
"When I can sit back and I can go to my circuit council meetings and tell other pastors 'I’ve got two-thirds of my worship attendance in growth group,' they are astounded, because that just doesn’t happen. You have to understand that. That doesn’t happen. They’re impressed by that. [Said jokingly:] I like to pump myself up like that. But then, if I do that, then I get my reward now and I don’t get it later in heaven, so I try and, try and keep a rein on that."
Maybe this vicar is already a pastor from another synod or non-denominational church.

Christopher D. Hall said...

Perhaps. That's a nice construction. Oversight.

Regardless, it sounds like there are far more than fifteen things that went wrong in this "sermon."

I want to say thanks for sharing, but I don't feel anything but sadness and regret. :)

Pr. Kory Boster said...

Scott, do you know if this sermon has been brought to the attention of the appropriate SMP mentor, Circuit Counselor, District President, and sem SMP committee?

Scott Diekmann said...

I'm not sure Pastor Boster. I heard rumblings of such but don't know if that's been accomplished.

Frank Sonnek said...

Actually, I would suggest that the problem here is not teaching the Law. After all, ALL we can see and do in life is about the Law extorting Fatherly Goodness and Mercy out of our Old Adams and those of every one else. Fact.

That fact FULLY includes our work in the Right Administration of the Word and Sacraments. By the way. This is all law, law ,law law, and so on.....

I am appreciative that the pastor in question employed the word "must" that is a Law word. This is better than the antinomianism we encounter in the LCMS that says there is a third use of the Law that does not kill or accuse. Now that doctrine is from hell! This is the idea that there is a third use of the Law that is just for christians that does not kill and accuse us. This is a doctrine far far more dangerous and deadly.

Here is what I suggest is the problem" The aim of the Law is precisely to always and only kill Old Adams with the goal of extorting out of them first article Fatherly Goodness and Mercy.

And here is the rub. Mercy is always undeserved. And that looks like Gospel doesnt it? The problem is that mercy that is obtained as the God desired fruit of the Law is not Grace.

That , alone, is about our hiding all our best works in the Works of Another. And we do this because we are terrified by the Law. Faith that is in Christ alone can accept the judgement of God that all our works are the moral equivalent of a used tampon (cf saint Isaiah) . And so only faith knows that it need to hide ALL its works in the Works of Another.

We need to go back and read mark and inwardly digest our Confessions!

Jon said...

I'm curious what the original source of the outline with the blanks is. A Google search for "a Christmas discussion group at work" reveals very similar outlines at several other church websites, mainly non-denominational, but also one Church of the Nazarene. One match dates back to 2008. Spoiling the Egyptians, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

#16 (If I may...) Talk about your family and the cute things your kids do.