Andrée Seu writes the following:
I can tell when I am hearing a sermon on a doctrine that the speaker hasn’t experienced firsthand. It’s not that he’s lying. He himself does not realize; he believes that when he lays out a homiletically top-rate teaching, he has done all there is to do.
The sermon, as it leaves his lips, makes a hollow sound on the ears of the congregation, but no one realizes that either. It is homiletically top-rate and three-pointed. They know they should appreciate it if they are spiritual, so they believe they have been well-served. They say, “It was a good sermon.” If this goes on Sunday after Sunday, a vague melancholy sets in unawares.
A gap between theology and reality widens, and something fascinating occurs: The most doltish man in the pew becomes a linguistic sophisticate. Abstract exhortations to “joy” or “reigning in life” from the pulpit are transposed on impact from their common meanings to a different category of meaning, what Francis Schaeffer might call “upper story” thinking.
But when the pastor is a man who has pressed into believing God’s promises in the morning, and at noon, and in the afternoon, and when he meets us at week’s end to report the concrete faithfulness of God on his spiritual living, the hearers—and language itself—are revived.
I can really relate to and appreciate the point that Seu is making here. Certain traditions seem to have wonderful emphasis on doctrinal fidelity and homiletic expertise. But sometimes the preaching is clearly without an experiential dimension and it’s often difficult to take such preaching seriously, especially pastorally. How does a parent of teenagers take a young pastor with children under the age of five seriously? After all, he has no clue experientially about the subject.
That being said, I think there are two considerations we must keep in mind regarding this. First, we need to be careful not to get to caught up in trying to “judge” the preaching we hear in order to make sure the person preaching has experienced, to our satisfaction, that which they are preaching on. This can easily reach the point where we miss the importance of receiving the Word of God that was inspired by the Spirit.
Secondly, we need to remember that the person giving the message can’t push a magic button that will give them the ability to experience every single thing that life has to offer (or take away). There’s no magic wand that someone can wave that allows a person to experience every curve ball and every blessing that come throughout the journey of life. That comes with time. Just because a pastor has not experienced, to our satisfaction, a ‘prodigal’ son, does not mean he cannot speak to us from the Scriptures adequately on the subject. Moreover, that pastor must speak on topics that he may or may not have experienced because people in his congregation most certainly are experiencing situations that require God’s revelation on the matter!
Sure, I can look back over the many sermons I’ve preached and I can see and recognize the progress that I’ve main because I’ve experienced more in life. That would most certainly impact the way I communicated, or, at the very least, put more passion to what I was saying. But that’s the joy of growing and experiencing life. And for many congregations, they have the “joy” of watching their pastor grow along side of them.
We can learn much from Seu’s article. I agree 100% with this perspective. But perhaps we need to consider the importance of the Body of Christ being made up of people from various backgrounds who have experienced a wide variety of issues. Perhaps in those situations where the pastor is less adequate in the “experiential” dimension, another member of the congregation can share how they applied the very truth that the pastor preached on. The beauty of this would be that the Word of God is powerfully accompanied by personal testimony and the Body of Christ is working together in unity for the purpose and goal of God’s glory!
HT: Justin Taylor
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.