Sunday Sermons

I am a church choir member at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church here in Granville. One thing I have always hated about going to church, ever since I was a little girl, was listening to the Sermon. My hatred of church sermons probably stems from the fact that my Priest at my church back home in Atlanta is about 500 years old, speaks with an Irish accent, and sounds like a wheezing chimney. I used to think “Maybe if I could understand what Monsignor Dillon was saying, I would legitimately enjoy going to church.”

When I came to Granville and joined the Episcopal church, I was excited to see if perhaps my theory was true. When I attended a church service and could actually (God forbid) understand what the Priest was saying, I thought I might have some hope! However, once the sermon started, I was lost completely.

Why does this happen EVERY time I go to church? Why am I completely lost within the first five minutes of every church sermon?

I have come to the conclusion that church sermons have two flaws. One, their introductions have little, if nothing, to do with the core argument of their lesson. And two, that the lack of a preview and clear organization make it hard for the average, sleepy congregation member to follow on a Sunday morning.

The purpose of a church sermon is to explain the Gospel reading to the congregation and to communicate the lesson of the Gospel to the people. After the Gospel is read and the Priest says “The Word of the Lord” and we all say “Thanks be to God”, the Priest heads up to the pulpit to deliver his sermon. His ethos is unneeded at this point (I mean, come on, he’s been in front of you all for how long now?) and his explanation as to why he is talking to the congregation is pretty much unnecessary. So we move to the introduction.

The problem with introductions to church sermons is that they have little relevance to the scripture read to the congregation. The lesson in the Gospel is often very dated, so the Priest attempts to make the lesson applicable to today’s public–however this comes at an expense. The Priest spends so much time setting up a story and re-telling the Gospel in today’s terms, that we often get too wrapped up in the story being told to us that the second that we lose interest once our speaker begins talking about the Bible. When we should be listening, we are daydreaming about the new story that took so long to formulate! Where was the transition from introductory story to core argument?! This is where I lose interest.

This could be helped by the insertion of a preview. Between the story (which makes the Gospel’s words more applicable to us today) and the main argument of the speech, there needs to be an indicator CLEARLY stating when we go from hypothetical story to core information. I think that this would keep the congregation on the same track as the priest and more people would feel like the lesson is something that they can take home with them.

What do you think about church sermons? How do you follow them and see a sense of logic?

~Molly Coyne


4 comments so far

  1. robgentle on

    I have to agree with Molly on this one. When I attend church services back home, my pastor speaks off the cuff when he delivers his sermon. No notes and no outline. While it is clear he has an outline in his head about what he wants to say, I have a suspicion that his lack of a physical outline is part of the reason he sometimes wanders off topic and does not clearly signpost when he is switching main points. I think a physical outline would help in two ways. First, it could be distributed to the congregation so they could follow the preview. Second, the physical outline might help remind the pastor/priest to clearly sign post his sermon to make it easier to follow along.

    –Rob Gentle

  2. dupublicaddress on

    My church at home actually does print out an outline of the three main points and put them in the pews. These outlines are helpful because they make it easier for the audience to follow and keep the pastor within a certain set of points. The pastor works to stay within the outline so he doesn’t wander of point nearly as often as he used to before the started using outlines. I really like that the church does this. I definitely agree with Molly that church sermons are often hard to follow and it would be good if more pastors tried to at least use signposts, previews and clear transitions to make them easier to follow.

  3. lewingj on

    I think the problem too often with church sermons is due to a failure of the pastor to relate to his audience. This can be hard to do because more often than not that audience at a church service is incredibly varied: young, old, deeply religious, agnostic. That certain makes the task more difficult but also all the more important. The very nature of a pastor’s position also makes this difficult. This is someone who has a certain position of authority that people might feel inferior to because of his assumed relation to God. When a pastor speaks, he truly is preaching. This underscores the importance of connecting with your audience. I am by no means deeply religious so I find the sermons that often impact me most are those that in some way can incorporate humor or at the very least do not make me feel as if I am being talked down to. The one that I can honestly say i remember was about not placing too much importance on religion as a factor in life’s outcomes but rather using it to understand and learn from them. The pastor’s final words: “Remember, God’s last name is not damn.”

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