What if the public meeting didn’t have a speech? My friend Steve recently thought it was a good idea to think about that.
That question came up last week again when we were refreshing our PM Plan, too. It helped me ponder the question and actually offer a response. For the longest time, sermons reminded me of the Soviet propagandists and the Orwellian dystopian leaders who were broadcasted all over the streets and TVs. I really didn’t know why I would give one. But the thing I learned is that you have to want to lead, and leading is sometimes about impacting people. Sometimes speaking to someone is the best way to impact them. But you’ve got to believe you have the stuff to be an impacter.
I am comforted by the fact that unlike much of what has become a modern “worship service (Oh, boy, I don’t like writing that—since service implies something like an oil change, and ‘meeting’ is just a more accurate word to what happens on Sunday nights at our congregations in Circle of Hope, but I digress.),” the sermon is ancient in its origin (not that everything we do needs to be). One of the main reasons I do give speeches and why Aaron did last night is because the Bible-writers and influences did. Moses in particular gave quite a lengthy one.
In fact, Jesus’ most famous words served as a fulfillment of that Old Law that Moses was talking about. You can read the whole Sermon on the Mount here, starting with those famous Beatitudes. Jesus gives this speech to teach others. A better word might be exhort, Jesus urges us to change our ways and apply this new teaching. His Sermon is basic instruction of Christian living and the new way he is starting.
He’s changing the whole world and redeeming all of creation. As a result, there’s going to be some direct instruction (as well as application, notably) to his new ideas. Our teachings need to be practical enough to be summarized, not lofty, academic, and sociological. They can’t be 30,000 feet in the air, but are often more effective when they are on the ground. They need to be deliverable in a format that is succinct and easy-to-digest (even if they aren’t easy to live out). Jesus models this basic teaching model so well in the Sermon on the Mount, spanning subjects that have formed and guided the church for millennia.
If you keep watching what Jesus does, he isn’t just motivated to teach people through his words and sermons. At the end of his ministry, he spends time in an intimate setting with his closest followers and he delivers what is now known as the Final or Farewell Discourse. Its purpose is to encourage believers. Our sermons then don’t just teach, they also encourage the family. It gives them hope in seasons of despair. People should feel better after hearing them.
We have an opportunity to love the people to whom we are delivering a speech. It’s personal, it’s relatable, and easy to connect to. Jesus was getting his disciples ready for the end of their world—truly—as he would be died and ascend into heaven. Such a moment is hard to understand, and requires encouragement. Being conscious of the discouragement that the disciples of Jesus, even today, can experience is crucial. I want to use our speeches to not just convict, but to encourage people down the narrow path, the road less traveled, if you will. It is a refreshing contrast since some people think you truly need to be brought down to your knees each Sunday.
Finally, speeches teach and encourage, but explicitly, they evangelize. Perhaps more than any other sermon documented in the Bible, Peter’s at the start of Acts is the most influential of all. He starts the whole church through this speech. He convinces people to follow Jesus, he exhorts them to repent and be baptized. I think that’s elemental to our sermons. They lead people to follow Jesus.
All of these things—exhortation, encouragement, and evangelism—can happen outside of a sermon, obviously, but the sermon gives us an opportunity to be together, and respond collectively. It gives us a sense of community and it doesn’t just atomize and individualize us into compartments. It actually builds community. Even our cells discuss the sermons during the week. That’s great!
Though there could be a reason to experiment with not having it for a season, I’m thankful for the chance to listen and learn together. God really is using our pastors to preach His word, and I’m thankful we do it with so many people.