Preaching that Saturday Night Special?

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 3.35.58 PMBy John Frye

Having considered the temptations of plagiarism and prayerlessness in the preaching task, let’s explore last minute, hectic-paced sermon preparation. In the law enforcement and gun control world there is a phrase “Saturday night special.” The phrase describes small, compact cheaply made handguns that flood the gun market. While there is no statistical evidence between the low price of handguns and higher crime, Saturday night specials are readily, quickly, and cheaply available after gun shops are closed for the weekend.

In the pastoral preaching world there are thousands of cases of Saturday night specials: sermons hastily cobbled together on Saturday night. They are cheaply made and small in effectiveness. Here’s how to get one. Scurry for a good (and funny) story for the introduction (you know, from Readers Digest), slap some verses together with similar words or phrases about the topic of faith or whatever, make reference to at least one Hebrew or Greek word, squeeze in a few “what this means to me” sentences, and end with a call to be “doers of the Word.” There. It’s done. When does NBC’s Saturday Night Live come on?

Have I ever shot a Saturday night special on a Sunday morning? I admit with some shame, yes. Yet, I never made it a habit. I not only feel shame in admitting it, I felt shame when I did it. Why? Because it’s cheap. Period. A Saturday night special is a deplorable way to fill up 30 sacred minutes with empty, thoughtless, prayerless chatter disguised as preaching. It’s a lazy pastor’s public way of earning his or her check. It’s soulless, hollow, smelly gas. Spiritual prostitution at its worse. At least the preachers who plagiarize are giving some thoughtful (non-original) content to the hearers.

The excuses or rationalizations for Saturday night specials are so self-serving.

“I think better under pressure. I do my best work in the tyranny of the urgent.”

“I’ve been so busy in the Lord’s work this week. I haven’t had time to prepare.”

“I’m really skilled. I don’t need a lot of time. I’m that good.”

“I can’t squeeze in study, prayer, and thoughtful rumination about the sermon because I’ve got a corporation to oversee here. I’m a mover and a shaker, not a studious monk.”

“If God can use a donkey to speak, he can surely use an ass like me.”

The holy clincher: “I just trust the Lord to fill it when I open my mouth on Sunday.”

People wouldn’t trust their injured bodies to sloppy doctors or serious legal threats to sloppy attorneys. Why do lazy pastors think people should entrust their eternal lives to shoddy preaching? There is no fast food for the body of Christ.

How do we break the Saturday night special habit? First, repent big time for falling into this lazy temptation. Second, recall that a sermon is not just quickly manufactured words to fill up a time-slot in the Sunday worship schedule. Third, if the sermon doesn’t come from your heart with a deep, cultivated love for the people who hear it, it’s merely irritating noise (1 Cor 13:1). Fourth, you will stand eye to eye with Jesus Christ, the Chief Pastor, and give an account of every word you have spoken to his Bride, the Church. You waste the church’s time, you waste Jesus’s time. Fifth, if the word you preach isn’t working it you, it will [not] be empowered to work through you. The hours from Saturday night to Sunday morning are not enough for the word to finish its assignment. Sixth, your life is the sermon that people walk away with. Never forget that.

A pastor must make time for long, leisurely conversations with the Word of God and with the God of the Word. If fortunate enough to have seminary training, then she is a steward of precious resources at her bidding. Don’t neglect these gifts. Only those who speak deeply and authentically with God (about the sermon) have earned the authority to speak for God.

Don’t commit crimes against the Body of Christ with the Saturday night special.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.