The Thursday (of a pastoring, preaching week) chapter in Frank Honeycutt’s Sunday Comes Every Week is about Naming.
Every pastor would like to do this, or at least many pastors would like to:
I suspect most pastors love this scene and daydream darkly of the Sunday where names of the uncommitted are revealed during the announcement period and slack stewardship is publicly exposed from the pulpit for all to discover. I have a friend who recalls a worship service from his childhood where the priest intoned, “Now take the William Murphy family, for instance. They take in eighty grand annually and give a measly forty dollars a year to the church!” That, of course, was the last the congregation ever saw of the Murphy family.
But any pastor who does not know of spiritual abuse has more to learn:
There’s much more childhood religious manipulation in people we encounter than pastors often realize. We sometimes miss the unspoken suspicion in the minds of many people who may assume that all clergy are out to instill guilt and kidnap minds. Our recognition of and response to such early coercion in a person’s life may be the most important things we do to help him or her revisit any possibility of God or church.
To name the sermon theme on Thursday by following Jesus is to offer an invitation, not to coerce. He penetrated others with questions: Does this offend you? and Do you also want to go away? (John 6:61, 67)
There is indeed truthful honesty about the theological depth expected by Jesus; there’s no getting around that. But the man twists the arm of no one who opts out entirely from his kingdom enterprise. When a preacher truly believes thisthat the aim of preaching is not to raise money, cheerlead for a pet project, increase Sunday-morning attendance, or manipulate the lost into a forced decision—new possibilities open up for the sermon’s purpose and direction.
So did Honeycutt.
On naming one’s theme. A single thematic statement. One sentence. Get it clear. Keep it clear. Let it rule the sermon. In our day especially because keeping attention is harder and harder:
A tightly worded theme statement that serves as gatekeeper for a particular Sunday s homiletic content may be the single most important component in a preacher’s sermon planning and decision-making. … A sermons theme statement should be short: a dozen words or less and, again, the product of a meaningful encounter with the selected Bible text in a variety of contexts earlier in the week leading up to Thursday.
This is another reason why using pirated sermons from an Internet subscription service just isn’t a good idea. Such sermons serve to subtly convince a new preacher that preaching is just another ministerial task to be checked off in a list of other pressing tasks. The truth is that a faithful preaching process shapes the entirety of one’s ministry for the long haul. The spiritual habits we develop throughout the week in preparing for a Sunday sermon ground us in the very disciplines that have nourished pastors in their callings for centuries.