As a preacher, I want my sermons to matter.
What do I mean by that?
This: I want the messages I prepare and deliver actually to intersect with the lives of the people who show up week after week (or, in the 21st century, every other week!) to hear them.
After all, what’s the point of a well-crafted and expertly delivered sermon that ultimately has nothing to do with the lives of people in the congregation or in the community?
Maybe more specifically: what good does a sermon do if it impresses a seminary audience but fails to connect with the people you are called to serve?
And in my 26+ years of full-time ministry, I have discovered a selection of topics that simply never get old. Subjects for which there are always hungry and needy listeners. Here are five:
1.Healing Regret. And then preventing it. This is how you know proclamation can never be separated from counseling. And what comes into my office over and over again is this: the coulda woulda shouldas. People filled with regret and shame for vows broken, drugs taken, and families ruined. So preaching needs to acknowledge the regret in the lives in the room and give the emphatic declaration that God really is El Rophe — the God who heals. Along these lines, I’ve been developing many sermons recently that deal with regret prevention. I know from both experience and observation that lining up your life with the counter-intuitive wisdom of Scripture leads to households that are free of regret and devoid of drama. That’s what the upcoming Preventology series is all about.
2. Impacting Communities And Generations. What a joy to realize that people really want their lives to count for something larger than themselves. Good preaching taps into and then unleashes that deep-seated desire. That’s why some of the most memorable Good Shepherd series have led to what we call Radical Impact Projects — those times when the church marshals its resources to make in indelible difference in the lives of the most vulnerable among us. The most astonishing example was 2013’s Home project, which you can read about here.
3. Addiction. I am forever grateful that part of my seminary preparation included becoming familiar with the Twelve Steps of Recovery. Why? Because barely a week goes by in this church without dealing with some form addiction — drugs, porn, alcohol, gambling, cutting, and eating disorders. Oftentimes, I will remind people in sermons that God’s great act of grace in their lives was the night they spent in jail with a DUI, as that crisis started them on the road to recovery. The series that became the book The Storm Before The Calm addresses these subjects in some depth.
4. Households. Oh, the drama that takes place behind closed doors in people’s homes. And you know what is interesting about the biblical library’s treatment of home life? There are almost no functional families described! Whether it’s Adam & Eve or Jacob & Esau or David & his progeny, the bible’s “family hour” is full of deception, intrigue, and dysfunction. Ancient family: meet modern family. It’s also why one of our church’s core values is that faith starts at home.
5. Gospel History. Guess what? I Corinthians 15:1-8 is still the cornerstone:
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Paul “received” it — he didn’t dream it up — and it is of “first importance.” So: our faith is based on history and not philosophy. The man Jesus really lived, died, and returned to let his executioners know he was giving them another chance. Reciting those universe-changing facts always fills me with holy adrenaline.
And if this inheritance is the most important thing Paul passed on, it’s the most important thing I can pass on as well. Those decisive acts in divine history always touch human lives.