Thursday, September 27, 2007

Preaching for all Seasons of Life

Leadership Journal, Summer 2007 featured a really excellent article by Gordon MacDonald

Incarnate Preaching
It's not just living your words, it's knowing the lives of those you're speaking to.

MacDonald, drawing on his long experience as a preacher and pastor shares his wisdom on how to make his sermons relevant. What struck me most are his

Questions of the Decade

When I preach to people in their twenties, I am aware that they are asking questions such as:

What makes me different from my family of origin or the people around me?
In what direction am I going to point my life in order to pay my way through life?
Am I lovable and am I capable of loving?
Around what will I center my life?

Those in their thirties tend to have accumulated serious long-range responsibilities: spouses, babies, home mortgages, and serious income needs. Suddenly life becomes overrun with responsibilities. Time and priorities become important. Fatigue and stress levels rise. The questions shift to:

How can I get done all of these things for which I am responsible?
Why do I have so many self-doubts?
Why is my spiritual center so confused?
What happened to all the fun I used to have?
Why haven't I resolved all my sin problems?
Why is there so little time for friendships?

For people in their forties, the questions do not get any easier. Now they are asking:

Why are some of my peers doing better than me?
Why am I so often disappointed in myself, in others?
Why isn't my faith deeper?
Why is my marriage less than dazzling?
Why do I yearn to go back to the carefree days of my youth?
Should I scale back some of my dreams?
Why do I no longer feel attractive?

People in their fifties are asking:

Do these young people think I'm obsolete?
Why is my body becoming increasingly unreliable?
Why are so few of my friendships nourishing?
What do my spouse and I have in common now that the children are leaving?
Does this marriage of mine offer any intimacy at all?
Why is my job no longer a satisfying experience?
Are the best years of life over?
Do I have anything of value to give any longer?

Those in their sixties ask:

How long can I keep on doing the things that define me?
Why do my peers look so much older than me?
What does it mean to grow old?
How do I deal with angers and resentments that I've never resolved?
Why do my friends and I talk so much about death and dying?

Those in their seventies and above have questions such as:

Does anyone around here know who I once was?
How do I cope with all this increasing weakness around me?
How many years do I have left?
How long can I maintain my independence and my dignity?
When I die, how will it happen?
What about all these things I intended to do (and be) and never got around to?

Can a sermon speak to these issues? For many listeners, sermons that ignore these questions will not be credible.

It is around matters like these, which change through the years, that the preacher can speak into the fears, the failures and regrets, the longings and opportunities, and bring words of hope and clarity, touching a life with Christ's presence

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