The difference between a lecture and a sermon
January 19, 2012
I just finished writing my Sunday sermon on 1 Samuel 18. A few weeks ago, I began working through the life of David, beginning in 1 Samuel 16 and extending to the end of 2 Samuel. As I have it laid out, I'm going to try and do this in around 30 sermons, which is really fast. But the only way to pull this off at this pace is to remember the difference between a lecture and a sermon.
When I'm doing a lecture--say for a Wednesday night Bible study--I feel a greater responsibility to account for the various details of the text. That's because a major goal in a lecture is information--in exposing the text, I'm trying to give people as much information as possible about the text so that they will understand it. While I would naturally do application as we go along, application is not the real focus of a lecture.
But when I'm preaching a sermon--especially for our Sunday morning services--I feel a profound responsibility to explain and apply the text in such a way as to stir people's affections and move them toward Christ. Whereas my major goal in lecturing is information, my major goal in preaching is transformation. And because this is the case, I don't feel the burden to give people as much information as possible; rather, I feel the burden to give people the information necessary about the text so that they will see the connections to their own lives and be moved to seek God in Christ as a result. Application is the major focus of the sermon.
If it is a truism that seminaries don't teach preaching well, as Carl Trueman suggested a few days ago, perhaps it is because we don't keep in mind this difference. Our students have far more time in lectures on biblical texts and those lectures shape their thinking about the pastoral task--"I need to give as much information about the text as possible."
Along with this, in some seminaries, we teach preaching in ways that reinforce this--so that the sermon becomes centered on information-transfer instead of spiritual formation and transformation. Keeping this difference in mind between a lecture and sermon can't help but challenge and improve our preaching. And perhaps the way to keep this in mind is to ask this question: "How does this sermon, as currently written/prepared, move my people's affections in such ways that they will love Christ more as a result of hearing this?"