There are fifty-two, sometimes fifty-three Sundays in a given calendar year. When I multiply the twenty-five years I have been alive by the approximately fifty-two sermons I listen to yearly, and adding any other conferences, camp meetings, sermons I view online, the result is more than 1300.
Since the age of ten I have collected sermon notes of every sermon I have listened to partially because I am a nerd and I know it helps me retain the material, but more importantly I knew from a young age that I would be preaching some day and I wanted to remember how others preached. Sure, I have hundreds and hundreds of church bulletins and programs with notes I could reference to recall my memory, but when I think about it, I can only remember three or four sermons.
It is not that I can recall the sermons in their entirety; I remember how they were presented, and how they impacted the preacher.
I recall being deeply moved emotionally by the preacher’s transparency. I can picture sitting in the pew and realizing that I was not alone, and that the preacher understood what I was going through. I remember learning for the first time that transparency is a strength, not a weakness.
I believe that my generation and the ones to come do not want to hear the sugar-coated,
joke-filled, finger-pointing, “holier-than-thou” sermons. Our generations want to hear the “walk with us”, “remind us we are not alone”, “give us an example of how God helped you get through”, “how do you identify with that biblical character”, and “show us what grace looks like so we can extend it to others” sermons.
We are the generations in need of preaching that is transparent: preachers who are vulnerable, and authentic.
I will admit there have been times in my life when I have left a church service confused. The preacher would present a sermon that would consist of humor, illustrations, scripture, more illustrations, more humor and would send the congregants away with a challenge. The message was always clear: I understood the importance of loving my enemy or obeying my parents, but I never knew why the preacher chose the topic or how it impacted him. I would ask myself, “Why is it important to love my enemy, and has the preacher struggled in this area? How did the preacher navigate this difficulty?” I wanted to make a connection with an example that I could follow.
The three or four sermons I can recall are the ones where the preachers revealed their hearts and allowed us to walk the journey with them, informing us that we were not alone.
I remember the time when a preacher lamented over the sudden loss of her sister, connecting her grief with the prophet Jeremiah’s. I recall a preacher crying before the congregation urging us that “when God says ‘go’, we better go” because he experienced turmoil from his prior disobedience. I remember a preacher admitting his anger and sadness towards himself for ignoring a homeless man.
These preachers demonstrated that they are humans who understood what it is like to deal with the same feelings, emotions and temptations we do.
I received my call to gospel preaching through one of those transparent sermons. I knew that if she could use the gifts God had given her and vulnerably share her story and impact my life, I could bring healing to the lives of others by being transparent.
I have come to realize that as a preacher, I have a choice. I can choose to use the voice God has given me to be transparent, vulnerable, and authentic in front of my brothers and sisters, or I can pretend that I have everything perfectly put together. The problem with the second option is that 1) it is not truthful 2) this generation runs from the inauthentic.
If we, as preachers want to learn how to preach for a new generation, we must learn to be transparent before God and others. We must remove ourselves from the pedestals we have placed ourselves on and remember that we are humans in need of grace and community. Through prayer, reading scripture, and counsel, we need to ask God what would be helpful for others for healing in their lives, and preach for the generations embracing transparency, vulnerability and authenticity.