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Brand New Key

Scripture is full of people’s stories.

In thinking about how God relates to people in Scripture we can imagine his involvement in our lives and how we might meaningfully engage with him.

Human beings are made in the image of God and even if that image has been distorted by sin, we retain enough echoes and hints of our former glory to reflect something of the character of God our creator.

I love to read people’s stories, biographies, histories and obituaries in the newspaper and listen to programmes like Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

Preachers want to have people in their sermons. People relate to sermons that talk about people like them.

This weekend I read the obituary of the American singer Melanie who as a 22-year-old singer found fame in 1968 at the iconic Woodstock Festival. She was kept waiting for a day and a half to perform her seven-song set, in the rain in the early hours of the morning.

Before this show her biggest audience was about 200 people; there were 500,000 at Woodstock.

Melanie’s songs were not everyone’s cup of tea, but she was a remarkable talent whose catchy tunes had a habit of staying in my head long after I heard them. Her obituary concluded with words that the singer had used to describe how singing was at the core of her being:

“My voice and I share the same heartbeat. I didn’t know it was a career. It was my life.”

That sums up how I feel about preaching.

I have never thought of preaching as a job. Some people do think of preaching in that way and it can produce a professionalism that can appear automated, utilitarian and detached.

Preaching has always been more than a career path to me. It has been woven into the fabric of my life. I like the idea of my sermon and I sharing the same heartbeat. I try not to be one person when I am preaching and another person outside the pulpit.

Preaching deserves an authentic unified voice, lip and life working in sync like a common heartbeat.

How can these be achieved and maintained?

  1. Don’t overthink it. I spend a lot of time preparing sermons, but much of this preparation occurs during the everyday. In this way sermons emerge that are an integrated reflection of the biblical world and my own.

  2. Don’t fake it. Not many things are worse in preaching that inauthenticity. Preachers need to keep it real so that hearers can be sure that they are the genuine article.

  3. Don’t lose touch with your core. Audiences can tell when a singer has lost their mojo. When the thrill is gone and a performer is simply grinding out the tired “hits,” no one is convinced. Preachers likewise, when they fail to be true to themselves, find that they fail to convince their hearers that this message really matters to them.

“Happy if with my final breath I might gasp his name.

Preach him to all and cry in death behold, behold the Lamb!”

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