Tag: don’t be boring

On preaching about Eutychus

I preached for the first time as an employee of a church yesterday. It was so big a milestone that my gran and my mum and my wife came to watch. My wife would have been there anyway I guess.

We’re doing a series on Acts at church at the moment and when Andrew asked what I wanted to preach on I naturally said “Acts 20”. Because I wanted to talk about Eutychus. Acts 20 isn’t really about Eutychus, he’s a peripheral figure. And I actually ended up preaching a mammoth passage from Acts 18:18 to the end of Acts 20 – Paul’s whole mission to Ephesus.

I would much prefer preaching a mammoth passage to preaching a mouse sized passage – it’s far better to have to leave stuff out than it is to have to make stuff up.

Here’s what I said about Eutychus. For the record…

And in verse 7 we have possibly my favourite story in the Bible. If you’re going to go down in history for something it may as well be being bored to death by the world’s most famous evangelist. And Eutychus has that honour.

Because in chapter 20 of Acts Paul preaches what could still be a world record for the longest sermon. From dusk until dawn Paul is preaching his passion – the Ephesians might have been able to fervently chant for two hours [in Acts 19] – but chanting six words over and over again has nothing on being able to preach ALL NIGHT teaching.

Paul could have spent hours talking about tent making – and you can bet there would’ve been more fatalities – he could have spoken at length about his travels. If you’ve ever watched a friend’s holiday slide show you’d be aware just how excited some people can be about where they’ve been and what they’ve seen… but that’s not what Paul is excited about. He just wants to talk about Jesus.

Scots Presbyterian in Clayfield enjoys a visit from the boarders from the local Presbyterian Girls’ school about once in a blue moon – and yesterday happened to be it. So between the morning service and the night service I removed the flesh from the skeleton of my talk and reshaped it into something almost purely evangelistic. This is surprisingly easy to do when you’ve put some hours into exegeting the text and figuring out the ways to point people to the gospel – so Gary Millar’s advice was invaluable.

Eutychus played a more prominent role in this talk… just thinking about his story made me aim to not bore my audience of teenage girls. I was glad there were no open windows because I’m not sure how many of them would have tottered out.

My sermons still suffer from slightly trite application (as trite as urging people to live for, and preach, the gospel can be) and I’m always left wishing I’d dug the knife in a bit deeper to cut some real change into people… hopefully that’s something I can work on. Memorable application is important. I feel a tension between creating a memorable understanding of the text and a memorable application of the text – though I’m not actually sure the two should be separate.

One of the bits of preaching I find most memorable was a refrain from an NTE talk on Ezekiel from many years ago where I think Donny Kwan spoke and kept saying “God will be God, and you will know it” is the big idea of Ezekiel. A mantra like that is helpful – but it hasn’t really been profoundly life altering.

So, preachers who read this blog, how do I move my application from the general “live like Jesus” to the specific “live like Jesus by…”, any tips? My guess is that I need to understand the people I’m preaching to and what they’re struggling with so I can metaphorically push their buttons. But even that seems a bit apply by the numbers.

Giving notice

I was a little bit surprised that so many people spoke out in defense of announcements at church. I want to be clear that I’m talking about things that are generally covered in the “news” section of a church bulletin, and hopefully these days the church’s website and Facebook page*.

Announcements are dead wood. They should be cut. Like a pine forest. They should just be printed on literal dead wood.

I don’t buy into the whole “seeker sensitive” style service where everything is run for visitors and the people who are part of the church family are ignored. But if you’re spending 10 minutes reading out the handout that everybody is holding already** that’s 10 minutes of wasted time. You could, though I wouldn’t, fit three more songs or one long prayer in that time. There are myriad things that can be done in ten minutes that are more beneficial to church life than boring advertisements for things that are no doubt already boringly described in your boring newsletter.

You know what happens when church is boring – people fall out of windows and die. And Paul isn’t going to pop in and resurrect the poor souls that expire during your overly long promo of the church working bee.

* Here are some great tips from Mikey for how churches (and in fact any organisation) should use Facebook. He’s much better equipped than me to comment on this matter… I’ve only got 27 fans on my Facebook fan page after a week of relentless self promotion… you could become one now. It would make me feel special…

Here are some more Facebook friendly resources I found through Church Marketing Sucks… an e-book called “Facebook for Pastors” and a set of general principles on using Facebook for your business.

**And while I’m on that note – what’s with churches (not just ours, though it’s guilty here) being so miserly about the number of handouts they print. One per couple? Per day? Are you serious? My attendance isn’t worth 5 cents to you? You’re expecting me to “give generously” when the offering comes around and yet I have to share the handout…

I also miss handouts with sermon outlines written in them.