Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sermon, seminar, or lecture?

Once I delivered a short sermon about 15 minutes to a group of youth. In the sermon, I related Ruth from the Old Testament with four modern revolutionaries: Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jean Paul Satre.

After the brief sharing, a youth came up to me and said, "Thank you for the lecture." I remember that I delivered a sermon, no?

That's my experience in preaching. I haven't had the opportunity to do preaching proper until early this week at Jubilee Church.

Last year Siow Hwee, one of the pastors at the church and a fellow blogger, invited me to be their speaker for this year's youth camp. I agreed.

So I asked Siow Hwee what are the topics they have for me? Here was his reply:

Three one-hour long sermons on (1) ethics of power, (2) ethics of wealth, and (3) ethics of religion. And one 30 minutes long sermon on Isaiah 2.1-5.

My first response was, "WHAT? Those are the topics for youth camp?" He then told me that that's the way they manage their church. They teach the congregation what seminaries teach their students.

I found out later that they are using books like John Goldingay's trilogy on the Old Testament in their Bible Studies syllabus. (And their library is comparable to the local seminaries. And they have very very impressive worship teams!)

After the camp is over, I still think it is rather bold on Siow Hwee's part to invite an inexperienced guy like me to speak at their youth camp.

As a reflection, I did really bad on the first one-hour long sermon: bad time management, points were all over the places, didn't get the message through.

Then came the night sermon on Isaiah 2. I stumbled at the beginning because I wasn't really sure if the message was appropriate as it was a very dark one. It is so dark that I didn't feel comfortable with the thought of sharing it to other people, not to mention to a group of youths.

Then I told to myself, "Heck it, worst scenario is that Siow Hwee will come onto the stage to drag me out." (Like what happened to Ignatius, the ultimate youth pastor. See the Youtube clip below.)

So I held my breath and read out all that I have written for 30 minutes. Then I ended it with a prayer and walked down from the pulpit with my head held down. Didn't dare to look up in case someone give me a finger or worse.

Then when I reached my seat, Siow Hwee gave me a thumb-up. Relieved... I was really glad that I wasn't dragged out from the church.

The following morning hour long sermons went all right. Not great but all right. Though it was lullaby to many, yet I managed to get my points through. I can live with disappointment as long as I have did what's within my capacity (which in turn shows how little I have).

I am glad it is over. I am especially encouraged when one of the youths, who is studying geography, approached me to express her appreciation for the second on wealth of which I shared about the philosophy of money, the ideology of wealth, and consumerism culture. She told me that she can relate to that as those are what she is studying.

Overall, I am very grateful for Siow Hwee for his critical comments after my first session. Those have really helped me a lot. From these experiences, I have learned more about my own homiletics and those assigned subjects.


achorusofehoes said...

those are heavy topics indeed. i wouldnt even try to preach those topics for youths let alone adults here. anyways great to read about this.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Jonathan,

Thank you for your interest in my experience. Merry Christmas to you :-)

SHWong said...

Hi Joshua,

Thanks for your efforts! It's I who has to be sorry that so many of my younger youths were falling asleep. However, I'm happy to report that the group discussions went very well, and I would consider this, one of the most successful attempts on the Prophets in Jubilee. I owe you one.

Pointers for you to take with pinches of salt.
1. You do need to manage impressions. The topics can be deep, but it can be presented simply. If you could reduce the jargons, the minute details, the official sounding quotes etc, and speak much more plainly, it would be less lecture-like.

2. For an hour long talk, I would also be more strategic in the presentation of my thought-flow. You need better hooks in the beginning, so that the youth would know what is the relevance to them. Dry background stuff and framework stuff are necessary but given in small dosages in between generous anecdotes and "from the heart sharing". Basically, it is about maintaining a connection with the crowd.

3. For a topic like ethics, I think the "directive" element is too little. Instead of showing the map, you could say which is your preferred route tot he destination. Some of them came away not knowing your "point". You could even just say your point first, before talking about how to get there with your framework.

Just some thoughts off my head.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi SHWong,

These are good and worthy advises. Now I have better perception of the awkwardness that I feel over the sermons. It's one of those moments, I say, "Ah... no wonder I feel that it is something not right there but doesn't what what exactly it is." Now I know! :-)

Good to learn from a seasoned preacher like yourself.