Speaking with Andrew Palmer
I love getting the opportunity to hear people preach. I am also curious about how different people prepare sermons. So with that in mind here are some questions I asked Andrew.
Can you think of a sermon that had a big impact on you? Why has it stayed with you?
Lots of Mike Frost’s early preaching (or at least my exposure to it) impacted me. It was a combination of technique, content and ‘room reading’, as well as what I surmise to be the movement of the spirit of God. Two messages particularly moved me: “Awe and Fear” where the key illustration was his children’s response to first seeing fireworks and his application of that in relation to our response to God (aside: also useful in the Gideon story!) and another message “Shoulder to the Plow” from Luke 9:57-62 where Mike spoke about why the cost of following Jesus is great – and good. It rocked me out of a pretty passive stage in my life. So preaching that moves me has to bring all the elements of communication together. It has to make sense of the text. It has to have the ‘ring of truth’. It has to engage me holistically and it has to bring me to a point of decision (big or small). In my early Christian life, Mike did this way better than anyone I had ever heard before.
What was your process preparing to preach at Seaforth?
I read the text right through to refamiliarise myself with the story. I sat with that for several days kind of just wondering. I thought about how I had engaged this story previously (this became my sermon intro).
I reached out to wise friends and consulted good commentaries, reading a breadth. I looked at scholars assessment of theme of the Judges. I didn’t write ANYTHING down. A conversation with Andrew Sloane was a critical factor in shaping my thinking around idolatry – a key motif in the overall story and it occurred to me where the two critical interplays with idolatry sat within the narrative. I thought about SBC – what has shaped us, where we are strong, where we are weak, where we are blind and applied that to the Gideon narrative.
This process took the better part of a week (obviously only bits of each day).
I spent around four hours in my office writing and re-writing. I had determined earlier that I would read the whole of the story (in hindsight I think the negative of time cost was higher than the positive of context and knowledge…but it’s not a biggie). I wanted to be practical and show how an ancient text speaks in a modern context. Once it was written I read through and worked out where a visual would help and then created the PowerPoint.
The manuscript was created for the techie with slide insertion points and printed (and bound. I was out of control by this point.)
From there I ‘showcased’ the manuscript with a few different types of people (including people not from Church) and adjusted accordingly and continued to read through and get my cadence right.
On the whole it was a sermon that had some really good ideas and some significant drawbacks. Time in a COVID world (with masks) is even more critical, even though I accept I am a better and more interesting communicator than some.
Do you think sermons still have a role in a church’s worship gathering? Why/why not?
I genuinely do. The spoken word, when done well is genuinely transformative. Stories told and retold are fundamentally about identity. Yes, we need action. However, good sermons are not simply a video replication of events. They add meaning and context and logic and relevance to action.
I don’t believe that sermons are simply informative. They ought to be transformative – and that’s why they need to be more than a didactic process. Teaching the Bible is not so folks know the Bible. It’s so they experience the transforming power of God in their life. I think lots of preachers miss this point in the same way that one might “miss the forest for the trees”.
So, in a sense, I think they are quite sacred. And ought to be held as such by those that have the responsibility to deliver them…and therefore we ought to genuinely be looking for those God has appropriately gifted for the task to take and shaping them.