There is a certain breed of preacher who is famous for NOT writing a sermon, “winging” it on Sunday and chalking it up to “I just let the Holy Spirit lead me”! Now, don’t misunderstand- there is a HUGE need for preachers…and everybody else…to let the Holy Spirit lead them. But as an old friend of mine says, the work of the Holy Spirit isn’t to excuse you from doing your part!
The other thing I notice about the work of the Holy Spirit is that, apparently, He NEVER tells people to talk LESS! Do you know what I mean? I had a “guest preacher” come in once. I told her that we had 3 morning services. I told her how each service would go. I ASKED her in advance how much time she wanted to preach. Her response was, “Just tell me how long I have and that’s what I’ll do”. I told her that she had about 18 minutes. I also impressed upon her the need for the services to get done close to “on time”- with three different services shoehorned into a 3½ hour window, timing was somewhat important.
The first service that day…she preached for 41 minutes. I had to cut everything that was left in the service except the offering (You CAN’T cut the offering- we have bills to pay!) I talked to her about it between the first and second services. She apologized and said she would change her time. She did. The second service sermon was…43 minutes! In the end, I cut MUCH of all three services AND we were a full hour behind by the end of the morning!
Like I said- I have NEVER heard a preacher say, “The Holy Spirit told me to be brief!” Nope. The Holy Spirit, if experience is any indication, is solely in the business of telling folks to talk and talk and talk…and talk!
Why do I say all of this? My experience is that if I make NO plans at all and simply rely on the work of the Holy Spirit, things will probably not go very well. Is that because the Holy Spirit is unreliable? NO! It’s because we are painfully human! And so, the staff spends time EVERY week talking and walking through the nuts and bolts of what’s going to happen on Sunday.
I have had people tell me in the past, “That makes things too rehearsed- like doing a play.” And while I appreciate that sentiment- I don’t agree. Having a Master’s Degree in Theology and a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater, I have some unusual insight into the point at which they intersect.
When you rehearse a play, the goal is to learn the material and the setting so well that it becomes second nature. Then, when it’s time to present, two things are true: 1. you approach each performance as if it were your first- that’s what makes it “fresh” for the audience and 2. the reason you want it to be second nature is that, when the unexpected happens…and it will…you’re not shaken by it because you know what you’re doing.
My approach is to work HARD ahead of time so that worship feels natural and spontaneous. And when that unexpected thing happens, you’re ready for it because you have done your homework ahead of time. Have we worked out all the “kinks” for that service? Oh…probably not! But will we be MUCH more prepared to handle what comes up in the midst of a WIDE variety of intangibles because A. we have done our work ahead of time and B. we are open to the work of the Holy Spirit? You betcha!
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