The best laid plans

I am sure that all preachers go through phases when they experiment with their sermons to try to make them more engaging. I have done this a number of times. I have experimented with preaching in tandem with a colleague – a sort of churchy Mutt and Jeff show. I have gone through seasons of preaching entirely without notes. I have tried drawing the congregation into participating. But the experiment I remember most vividly was when I set up someone in the congregation to object to something I said during the sermon. This is how it went down.

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My text concerned water baptism and because I had preached into this subject several times before, I wanted to take a novel approach. A particular couple had started attending the Sunday services recently and so were not yet known to most people in the congregation. I drew the husband aside before the service started and solicited his cooperation. His task was to wait until I made a particular point and then to jump up and challenge me. I would then answer him brilliantly and everyone would be greatly impressed.

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At exactly the right moment he leaped up from his chair and took issue with me in a loud voice. I responded with the preplanned rejoinder and after I had done so I said; “Please don’t think he was being rude. Actually, I asked him to interject because I thought it would liven things up a bit.” The concerned looks disappeared from most faces and a gentle corporate chuckle swept the hall. However, one dear lady was hard of hearing and although she had followed the exchange well enough she had not caught my explanation of how it had been a set up.

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She was an elderly lady who had spent many years in a church group that had a particular view of baptism. She believed that if one had been baptized in the Holy Spirit then water baptism by immersion was redundant. I suspect that the doctrine had been devised to solve the problem that some denominations have with baptizing adults who have been previously ‘christened’ as babies. In any event, this dear lady, and she was a very dear lady, had also only been attending our services for a few Sundays, and so she took the man’s earlier interjection as acceptable common practice. So, rising to her feet she stopped my sermon in midflight to politely explain her doctrine of baptism.

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The earlier planned attempt to shoot down my sermon had supported the case I was making for water baptism, but this second interruption threw me seriously off course. All I could do was to gently disagree, smile a lot, and then quickly ‘land the plane’ with an early conclusion.

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The best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray – yes they sure do. But, I still think preachers should mix things up from time to time. The Word of God needs to be presented with living freshness and within the context of real life. Why should a preacher be above contradiction? Why can’t genuine believers be given the opportunity of asking questions during a service? But I need to remind myself that lurking in the congregation will always be a dear old lady with a theological ground-to-air missile pointed at the preacher.

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