Guest blog by Rev. Dr. Adam T. Trambley. Adam brings a wealth of knowledge and encouragement from his own discovery journey in learning how preaching transforms congregations. This is part 1 of 2.
A familiar problem
After preaching as a senior pastor for a couple of years, I was getting frustrated. No matter how clearly I expounded the scriptures, no matter how practical my applications, no matter how dynamic the performance, I wasn’t gaining traction. Most people would learn something, and some might even try a new spiritual practice for a while. But the rubber band of their individual and corporate life of faith kept snapping back. Between long-established expectations of church and the distractions and busyness of modern life, the results I longed for were not materializing.
Preaching for change
A breakthrough came when I stopped thinking about preaching as a series of individual sermons, or even sermon series, and began to think of myself as preaching a single long-term sermon that might last eighteen months or more. I decided to use preaching — the most effective leadership tool at a pastor’s disposal — to focus on the most important change necessary for my congregation during a given period of time.
Significant changes in a church do not happen overnight. Getting an inward-focused congregation to evangelize, developing stewardship habits, or teaching effective conflict resolution techniques all require Biblical exposition, vision casting, practical teaching, meaningful examples, and patient encouragement. The goal is not so much to change one behavior but to help people appropriate a new, life-giving aspect of the gospel with their heads, hearts, and hands. Making meaningful changes in a church culture is less like getting people to memorize a math problem than teaching them a whole new language, and we need a homiletical approach appropriate for that work.
Preaching as leadership
This understanding of preaching as leadership requires us to wed our sermons to our broader congregational development efforts. Instead of the sermons coming solely from the pastor’s study, they are going depend on the work of our strategic planning committees, church boards, Natural Church Development health teams, and other leadership groups. Such a methodology also requires patience and creativity. We need to be ready to offer milk while weaning a congregation into solid food. Instead of an intense sermon series cajoling a church into something new immediately, we can find a couple minutes to insert a relevant point about our long-term focus into each week’s sermon over the course of a year or two. Instead of preaching on one important topic until we have said what we have to say and moving on, we can preach through a variety of important scriptural passages and doctrines while keeping our current goal in the forefront of a congregation’s mind.
I have found that such steady, consistent preaching can move a congregation into a whole new phase of growth and development. In the end, even much more quickly and effectively than other approaches to preaching I have tried. It’s not easy, but it works. In fact, I am a better preacher when as a church we know where we are trying to go. I can then see what tools God has given me in the scriptures and the congregation that week to help us move there.
About the author
The Rev. Dr. Adam T. Trambley is the author of A Way with Words: Preaching That Transforms Congregations, which lays out how to preach a long-term sermon. He is the senior pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sharon, Pennsylvania.
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