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Should You Enjoy a Sermon?

By Mark D. Roberts | Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Highland Park Presbyterian Church, Dallas,TXRecently I had the privilege of preaching at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas. It’s always an encouragement for me to experience a vibrant, Christ-centered, mission-oriented church. Thus I felt invogorated to be part of this church for a day.

I preached twice on Sunday morning in the traditional services at HPPC. During the second service, two other worship services were happening on campus: a contemporary service with a band and younger (!) preacher, and the “all nations” service that meets the cultural needs of folk from non-anglo cultures.

After each worship service, I stood at the door to greet the people. Those who came to shake my hand were kind in their greetings. I probably heard from at least thirty people something like: “I enjoyed your sermon.” Presumably, the folks who did not enjoy my sermon did me the favor of not coming by to tell me. But this got me wondering: Should you enjoy a sermon? Is this an appropriate response to the preaching of God’s Word?

Of course I realize that the folk from Highland Park were using a common expression to be affirming. I doubt they chose the verb “to enjoy” with much forethought or intentionality. So I don’t want to over-interpret their meaning, or even to suggest that I’m criticizing those who were so kind to me. On the contrary, I appreciate their gracious words.

But, now that I’m an occasional preacher and regular hearer of sermons, I wonder if enjoyment is, strictly speaking, what one should feel in response to preaching.

I can imagine some preachers and theologians being most unhappy with the “I enjoyed your sermon” comments. In fact, some might even question the effectiveness of my preaching. If people were actually enjoying my sermon, perhaps I was entertaining rather than edifying, titillating rather than teaching. It’s hard to imagine people coming up to Jeremiah after one of his prophetic messages and saying, “I really enjoyed your prophecy this morning.” If people enjoyed my sermon, perhaps that suggests I was failing to do my job as a preacher!

But, perhaps not. To be sure, there are times when preaching needs to hurt, when the Word of God, which is sharper than a two-edged sword, ought to be preached in way that cuts. Preaching, after all, should lead to conviction of sin and repentance, among other things. I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally enjoy sermons that force me to deal with my moral failings. Yet there is a sense in which a Christian sermon ought to lead to enjoyment. I’m not using the word “enjoyment” in its superficial sense. Sermons ought not to be enjoyed in the same way one enjoys a situation comedy on TV or an ice cream sundae. But the word “enjoy,” along with its derivatives, comes from an Old French verb meaning “to give joy to.” I would argue that this is, indeed, one key feature of authentic Christian preaching.

I’m not thinking here of the superficial joy that comes from hearing a preacher’s jokes or a compelling story. Rather, I’m thinking, in part, of the joy that comes when learning something of value. When I hear a sermon that teaches me something about God and his Word, I do feel glad. I truly enjoy learning God’s truth, and am thankful when preachers help me do this.

Yet enjoyment of preaching can flow from something even deeper than learning something valuable. It can come from hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Though I have been a Christian for almost five decades, I still need to hear the fact that God loves me and that Christ died for me so that I might experience the fullness of life, both now and forever. I need to hear that God has called me to participate with him in the grand work of renewing creation. If a preacher helps me to hear, really to hear the Gospel, then I am apt to feel joy, the joy of knowing God’s grace, the joy of finding once again my life’s true purpose.

Though preaching ought to create discomfort at times, even bringing a listener to weep with contrition, it ought ultimately to lead to joy. When someone truly and fully communicates the Good News of God, the listeners ought to feel joy, deep joy, genuine joy, transformational joy.

So, when people say to me, “I enjoyed your sermon,” I will receive this compliment as a kind gift. But I will also hope that what people mean is that they have learned something of eternal value from my sermon, most of all that God loves them in Jesus Christ and has a place for them in his great plan for the universe.

Topics: Christian Life, Worship |

2 Responses to “Should You Enjoy a Sermon?”

  1. John Key Says:
    December 9th, 2009 at 6:02 am

    I can’t be sure what your Highland Park congregants felt either, but I’d hope that by “enjoy” they meant they were filled with joy by hearing God’s word and your teaching. I confess that I encountered the deeper meaning of “enjoy” when reading the Westminster Shorter Catechism quoted in the novella “A River Runs Through It” and since then have spent a good bit of contemplative time thinking about what it means to “enjoy Him forever”.

    Now as I get older (seventh decade in 2 weeks!) my slow-to-develop Christian maturity is allowing me to enjoy God in many ways–His love, faithfulness, support, encouragement…and yes, His discipline as well. Thus I find myself able to “enjoy” most any sermon or teaching.

  2. Jonathan Biggar Says:
    December 9th, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Psalms 19:8 “The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart.” (NLT)

    I wouldn’t say that every sermon should be described as “enjoyable”, but certainly some should be, if they are properly grounded in the Word.


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