Thanks for your note, which brings me back to the topic at hand: preaching. And baseball.
A couple of letters ago I was musing about the “home run” sermon you heard from a famous preacher. I suggested that when you step into a pulpit, hitting a home run is not really a great goal.
I admit, it is easy to feel like you have to swing for the bleachers. Especially now when you only get to preach occasionally, you sort of want to make it count.
Or maybe you feel like you have to prove yourself. Like when you are asked, as a seminarian, to preach in your home congregation. Or when it is your first sermon in your new field education setting. The temptation can be strong to show them all that you are up to the task.
And it is a temptation, make no mistake. If you step into the pulpit to prove something about yourself, you are missing the mark in your calling.
(It is excusable in a newbie. In an experienced pastor it is cringeworthy.)
What should your goal be as a preacher?
So what should your goal be, you may ask?
If you are willing to stick with a sports metaphor for one more letter…
- You should be aiming for a base hit.
- Or even a sacrifice bunt.
- Basically you want to move the other players one base further in their journey to Home.
(See how I turned the baseball metaphor all spiritual? The Christian life is a journey back to God, who is our True Home from whom we originally came… but I’m waxing on in the spirit of Origen.)
What did the best preachers aim for?
I’ve shared with you before, probably a couple of times, the kind of agenda some of the greatest preachers in history have kept to. Sermons of people like John Chrysostom and John Calvin did two simple things extremely well.
- They explained the biblical text read that morning.
- They connected that text to life as we know it.
They didn’t show off in terms of scholarship. No name dropping. No fancy dancing with concepts that only matter to scholars of the ancient world, or to cutting edge literary critics.
They just helped us all understand the text better.
And they didn’t stay in the realm of the mind. They got down to the living of the Christian life. And the Christian life they relate it to is the one people in their congregations (people like you and me) were actually facing.
No wrestling with imaginary problems, leaving the real people relieved that the text doesn’t call them to anything.
The Base Hit Sermon
So what’s a base hit?
- One insight that helps a Christian make sense of some aspect of the faith.
- One bit of comfort that helps a Christian find the healing so needed in a life and a world broken by sin.
- One bit of challenge that helps a Christian take seriously the practical call of Christian living.
- One bit of clarity about what a legitimate forward step would be in the life of faith.
The base hit sermon is not usually about radical conversion. You should assume they have already come to Jesus. That’s why they keep coming back to worship him every Sunday.
You can become a consistent base hit preacher. There are a lot more of them than there are home run hitters.
Base hits vs. homers
In baseball, check out where the guys on the home run list rank in the overall list of career hits. The #7 home run hitter (Jim Thome) is #142 in the overall list for hits. A whole lot of players with fewer homers got more hits.
Or maybe we should count those who helped others cross the plate. Check out the top of the RBI list. The top six are also in the top 30 of the home run list — which is no surprise. But check out #7: Ty Cobb.
Cobb (the guy with the lifetime batting average of .366) is kind of hard to find on the home run list. He’s way down there at #708. But in his career of 4,072 non-homers he brought 1,944 other players across the plate.
Your goal is to help someone who follows Jesus take one more step with him.
One more step toward Christian maturity.
One more step toward Home.
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