A good sermon challenges the head, the heart, and the hands. However, the preacher may emphasize a response aimed at one of these areas more than the other.
Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the chapel of a local Christian school. I spoke on one of my favorite passages, Mark 9, explaining that Jesus can do something with our unbelief when we bring it to him. Before the chapel started, the bloke in charge asked me if there would be an “altar call” or if I was planning on “leaving them something to think about?” An altar call or a thinking message…
Who knew those were my two options?
Instead of explaining my take on altar calls, I politely (maybe I’ll get asked back) said, “It will be a ‘thinking message.'”
I won’t go into my thoughts on the 19th century invention of the altar call, as I’ve already done so here. But I do want to explore the question this man asked.
Should a sermon or a talk leave people with something to think about or should it call them to action? I think the answer is probably a qualified “yes.”
1.) Thinking. Of course, leave it to a Presbyterian to affirm the thinking part of a sermon…But people do need to understand what the passage in context really says, what it means, and why believing that passage makes a practical difference in life. Ideally, I want folks leaving a sermon thinking more and more about the passage, how it points us to the gospel, and how our lives will change because we’ve personally embraced that truth. You never want a, “Well now I know all there is to know about that passage and how it relates to Jesus and how I’ve already changed….” If the roots keep getting deeper, the fruit will become that much more evident.
2.) Response. One of my favorite pastors, and former professor Steve Brown, always (I think he still does) concludes his sermons with “you think about that.” He doesn’t mean for you to simply think, but to respond to the gospel. A good sermon always calls for some response. Now perhaps that response is one that no one sees. Perhaps it is a call to awe and wonder at the majesty of God. That is still a legitimate response, and one that is quite necessary when preachers like myself can emphasize God’s immanence at the expense of His transcendence. Now I can call people to come down an aisle and commit to being more in awe of God, or I can preach about His faithful character and say something like, “Now doesn’t this move us to awe?” I choose the latter.
Our sermon passage yesterday was on Psalm 92, which is a thanksgiving psalm. The main application Barret left us with was to make sure we focus on the giver more than the gift. No one may necessarily see that, but if by faith we respond, folks will eventually see a difference. They will never see us become angry if the building isn’t being used exactly as we want it.
Sometimes the response to a sermon may appear more active. It may mean that after you understand the “why,” you feel the need to respond by seeking forgiveness from someone you have wronged. It might mean that you spend time with your spouse next Friday night. It might mean that as a result of believing the gospel, you consider tithing, or supporting a missionary. It could mean that you become part of a church plant or stay at your existing church. Both are active responses. You don’t need to “come on down” in order to respond.
But neither should you simply think about what’s been said and conclude with, “That was a good sermon. I liked it.”