Chapter 54

One Sermon, Two Messages

How to deliver one sermon at two completely different services

My church has two distinct worshiping communities. The traditional community meets in the sanctuary. Its design is hushed and Spartan, with subtle gray walls, indirect lighting, white cornices and woodwork, and a choir loft directly behind me as I preach. The pews are long and straight, arranged in Puritan concert-hall fashion. The pulpit, with its clean lines, is a dignified symbol of tradition, authority, and austerity. When you enter the sanctuary, you are quiet. The organ sets the mood of somberness.

Worship here is informed by Enlightenment rationality: God is the wholly Other whom you approach at a distance by the mediated steps of classical artistry in word and song.

The contemporary worshiping community, on the other hand, gathers in the sunny Great Room. The chairs are stackables, arranged in a sweeping semicircle of eye-to-eye intimacy. The acoustics in the room are poor, but that doesn't matter, since the praise team is powered by amplified speakers pointed in every direction. There's no pulpit, of course—only a music stand, which I may use if I want to. People tell me I preach better if I don't; I get more "real and personal, not tied to words on a page."

When you enter the Great Room, it's noisy. But noisy conversation and people interaction are the home of spirituality in a post-Enlightenment community. God is not "out there"; he is here, among us.

So each week I prepare doubly for Sunday morning worship. The "feel" and "mind" of the two services are so different, that I find it helpful to shape my sermon for the two groups

Shakespeare or "ER"?

Often the very things that make a sermon powerful in the traditional worshiping community decrease its effectiveness at the contemporary worship service. And vice versa.

Sometimes I'm crafty with my words. The traditional group loves it—they can see God in the art of wordplay. The contemporary group hates it—they think it is trying to put on a show that isn't real.

For instance, here are a few passages from a message called "Mountain Standard Time," based on Isaiah 2:15.

Do you know why you came here this morning? Do you know why you came to this church and wanted to become a member of it? It's because there's something of Mountain Standard Time that whistles through this place. We're bound by the clock out in the lounge that chimes the quarter hour in Eastern Standard Time. But just for a while, in this place of worship, we experience the quickening pace of life on the mountain of God, somewhere beyond the International Date Line. And Mountain Standard Time becomes our wish, and our hope and our prayer.

After I preached this sermon at the traditional worship service, there was a quiet hush, and then people streamed toward me from all directions. This message spoke powerfully to them. They were moved by the theme and the crafting of the words and scenes that conveyed it.

On the other hand, at the contemporary worship service, I felt as if I were just marking time. At appropriate moments people smiled or laughed a little. But mostly they seemed to tell me I was missing the real world. What was I getting at, anyway? A good friend said to me after the service, "Wayne, I sure like your practical sermons better!"

Shakespeare and the classics speak to those in the traditional worshiping community, while hot television programs hit the button in the other.

The similarities

When I preach best for both communities, I do three things well.

First, I exegete faithfully. The Bible is the Word of God, and nothing in my creativity or rhetorical technique can outdo it in power and significance. When I exegete well, I speak for God. Not because I'm such a great speaker, but because he is. He spoke the Word. And he still speaks it today.

Of course, exegeting well doesn't mean I carry all my exegetical work into the pulpit (or to the music stand) with me. It simply means I have found a message worth preaching because it is God's message. And it means that the form of the message rings true to the intent of the passage in tone and substance.

Second, I tell stories. Bible stories. Human stories. Literary stories. I find stories are a powerful way to speak across generations and to different audiences. Storytelling helps me bridge the psychological and sociological divide separating my two congregations.

Third, preaching needs to create vision. There must be a larger reality that all enter when they are caught up into the kingdom of God. I don't consider Sunday morning preaching to be simply the transmission of cognitive information that empowers someone else by its insight. Preaching, while often encompassing a teaching element, is more of an exercise in frame-building and world-portraying.

I try to call people to participate in a world that is larger than their experiences, one that feeds the craving of their souls, one that always welcomes them at the doorway called HOME.

The differences

Over the years I've developed a manuscript style that makes it easy for me to read without appearing as if I am closely tied to exact wordings on a page. For the traditional worshiping community, where I am somewhat limited in movement at the pulpit, I basically read the manuscript in an engaging, conversational style.

When I move into the Great Room with the contemporary worshiping community, I usually take the manuscript, though sometimes I jot notes on a slip of paper or even wing it with no notes or manuscript. There I walk back and forth at the center of the crowd, mostly hitting the high points and telling stories. If I have the manuscript, I put it on a music stand and refer to it now and again in order to keep my thoughts focused.

But even the way I use illustrations often differs in each setting. Recently, in a message called "Shopping for a New Wardrobe," based on Paul's teaching in Colossians 3 to "put off the old self" and to "put on the new," I began by asking people if they liked what I was wearing. In my manuscript, which I used rather closely at the traditional worship service, it came out like this:

Do you like what I'm wearing today?
One of my friends who is a pastor says that his people respond to the different colors of the ties he wears on Sunday morning.
Do you think that's so?!
He says when he wears a yellow tie, they seem to get restless quickly. My friend says that when he wears a red tie, people seem to sing better. They're more attentive. They seem to get the point quicker.
Now, I don't know if he's on to anything. But I do know that clothes make a statement. We look at each other's clothes. Teens check out the gear. Does it have the right labels? Is it the kind all the right kids wear at school? Women look at the cut of a dress. Men go for the insignia on the pocket of the shirt… .
Ah! Clothes make a point, don't they?!

When I went to the contemporary worship service, I ad-libbed that entire section. I acted it out, raising my tie in front of the crowd, and walking around for them to inspect it.

In both services the same point was made. However, the illustration was tailored to the particular congregation.

Transition time

As soon as the worship service ends for the traditional worshiping community, I walk out of the front of the church building and move quickly toward my office. This is the part I dislike about making such a quick turnaround on Sunday mornings. I would rather linger with people for a while and spend moments in pastoral conversations.

However, I need to get away in order to make the transition to the next worship service.

In my office, I take off my suit jacket, role up my shirt sleeves, and sort through the pages of my sermon manuscript. I decide whether I'm going to use the manuscript again, or if I need to make some quick notes on a Post-it note, or if I should try to deliver the message without notes at all.

At the best of times, this exercise taxes my powers of communication, draining the energy out of me. At the worst of times, I feel as if I have failed one of the worshiping communities, and I end Sunday with a terrible headache.

Usually I finish Sunday morning somewhere in between. Still, when I do my preaching right, there is a great possibility for the two congregations to move on parallel paths toward the parousia. And each, on its pilgrimage, can do effective ministry for Christ.