The art of preaching poses many challenges. One of those challenges is deciding what not to say. When you preach in a middle-class, suburban context with multiple services, you have to pay attention to time and how long your sermon runs. I aim to preach between 15-17 minutes, which, for me is a manuscript of 1500-1700 words (yep, 100 words/minute).
My normal workflow of sermon writing goes like this:
- soak in the text (multiple readings, word studies, commentaries, etc.)
- create a storyboard of major thought chunks. This often includes drawing a mind-map in noteshelf on my iPad.
- create a PowerPoint presentation of the storyboard
- write a manuscript for each slide. This is a stream of consciousness writing exercise, as if I were preaching the sermon.
- check the word count. If I am within 1500-1700 words, then I begin to breathe again. If I’m over 1700 words, then the more I am over the more I begin to panic.
- Cut, cut, cut! (because I’m almost always over)
- finalize the manuscript within the word count parameters.
- copy and paste the manuscript into the Notes view in PowerPoint, because I have been writing to the slides all along.
- Print the Notes View of the PowerPoint slides with the booklet setting on our copier
- insert the booklet into my Bible with an elastic head band (yep, you read that right)
This morning I had to cut a HUGE section out of my sermon. This is our final week in the series “Take a Step to Give” and I am charged with talking about taking a step in percentage. I began the sermon with the idea that I would address two questions:
- Why should we give?
- How much should we give?
I know, that is really ambitious for a 15-17 minute sermon, but I wanted to think through it anyway.
I ended up completely dropping the why question and cut a part of the intro to the how question. This left me with a really, really practical sermon and nearly 800 words and some storyboards on the cutting room floor.
So, I thought I would share the part I cut here.
Why should we give?
There are two reasons for giving.
The first is a communal reason. We give because we are part of a community and there are things that belong to and are used by the community that no one person owns.
Last week we talked about how the church doesn’t cost money, but when a church chooses to own a building and hire staff, then the individual members of the church are all responsible to pay for it.
But, I want to dig a little deeper into this reason for a moment and think about meeting community needs.
What are the basic needs of a human?
- clean water,
- Shelter from the elements,
- Access to the healing arts,
- A loving community where we feel safe and accepted,
- A sense of purpose and hope that makes us want to live another day.
When you have all these things, then you have what you need.
So, who is responsible to supply these needs?
There are two extreme views on this.
On the one side there is the view that each person, or each tribe, depending upon your culture, is responsible to supply its own needs.
It is me, or us, against the world.
No freeloaders. If you can’t meet your own needs, then you lose.
Then, on the other side of the spectrum, is the view that we are all in this together.
There are limited resources and we all have to figure out how to share and steward these resources.
There is no room for hoarders in this world, when some people have nothing.
Here we drift dangerously close to political waters. Let me just say this: There are valid arguments, and dangerous blind spots on both sides of this question, and this is what political debates should actually be about. I just leave it at that.
As Christians, we want to know what the Bible tells us about these questions. Well, it is not as easy as just saying, “Here’s what the Bible says.”
It’s not that easy, because there is a fundamental difference between the cultures found in the Bible and our society today.
We must remember that in the ancient world, and actually for most of human history, the state and religion were one and the same thing.
So, the way that society takes care of the communal needs is through taxes. The church/government provides the community with public worship spaces, public education, public defense from enemies, public health and care for the helpless. And it is all paid for through taxes.
Today, however, we have a separation of church and state. We are, theoretically, a government of the people for the people. Our tax dollars go to meet the community needs.
The church has been sectioned off from the public life and quarantined in the private sector. It isn’t the church’s responsibility to provide public utilities, education, or health care. The state does that.
This is a messy topic, and, quite frankly, it gets really confusing as to how the church is supposed to interface with our public life and meeting the basic needs of the community.
The truth is, that if you pay taxes, then you are already contributing a lot of money to the needs of your community.
There is a second reason we give. This is more of an individual reason.
Giving is an act of worship. It reminds us that God is first in our lives and that God is the one who provides for our needs.
Giving is also a discipline of simplicity. This is very important in our section of society. My guess is that most of us live lives that are way more complicated than they need to be. We have all kinds of stuff and all kinds of activities, and all kinds of bills that tend to take control of us.
Giving to others helps us keep our self-indulgence in check.
Giving is also a reflection of the sacrificial love that Jesus showed us as we take what we consider to be our possessions and give it to others who are in need.
That’s why we give.