Are our sermons a problem?

There’s been some talk around the UU blogosphere about sermons and social media, and it’s a good conversation to have. We have to start (continue?) better engaging people online in addition to the work we do in worship on Sunday mornings.

See the takes of UU professional religious leaders Cynthia Landrum, Tom Schade, Scott Wells, and Phillip Lund, and Dan Harper. For a look at how someone in a different faith tradition uses social media in worship, check out Presbyterian minister Bruce Reyes-Chow, who encourages congregants to Twitter during his sermons, and gasp shows the tweets in the sanctuary.

But I have a feeling we’re overlooking something obvious here. How many really good UU sermons have you heard lately? And I mean really good, the kind that you wanted to talk to other people about, the kind that had you on the edge of your seat, the kind you might have given an “Amen” or two to, even out loud.

I don’t say this to be snarky or mean. But really, how many? I’m guessing it’s not too many, unless you’re one of the lucky few UUs who get to hear some of our very best preachers on a regular basis. I don’t think the length of our sermons is the biggest issue here. I have heard 30-minute sermons that seemed to fly by, and eight-minute sermons that were boring for every word of them. The key isn’t the quantity of the sermon, it’s the quality. I hope this isn’t some revelation, but it can’t be said enough.

I hear some parish ministers grumbling out there already, saying that I don’t have any idea how hard it is to write a good sermon every week. I’m guilty as charged—not yet ordained, and already telling my senior colleagues how they should be doing their jobs. But I think I’m right. And between full-time school, 25 hours of work a week, and a busy guest preaching schedule (11 times so far in 2011), I think I have some idea how hard it is to write a good sermon often, if I can be so bold as to say that. And, of course, there are some ministers who will never be great preachers—an interesting thought given that our congregations routinely put good preaching atop their list of qualities they want in a minister.

Some of the suggestions on the blogs linked to above address this, as do the comments on them. If we can engage with people online ahead of the sermon, maybe we can make more interesting, more engaging, more relatable sermons. It certainly can’t hurt. And getting our message out in many ways is vital. But I’m not sure how much point there is in putting a mediocre sermon out there on podcast or streaming video. And until I see a higher quality in UU sermons, I’m doubtful about this. Make a great sermon first, then put it out online—don’t do it the other way around!

Having said that, I can’t wait for the comments, if there are any. Let me have it, or just let me know what you think.

3 Responses to “Are our sermons a problem?”
  1. Phil on the Prairie says:

    Good point, Christian. There is a quality issue here. I’ve been thinking lately that if sermons are going to come off well on the internet, they’re going to have to be a little more engaging. Perhaps ministers should be looking at TED talks as a model?

  2. Christian says:

    Yeah, TED talks are something, especially as we move to a model where there is more online engagement. But I think there’s even more of an issue. If you’re not a captivating presence in person, delivering the sermon, who’s going to watch or listen online? They say that, for better or worse, 90 percent of a sermon is how it’s delivered, and 10 percent is the content. Which means, as far as I can tell that, since most of our preachers are putting 90 percent of their time into content and 10 percent into their delivery, that’s a huge mistake.

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