Let the Word do the Work

Kris BarnettKristopher Barnett, Preaching

I am a bad golfer.  I spend the majority of my time on the golf course retrieving golf balls.  In fact, if I manage to find more golf balls than I lose, I have no qualms telling people that I broke even for the day.  Unfortunately, even with that skewed scoring system, I cannot recall a time I broke even!   

Though I have never had a formal swing coach, I have received unsolicited advice from almost every individual who ever stepped on the course with me.  The admonitions still ring in my brain: keep your head down, don’t look up, don’t bend your arms, swing through the ball, follow through, etc….  While I remember those admonitions, one sticks out in my mind because of its simplicity, “let the club do the work.” 

 “Let the club do the work.”  This sage advice runs contrary to natural instinct.  Standing over the ball, everything screams, “Hit is as hard as you can!”  Time and time again I discovered that the harder I tried to hit the ball the further it strayed off course.  (I still feel bad about that Suburban I hit when I was in college.  Really, who puts parking lots that close to the tee box?)  However, on those rare occasions when I relaxed and let the club perform, the ball actually went straight. 

 Early in my preaching career I brought the simple adage from the golf course to the pulpit, with a slight modification: “Let the Word do the work.”  The preacher must resist the natural urge to rely on their own strength, wisdom, creativity, and charisma.  Instead, the preacher must recognize the inherent power available in God’s Word.  The sermon does not depend on the natural abilities of the preacher.  Instead, the sermon yields the greatest results when the message focuses on the Word of God. 

 I recall moments sitting in my study preparing for an upcoming sermon racking my brain for an impressive illustration, a fitting phrase, or an ingenious outline. The harder I strained the more frustrated I became.  The pieces of the sermonic puzzle that I had worked so hard to create rarely fit together.  They lacked continuity and power.  In golf terms, the sermons were mostly hooks and slices. 

 I also recall those moments when I allowed the Word to dictate the direction of the message.  Disciplined exegetical work revealed the theme and tone of the text.  Linguistic analysis provided appropriate illustrations that clarified the meaning of the text.  Theological reflection exposed textual connections to broader Biblical themes.  The pieces of the sermonic puzzle derived from diligent textual analysis always jelled together with continuity and power.  Rather than working to create a sermon, I discovered the sermon contained in the text.  When I let the Word do the work the sermon flew straight down the middle.

 Make no mistake; the process of disciplined exegetical work is not easy.  It requires time and energy.  The fruit of the text rarely lies exposed on the surface, readily available through casual reading.  The preacher must invest mental, spiritual, and emotional energy when following the leadership of the text.  However, the process yields sermons that find the fairway.  Instead of straining to produce a sermon that lands in the weeds, the preacher follows the natural process of allowing the Word to do the work.  Instead of hacking at the homily with uncertainty and guess work, the preacher can proceed with confidence that their congregation will receive a message from God. 

 If you are tired of slicing your sermons into the weeds, take a lesson from a fellow duffer.  Let the Word do the Work!