Pitching the perfect sermon

May 7, 2014 by

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Pitching to the boys on my son’s coach-pitch baseball team in Houston is nerve wracking. There’s little in my week I concentrate more on or expect perfection at: I want them all to get a hit!

malakai-baseball-2014-tigersAnd it feels up to me.

I have to pitch perfectly: in the center of the strike zone, not too high or low or fast or slow or inside or outside.

Their ability to get a hit depends on my ability to put the pitch precisely where their bat will be at the exact right time. Whew. No pressure.

Sometimes, when prepping a sermon, I feel the exact same emotion and sense of urgency. As if my people’s capacity to “get it” depends entirely on me and my delivery: not too hot or cold, not too controversial or familiar, not too many new concepts nor too much self disclosure. Right down the middle. I think of how one person will need the delivery a bit more in this direction and how that group could be pushed more if I go there.strike-zone-150x150

It can be exhausting. I hear other pastors comment on the same tightrope walk, though perhaps not using this imagery. Atonement, gun control, racism, being missional . . . these are topics I’ve heard just this week that make my colleagues feel they need the perfect pitch.

At some point in the week, often for me on Sunday morning early as I pray, I’m able to see things differently. I move past this strict dependence (and idolatry) on me and see that God is in control. And that as Christians who live in the power of the resurrection, my audience has more agency, much more, than being children in need of the perfect pitch. They are more like seasoned veterans able to hit nearly every pitch.

One day in practice a boy got a great hit and said with great joy, “I think that one was a double!”

Ha! I thought, what innocence to strive for and celebrate a double. Not a home run, but a good solid double. Production at work is always about the home run.

I’ve come to see that striving for and expecting the perfect pitch every time I preach is actually rooted in my lack of trust in you.

But as an audience member you, as much as I, really do have inside the same Spirit that brought Jesus back to life! This Spirit empowers everyone — from Mary to Thomas, Peter to Paul — to speak boldly their own wisdom and faith.

I can trust the Spirit of God to work in my people, and trust my people to partner with God in that same work (Phil. 2:11-12).

So pastor friends, give yourself a break today. Whether your sermon is perfect or not, trust that the Spirit is moving and that your people can be transformed with or without you.

Then get up there on the mound and have a great time watching your team take a swing at the gospel.

Marty Troyer is the pastor of Houston Mennonite Church. He blogs for the Houston Chronicle here, where this first appeared. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.


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