Preacher: Phill Tague
Sermon Title: Simplify Your Mind
Sermon Link: http://ransom.church/sermons/simplify-your-mind/
Phill Tague is the lead pastor at The Ransom Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He’s a preacher who seems to see clearly both the reality of Scripture and how that impacts the realities of our time. This is one such sermon.
- Leave it unfinished.
There’s nothing worse than the feeling that your sermon is unfinished. Preachers often find themselves on Saturday wishing they had another hour to develop that last point a little more, or to craft an power packed conclusion instead of the average close they have in mind. This isn’t the kind of “unfinished” we mean. Sometimes a preacher can wrap a sermon so well the preacher has done most of the work. The congregation is left feeling like there isn’t much for them to do. It is satisfying just as it is. “That was a good sermon wasn’t it?”
Phill Tague doesn’t do that here. We hope you will feel as we did after listening to his sermon, simultaneously unsettled and grateful. Pastor Tague depicts a clear gap between the prayerful simple lives we can have and the uncomfortable actuality of our frantic minds. He does not pat us on the back at the end and resolve the tension. A good preacher knows to leave some of the work for the congregation to do; the hard work does not both begin and end in the pulpit. Here Craddock writes specifically about imagery, but the concept applies to the creation of the whole sermon. “Effective words are set in silence, during which time the hearers speak. The real sermon is the product of all that is contributed by both speaker and listeners during their time together.” Tague chooses to the sermon with a challenge to look for God wholeheartedly, a spurring on to continued perseverance, rather than setting us in for a Sunday afternoon nap.
- Interpret Scripture, Interpret Our Times.
We have all heard a number of preachers mention smartphones as a distraction to our spirituality. Sermons nearly entirely devoted to this specific device and it’s distractions are much more rare. Pastor Tague gives careful social critique while making it visually clear. The difference between a family at dinner with devices and a family without devices is striking for the average North American listener. The listener has no trouble seeing the sermon and it’s affect in their ordinary lives. It is important for a preacher to talk about Scripture in a way that makes sense for our time. If the word you’re giving does not make sense for right now then all the eloquence in the world will not be able to bring the sermon home.
- Get specific.
“The preacher was inside my head this morning.” Have you ever heard someone say something like that? Details serve many purposes. One of those is to help people relate on a much more personal level to scripture, examples, metaphors, and the general aim of the sermon. “The coworker left,” is grammatically fine. But it does not paint a picture. We can not imagine the scene without having to fill in a lot of blanks. Instead, “The frustrated coworker sulked across the office away from my office door.” Instead of imagining a generic coworker moving in an aimless direction away from an unknown location, we can see the coworker’s attitude and pouting expression. How will you help people see what you’re speaking? “The minister says, ‘all people are mortal’ and meets drowsy agreement; he announces that ‘Mr. Brown’s son is dying,’ and the church becomes the church.” (Craddock, 51).
Pastor Tague is an effective and passionate communicator, presenting Scriptural truth clearly and in a way that’s very relevant for our time. What are a few things we can practice this week to continue in growing as preachers of the good news of Jesus Christ?
Entrust listeners with the end.
Where have you created tension that they must resolve with God? The tension will hopefully be created throughout the sermon; at the end, are you tempted to resolve the tension? We want to leave people hopeful, of course. But we wouldn’t be good pastors if we did the work for them. If you are tempted to tie up your sermon with a tidy bow to soften the blow, try leaving it unwrapped a little. How will they continue the work you have begun from the pulpit?
Look at our times.
You don’t have to look far to begin to understand what might be keeping some of your people up at night. In fact, you could just open another tab right now and go to your Facebook page. Their posts and likes are not their true selves and inner wrestlings, but they are clues pointing the way. What is worrying your people? What is giving them hope? Take some time this week to deepen your understanding of your listener’s concerns and questions. Listen intently in pastoral counseling sessions, pastoral care, discipleship conversations, and mentoring moments. What are the patterns that emerge?
We may speak intelligently without anyone hearing what we say. We may speak truth, but that doesn’t mean it will stick. If we are too vague with where God meets us or to whom God wants to speak, we can become an obstacle for people to overcome in hearing God. Being specific and providing details serve the great purpose of allowing people to be able to relate on a personal level to what you’re saying and what the Holy Spirit wants to say to them. How are you using details to make concrete that which is abstract?
Skim through your sermon and find a few sentences that sound highly theological. What follows that sentence that helps people to understand that on the ground level?
Our people do not live in the clouds of abstract thought (and neither do we). We live on the ground, where theology must be practical and truth must be spoken in a way to which ordinary people can easily connect. Make it concrete. Make it specific.