Often I get in conversations with other people about churches and sermons. I guess this is because of my obsession with macro-level thinking, with always considering how to improve institutions that matter to me.
In any case, I find this conversations often going down well-worn paths, to the question of whether a church ought to be “aiming low” in its spiritual content, trying to clarify the basics so that any non-Christian coming in feels at ease; or “aiming high” so that the staunch believers making up most of the congregation will feel that the spiritual content continues to challenge them. (It should hopefully be obvious from the scare quotes that when I call this “aiming high”, I’m only talking about level of theological knowledge, not implying that the theologically knowledgeable are better or even more moral people.)
My position is typically that treating the question this way forces a false dichotomy. I think it’s plausible that a talented pastor can “aim low” by teaching the same fundamental truths of the Gospel again and again, but do it in such a way as to also “aim high” by illustrating those truths in ways that cause that jaded portion of the flock to think, “Wow, I’d never quite thought of that truth in those terms.” To be sure it takes talent, and it’s not like it happens every day. But there is a supernatural aspect to the Bible that renews it with every reading, so it’s not like the preacher is left to his own devices. Hopefully he’s calling on the Holy Spirit for help!
In any case, this came to mind last week at the church where I’m getting settled in, Redeemer Memphis. Jeffrey Lancaster gave a sermon on the beginning of Isaiah 6, and in my notes I transcribed his overview as:
“God is convicting, overwhelming, and the one who calls us.”
Now, none of these characteristics of God is exactly novel to me. I know God convicts; I know God is overwhelmingly holy; and I know God is the one who calls us. I’d probably even thought of each of the three in isolation in reference to that passage! But I’d not really thought of the three together, and certainly not with the particular illustrations that Jeffrey chose from his own experience.
I just wanted to get my position out there on the Internets: You can ask for preaching that does it all, both reiterating the fundamental truths and illuminating them for those who’ve already heard it all. How many preachers do that, though, or how the Holy Spirit interacts with the individual talents of the preacher, I wouldn’t venture to guess.