Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday Morning Preacher: Personal vs. Therapeutic

Oh, man, this entry has been hard to write! I used a story from my personal experience yesterday to illustrate the story of the Good Samaritan. It raised the question for me: when does a sermon illustration using a personal story pass from sharing into over-sharing?

It's so much easier when sitting in the pews. From that vantage point, it's obvious at what point someone's preaching becomes someone's personal therapy, where they're trying to work out some of their personal issues through a talking cure with the congregation as therapist. And then I hit a sermon last week and had to figure out, "Am I preaching this because it's a good illustration of the gospel? Or am I preaching this for my own personal reasons?"

There's a distinction between the personal and the therapeutic in preaching, and I'm still trying to figure out where exactly that line is. Here's my basic rule: you know your preaching has crossed over into the therapeutic if your goal, when you preach it, is to get the congregation to make you feel better about yourself.

It's a constant balancing act, though, because, as in the sermon illustration below, I do wonder at what point, "I did this or that" becomes "I did this or that. Wasn't that grand?"

And there's no doubt that mixed motives abound in preaching. I still believe (in hope) that a good sermon can have mixed motives.

As always the goal in preaching is to make the gospel clearer to the hearers, and there are certainly stories in our lives that illustrate the gospel. Sometimes even the preacher does something worth noting. It would be terrible not to use them out of a severity that says nothing personal should be involved in preaching.

I am hoping that my personal story illustrated for the congregation as vividly as it conveyed to me that "loving your neighbor" is as obvious and neglected a call as it ever was. Even a priest can figure that out, if it's impressed upon them enough.

What do you think? Do you have any rules of thumb to keep personal sharing from the pulpit within the realms of acceptable behavior?


it's margaret said...

Yes. I can share me so long as it only embarrasses me or I was an ass.... then I can share it. Otherwise, it's off limits.

It's helped.

Anonymous said...

I use stories about myself if I think they represent common enough experiences that the people in my congregation are likely to have shared something similar. If, in other words, I'm working on some personal struggle of my own, I keep it to myself - but if I'm remembering an example that I think the people to whom I am preaching are fairly likely to recognize as something that they have also experienced, then I will usually use it.

I thought your Good Samaritan sermon worked perfectly in this regard - it told me something about you, but it told me more about the gospel, the difference between Jesus' context and ours, and the new ways that I might his words and his work as examples for mine.