A couple months ago, I put up a survey on our church's website, asking the question, "What do you think is the most confusing and/or frustrating thing that Jesus ever did or said?"
We received some pretty fascinating responses, and I took the most frequently-asked questions from that survey and turned them into a sermon series called "Jesus Must Be Crazy." We just wrapped up the series this past Sunday, and I cannot tell you how much fun it was.
(Yes I can. It was a lot of fun.)
One of the best parts about being a pastor is that I get to go out learn a bunch of stuff and then come back to my friends at Collective Church and tell them what I learned. It's pretty great. And this series was a big stretch for me, because it forced me to start thinking about a few passages I had never preached about or even heard anybody else preach about. Several of the passages we dealt with have been largely ignored in most churches because they are confusing or scary or frustrating, which I suppose is why so many people wanted to talk about them in the first place.
I once heard a great preacher challenge a room full of preachers by saying, "You need to know if you're trying to answer questions that nobody is asking." What he meant was that sometimes preachers just talk about the stuff that they've always talked about or they deliver boring sermons every single week because they are trying to engage topics and ideas that have grown stale in the minds of their listeners.
That really stuck with me. I've heard lots of boring sermons in my life, and I could look at each of those sermons and tell you why I found them so uninteresting (the typical reasons tend to be overuse of churchy jargon, lack of a central point, and total disinterest in the people who are listening), but I had never really considered that one of the main problems might be that the preachers were trying to answer questions that nobody was asking.
I've written a lot about the nature of preaching and the things I've learned and am still learning about it. Whenever I go back and listen to my sermons, I can hear dozens of ways that I could be better than I am. That's the nature of any art form; you have to keep working, and you have to try and be better today than you were yesterday. But one of the greatest challenges of this whole thing has less to do with style and delivery and more to do with how we engage the subject matter. It's the question, "Am I trying to answer questions that nobody is asking?"
And so, as an exercise in answering the right questions, I did this series. It was a very demanding series that cost me countless hours of research and fact-checking, but it was worth it. I'm sure I'll do something like this again at some point. In fact, more than once I have preached a series based on a specific request from a church member. Why not? It's fun, and it forces me to get outside my own head and experiences and to think about what other people are dealing with. Plus, as I'm doing the research, it's pretty fun to discover something mind-blowing and then to think, "Oh man, that one guy who requested this topic is going to love this!"
So here's to curiosity and to asking questions alongside one another.
Oh, and here's the series: