Over the next few weeks we are going to be doing something that we’ve not had the opportunity to do for the past couple of years, inviting people to come along to a Christmas Carol service. It’s one of the few times of year when it’s reasonably easy to invite people along to a traditional style church service with hymns, readings and prayers. So, how do we make best use of the time, particular if we are asked to give a talk/sermon.
Well, here are a few thoughts.
- You still need to do the hard-work of exegeting the text. Just because the talk will be short, evangelistic and based on a well-known event/story/texts doesn’t mean that we get a week off from this. Our primary concern is to know what God’s Word is saying to the congregation in front of us. That the texts are familiar actually makes it even more of a challenge to ensure that we preach what it actually says not what we’ve come to assume it says.
- This also means we have to work hard at exegeting the congregation. Who will be in front of us, what will they be thinking and feeling? What are their felt needs and their real needs? What might be their objections and questions.
- Aim to say one thing and one thing well. That’s probably true of any sermon but especially on this occasion. Remember that you are the guy interrupting their enjoyment of some lovely songs. Whilst the carol service is perhaps the easiest to invite people to, it’s the hardest to get people to listen at.
- Scrub the in-jokes and make it your resolution to keep it like that afterwards!
- I tend not to prepare these talks on paper because how you prepare affects how you will preach it. I’m going to look people in the eye and talk to them directly, I want all of their attention so that means I have to give them all of mine. So, I’m going in without notes. This means I tend to prepare mentally/orally. Rather than sitting in a study with books, paper and my laptop, I prefer to get out for a walk to think and pray. Rather than writing the talk down, I prepare by speaking it out loud.
- Let the carols carry a fare share of the weight. Yes, I know some of them end up being a bit sentimental and some muddle tradition with the actual events but a lot of them have rich Gospel truth running through them. Draw attention to what they’ve been singing in your talk.
- And that means you have to talk with and work with the people looking after the choice of carols and music. Make sure everything fits together in terms of tone as well as content.
- Don’t trample on the points of connection. It’s tempting to go on a CS Lewis Niatarb rant about the folly of Xmas as you seek to point them to the true meaning of Christmas. However, I think that the connections to that underpinning meaning are much more present in the celebration than we give credit for. If people are wanting to be with others, to express love and to enjoy celebration then those things are natural longings and they are good and healthy. We were made for community, for love and joy. It’s not that the baby is the true meaning of Christmas from which the celebrations distract, it’s that he is the goal of Christmas to which the celebrations are meant to point.
- Bring them to the Cross, naturally, gently but patiently and persistently.
- Give them space to respond and opportunity to follow up. One way of doing this is to plan in things for the New Year which you can invite them to. This might be a Christianity Explored, First Look or Alpha Course. It may be another special event coming up or it could be a special series of Sunday sermons to kick off the New Year.
Let’s pray that we will see fruit from our Christmas services and events this year.