An article from Rev Dr Michael Quick
In my recent job of teaching preaching I have listened to many sermons. I found myself using a word that doesn't appear in the dictionary. I am not sure whether I am inventing it or (more likely) it's already in use and I have picked it up. It is the word: SERMONY. Describing a sermon as 'sermony' means that it looks like a sermon, sounds like a sermon, and smells like a sermon. Indeed, everybody considers it to be a sermon and grades it as to whether they liked it or not according to their own criteria.
I believe that when average preachers have preached ten times they know how to pull stuff together to fill up the sermon slot to make something ‘sermony’. It is the package that church goers have come to expect. Perhaps, the package that seminaries train pastors with. Depending on their own traditions, some churches have cerebral sermony sermons, others have emotive sermony sermons and so on. But, whatever style and content, they fulfil expectations adequately because hearers have become used to sermony sermons and these are definitely sermony.
Saying sermons can be ‘sermony’ does not mean they are poor grade 'stuff'! It just means that they don’t sound fresh – as though they are somewhat stale fare for the preacher. And predictable!
Preaching is not about filling in a sermon slot with stale 'stuff'. About meeting expectations of a job well done. Rather, preaching is about God's laser-sharp, gut-reaching, spirit-convicting word for this particular people and at his particular time. It surprises, delights, rebukes with spiritual freshness that catch hearers out because it has surprised, delighted, and rebuked the preacher first. It's a spiritual happening when God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - meets us at deeper levels in spirit and in truth. People are not left saying: 'That was a good sermon' revealing their judgments about what a sermon should look like. Instead they say: "God encountered me today" and they know they can live in different ways of grace together.
Can a preacher guarantee that a sermon is a 'spiritual happening'? Of course not! It all depends on God at work, with his word through the preacher and people. But preachers can tragically smother spiritual possibilities when they settle for 'sermony stuff'. I know that I have been guilty of that!
I wonder if there are synonyms for this word 'sermony'. Probably, 'churchy' has something of the same feel, expressing how something is exactly what you expect in church. A kind of 'insider' description of something that fits appropriately into the religious ethos of churches. Naturally this ethos will vary from high church with formal historic liturgies through to low church with its ultra informal liturgies. Perhaps there are other words too that convey this concern (how widespread is it I wonder?) that sermons are just part of the fittings and fixtures!
I wonder if you agree there is a problem here?