We all have to find our own definition of success. Otherwise, we’ll just compare ourselves to others. I remember the words of Desiderata, "If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself." Measuring success depends on how we define it, and for some of us, the definition keeps changing as we keep learning what’s really important.
What makes for successful preaching? I’ll leave you to go through the great books on preaching and come up with a checklist on originality, substance, form, flow, impact, inspiration, etc. All I can do is report something pretty good that happened after a recent sermon.
I had just preached on “seeking the welfare of the city in which you live” using as my text Jeremiah 29:7. It was not a great sermon - no original insights, or pithy points. I simply went with the text and tried to apply it. Jeremiah told the exiled Hebrews to seek the welfare of the city where they were, the welfare of their Babylonian captors. And I asked, “Whose welfare do we seek?”
Usually such concern is basically for our selves, or maybe our loved ones and close friends. But should we not seek the welfare of those we do not even know, those who annoy us, and even those who stand against us? I could have used one of several texts for this, Matthew 25, James 2, the Good Samaritan, the Golden Rule, etc.
During the coffee hour, a physician came up to me and said, "I really appreciated the sermon today." I said, "Thank you." But the doc continued, “It made me think. I saw a woman this past week who needs a fibrous tumor removed. She’s indigent, a drug addict, and no insurance, of course. I rarely have time to do free surgeries, but I decided during the sermon that I’m going to do hers next week.”
I thanked the doctor for sharing that decision with me, and we parted to speak to other people. And then I thought about how the Spirit takes our offerings and uses them to bring forth fruit for the kingdom. Monday morning my sermon went into the files as just another sermon, but for the woman whose tumor was removed, it could have been marked an outstanding success. Soli deo Gloria.