With apologies to the hymn writer Isaac Watts, the epitaph for many preachers could well be:
‘Ten thousand, thousand are their texts, but all their sermons one!’
The defence of the preacher is that all they are doing is telling the old, old story.
I agree if you continue the quotation by reminding all preachers that we week by week preach the old, old story, that is forever new.
How can our preaching be at the same time old but for ever new?
Happy Valley, with 18 episodes in nine years, (and with the final episode of series 3 being the very last) has achieved its consistently phenomenal viewing figures by leaving the audience engaged and eager for more.
As the Times editorial on the show concluded:
“Brevity and scarcity often prove the best guarantors of quality control.”
(Top Telly: Happy Valley’s immense popularity proves that less really is more in The Times, Saturday 4th February 2023)
Some preachers make a virtue out of preaching long sermons. It seems as if anything under 45 minutes is deemed to be an act of unorthodox underachievement.
Length cannot be the main criterion for the validity of a sermon. Some long sermons can be riveting and some short sermons can be tiresome.
Yet at times this can sound like people saying with the old sit com,
“Never mind the quality, feel the width.”
The criterion for a good sermon is that the preacher has something to say and that they say it well.
That is what people have appreciated about Happy Valley. It tells a good story rooted in the realities of life, it has a creative plot, a brilliant script, and a cluster of excellent actors.
There was considerable media speculation about how the final series would end. Of all the possible plot twists the one chosen was perhaps one of the least expected. It was a poignant, almost low key ending that brought so many of the complex threads of the story together. The series has managed to develop a coherent storyline, retain the viewers’ attention, and build a sense of anticipation. What was perhaps particularly brilliant was the way that people wanted to keep watching.
If we preachers are to tell the old, old story we must work at finding ways to tell it that move beyond the formulaic and predictable.
Some sermons begin well but sag a bit in the middle as they drift or meander away from the central theme. Sermons need to begin with a sense of, “I need to hear this,” continue with, “I wonder where this is going?” and end with,“I am so glad that I came along for the ride.”
Preachers can learn so much from great storytellers, biblical writers, novelists and TV and film makers. The makers of Happy Valley grasped the secret of what makes people tune in rather than turn off. Preachers need to try and do that every Sunday.
Now that’s another story …
(Tune in next week for ‘Originality: The Sequel’).