Touched but not Moved

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Here I am on a Monday morning, finishing off this blog. On Monday morning every preacher tends to take a backward glance at yesterday’s sermon, asking:

“How did it go?”

“What went well?”

“What could have been improved?”

I guess that the harder question to ask is:

“What, if any difference will it make?”

All preachers want to see ears, eyes and hearts open to the preached word.

We all long for those moments of transcendence, when something seems to happen that is so life-changing that we can never be the same again.

Sadly, we are often touched but not moved. That is a good description of many who preach and hear sermons on any given Sunday. We can be touched by the truth preached in the sermon, our imagination can be stimulated by its imagery, and our will can be stirred by its calls for action. But when all is said and done, more is said than done.

If we are honest many of our sermons are underachievers.

We might have the following key preaching questions in our minds:


So What?

Now What?

Yet, for all the rhetoric, the reach of our words seems to fall far short of our aim.

I have been thinking about this in relation to COP26. This highly publicised two-week event that united the globe in talks about climate change has produced millions of words, but how much action?

The Pulp singer Javis Cocker is quoted as saying:

“Anybody with any sense is passionate about the climate emergency.”

Yet after two weeks of talk, many observers are disappointed by the lack of progress, the less than emphatic final statement, and the hazy plan for future steps.

It has been interesting to see how COP26 has dropped out of the headlines, as if it is a case of ‘Been there; done that; got the T-Shirt’!

Preachers can learn from this:

1 Don’t think that you have said it all when you have said it once.

I like the way the Gospels arrange important things in threes. In Mark chapters 8–10 we see Jesus repeating the unpalatable news that he is going to die on the cross.

Inconvenient truths need to be repeated, because we don’t want to hear them.

2 Don’t settle for people being touched without being moved.

We want people to be shaken and stirred. We will not be judged by our feelings but by our actions.

3 Don’t let people off the hook. Preachers: spell it out.

If the hearer is to genuinely take seriously what you are saying, what do they need to do?

I love the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, recorded in Acts 8. The eunuch hears Philip talking about Jesus and realises that this is truth that demands a response. He sees water by the side of the road and asks Philip if he can be baptised.

What this man has heard in his very first sermon is that the message is for real and calls for a real response.

4 Don’t let people forget. Keep coming back to it.

If it is so important, you cannot merely say it once.

“Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.”

(Proverbs 15:31)

John Woods




strength for today; hope for tomorrow

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