In the book Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas (which I highly recommend!), Metaxas discusses Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s views on who does the real work during a sermon. Bonhoeffer apparently had a change of opinion regarding this: “I have long thought that sermons had a center that, if you hit it, would move anyone or confront them with a decision. I no longer believe that…a sermon can never grasp the center, but can only itself be grasped by it, by Christ” (Metaxas 81).
Metaxas unpacks Bonhoeffer’s statement by saying, “Anything good must come from God, so even in a sermon that was poorly written and delivered, God might manifest himself and touch the congregation. Conversely, in a sermon wonderfully written and delivered, God might refuse to manifest himself. The ‘success’ of the sermon is utterly dependent on the God who breaks through and ‘grasps’ us, or we cannot be ‘grasped’” (Metaxas 81). It has been my experience over the past several years that the Spirit may not move when I think I did a really good job at leading worship or teaching. Conversely, the weeks that I break a string, lose my voice, or hit several wrong chords are often the weeks in which people are moved by the Lord.
Now, it doesn’t always happen this way. Sometimes, things go “well” and God moves and vice versa. The point is that as much as I work hard to prepare a service with excellence, God is the one doing the work. He has to show up or none of it matters.
It’s easy for me to walk off stage after singing and playing well and confuse that with “worship” being good that day. While I desire excellence, worship has more to do with the condition of my heart and less with how things sound.
The importance I place on prayer and relying on the Holy Spirit to work has increased in the past several years when it comes to how I approach leading worship and teaching because of this. While I want to prepare musically (or have a good flow if I’m teaching), I must – and am learning to – remember that without Christ, nothing good will come from a worship set or sermon I deliver.
“Success,” then, is “utterly dependent” on God, as Metaxas says. I’m thankful for Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his faithfulness during his time in history, and I’m thankful for Metaxas for pulling out this vital truth from Bonhoeffer.
I need God’s grace to remember this before I step onto a stage to lead worship or teach.