Sept. 22, 2016

Dear Hyde Park Family,


For the past three days, I have been in lovely North Carolina, attending the latest session of the Institute of Preaching. Last June, I was honored to be selected to participate in this year-long experience, designed to strengthen my skills as a preacher. It involves regular reviews of my sermons by a small group of clergy colleagues, terrific instruction by top-notch teachers (including a guy named Jim Harnish; I think you might know him), and monthly meetings with my congregational committee. That committee is comprised of five people in our church who review my sermons, affirm my strengths and offer constructive criticism to help me get better.

During a presentation on Monday, Jim offered the results of a survey he had conducted of lay people, asking them the question, “What makes a sermon work?” In other words, what qualities contribute to a sermon that really hits the target for you? What makes a sermon stick?

The answers were helpful and revealing. Lay people said that good sermons have:

1) Soul: they are presented by preachers who really believe what they are saying;
2) Stories: they use narratives to personify the main points; they are
3) Authentic: they are genuinely delivered by preachers who are real and relatable, and
4) Scripture: they are both based on and shaped by the particular biblical texts.

I like Jim’s survey results. But I am also wondering what you think. It would be immensely helpful for me to hear your own answer to that question:

What do you think makes for a good sermon? What makes you walk away from church, thinking to yourself, “That sermon is going to stick with me?” Please send me your responses, so that I can share them with the congregational committee, the rest of the preaching team, and maybe even pass them on to Jim and the Institute of Preaching.


There’s another reason I’m asking the question. It’s based on something I heard Ben Zander share in a video called “The Art of Possibility.” Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, and a popular executive leadership speaker.

Zander recognizes that the conductor is the only one in the orchestra not to make a sound, and whose power is defined by empowering others to perform to their fullest potential. As such, he puts a high priority in conducting them in ways that connect to their needs and capacities.

So, Zander often places blank sheets of paper on the music stands of his players. He asks them to write down anything they feel he needs to do as a conductor to communicate in ways they can understand. In one example, a violinist wrote down, “In this particular measure of this particular piece of music, there is supposed to be a crescendo. I need you to show me that crescendo more expressively with your hands and your baton.”

Later that night, Zander conducted the symphony as they performed that piece of music. When they got to that measure, he gestured a bold, unmistakable crescendo for everyone in the orchestra to see. And after the performance, that violinist said excitedly, “You did my crescendo!”

I have an unmistakable privilege to be a preacher. I am first beholden to the God who called me into ministry, and to the Scriptures that shape each of my sermons. But I also want to communicate in ways that connect with you, that inspire you, challenge you, comfort you, and make you feel that, when you leave worship, “That sermon will really stick with me.”

So what are the ways you think I can be a better preacher? What works and what doesn’t?

I can’t promise that I’ll adopt all of them, for ultimately I can only live into my limitations and my natural strengths. But I would love to be able to hear from you someday, “Hey, Magrey! You did my crescendo!”

Grace and Peace,

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

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