Phillip Cary on Remembering Sermons

Here’s what I think success in teaching looks like. I remember how my life was changed when I repeatedly witnessed a man in the act of loving a poem. My English professor in college, Dr. Richard Stang of Washington University, kept delving so deeply into the poems he taught and showing us how to do likewise, that I no longer remember much of what he said. In part because of his example, I’ve had so many encounters with poetry since then that I can no longer tell what I learned from him and what I learned later. I no longer remember his words, but I do remember the poems. They have been part of my life ever since he first introduced me to them.

That’s what a teacher’s success looks like. It works the same way, I think when you’re teaching the word of Christ. The congregation doesn’t need to remember the words of your sermon. What matters is that God’s word has once again made its way into their hearts and etched itself a little deeper there, so that Christ himself may dwell in their hearts by faith. That’s the ongoing formation of the heart that makes the really lasting change in our lives. 

from Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do (2010), 188-9.

PS from Gilbert Meilaender

We should not aim at a sermon that people can remember and discuss over the dinner table. That notion–“What was the sermon about today?”–encourages us to think of the sermon as something to be remembered: a piece of teaching and application. But it is not. A sermon is a moment of proclamation within the worship of the congregation. A moment in which to seek a way to let God’s love for us be spoken.

from “Forde, Jenson, and Preaching,” Dialog 30.1 (1991), 59.