One of the great challenges of the pastorate is preaching sermons that connect with peoples’ lives. The ability to meet at the intersection between Scripture and the daily circumstances of our people is the difference between an effective preaching ministry and wasting peoples’ time. I have found that where I write my sermon can be as important a consideration as what I am preaching about. So, once a week I meet Jesus at the local coffee shop.
I began to notice late last year that I was getting into some deep ruts in sermon preparation. I am the sole preaching pastor on our staff. I preach every week unless I am on vacation. The grind of being in the office too much was getting to me, and I felt my messages were lacking in freshness. Fondly remembering a local coffee shop we had once used for a relaxed staff meet-ing, one morning I packed up my sermon notes for the week and headed uptown for a change-of-pace.
The change of place was a serendipity to me. Mingling with the people there was like being given a breath of fresh air, and as I worked on my outline I found myself making connections between the text and modern life that I had not previously been able to make. Hearing bits and pieces of conversations around me reminded me of the joys and struggles that permeate our lives. The temptation not to eavesdrop was too much!
Hearing a small group of young women talking about neighborhood safety concerns caused me to think about how Jesus meets us in the nervous edges of our lives. Seeing the local police chief come in with some local businessmen reminded me that fighting wrongdoing in the world is a constant challenge, and seeking justice is a cause shared by people in a variety of circumstances. Observing the elderly couple helping each other in their physical weakness warmed me to their loving commitment to one another over a lifetime. These are issues people think about. What does God have to say in the midst of these circumstances? God was helping me make those connections, there in the coffee shop.
I am not arguing against the use of the study, with all its resources. I need to have all my reference works at hand when I begin the process of preparation, and I will refer to my books for illustrating and fine-tuning the message. There is no way I am going to lug my library down to the coffee shop! So I do my exegesis in my study, two weeks ahead of delivery, with all my books and journals.
Nor am I technologically-challenged. I value my computer for its help in the process of preaching. It saves me time to be able to import Scripture and to utilize the flexibility of the word processor, and I find the computer invaluable for the final writing and editing of the message. Since I don’t have a laptop, my computer needs to stay in the study, too.
But I need to remind myself constantly that I am not writing sermons for my study or for my computer. I am preparing to preach to people who need a fresh taste of the Lord’s grace. So when my basic study is done, I meet Jesus at the coffee shop.
One of the great dangers of the pastorate is that we can easily become isolated. We live in a “church ghetto” too much. We spend huge amounts of time keeping the church going through administration, care-giving, teaching and preaching. Before we know it, we are isolated from people who have never heard the gospel. We have few friends outside of the church, and eventually we lose our effectiveness in connecting the gospel to our culture.
Meeting Jesus at the coffee shop doesn’t solve all my problems, but it challenges me to think differently as my observation of people becomes part of the her-meneutical process. There are two important benefits that come from meeting Jesus there.
First, it gets me out of the office and into places where people live. Being out in the marketplace reminds me there are a whole host of people to be reached for Christ, and that my sermon may be one of the important links to their coming to Christ. I am also reminded that my members have a life outside their church involvements. I find it shapes even my motivation for preaching as it helps nudge each sermon toward greater relevance.
Second, being at the coffee shop gets the text out in the marketplace where it belongs. Jesus’ words were spoken in public places like my local coffee shop, not in a stained glass sanctuary. Paul’s letters were written to churches and people who were struggling to find themselves faithful in a world that received them warily at best. This is not a mystical connection but an observational one. Physically importing the text into the marketplace brings a fresh relevancy to Scripture’s words. It becomes a symbolic act that forces me to see the text dealing with real people who have real concerns.
Where I am often shapes how I think. When I am riding my bicycle out in the country I have a different perspective from when I am driving in Chicago traffic. I think about different things. When I am alone in my study I am influenced by my surroundings differently than when I am in the coffee shop with people around me talking, laughing. I am affected by those surroundings, and by the people there. In stewarding this reality, I become a more effective preacher.
I’m not at the coffee shop because I’m a coffee junkie. My total intake is up now from a cup a month to a whole cup a week! By being there where it is brewed, where the sights and sounds and smells draw real people to sit and talk, I am becoming a better preacher, as Jesus meets me there.

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