If I ever have to step down as editor of Preaching, I now know the job I want to have: I want to be the barbecue editor of Texas Monthly.
I just read an article in the New York Times explaining that the popular Texas lifestyle magazine has appointed its very first barbecue editor. How any Texas institution could have gone this long without recognizing the God-given status of barbecue is beyond me, but I suppose eventual acknowledgement and repentance is better than never getting this right.
The reality is that in Texas and some other parts of the country where I’ve lived—West Tennessee comes to mind—barbecue is well nigh to a religious experience. There are folks who spend more on their barbecue grills than on their cars. (Trust me, I’ve ridden in some of those cars.) Whether it’s in their own backyard or tailgating at the college football stadium—another religious commitment for lots of folks I know—barbecue is an alternative lifestyle choice.
In fact, I’ve often wondered what would happen if we preachers prepared and preached our sermons the way some folks do barbecue.
Set the heat at just the right temperature. Everybody knows the amount of heat you use determines what you are cooking—some items require a long, slow cooking time at a slower temperature, while others need those flames licking whatever it is you’re preparing. The same thing is true in preaching. Many texts need a slow careful treatment, while occasionally we need to crank up the heat and let our folks hear the flames.
Remember: not too long, not too short. There’s nothing worse than a beautiful piece of steak that’s been left on the grill too long and has gotten all dried out—it’s tough and unappetizing. That’s akin to sermons that go on and on about less and less, far beyond the congregation’s attention span (and the preacher’s, sometimes). Then again, it’s important to leave what you’re cooking on the grill long enough to get done. Same thing with sermons—it’s not enough to toss out a text, rub on a couple of illustrations and slap it on the plate. Make sure you spend the time in preparation so you can be faithful in accurately and engagingly presenting the key truth of that text and applying it to the lives of the people. Do it well and they won’t mind a little more time on the grill.
Add just the right sauce and the correct seasoning. Some folks prefer dry rub—a blend of seasonings rubbed into the meat before it goes on the grill—while others will add a bit of seasoning before and then add a favorite sauce to the meat during and after it’s been cooked. There are as many sauces as there are cooks, it seems—I lean toward that tomato-based sweeter sauce that’s a Memphis favorite , but this is one of those areas where cooks and diners can make their own choice. With sermons, too, some carefully chosen seasoning helps make the final product more attractive and inviting—and in the case of sermons, easier for the listener to understand and apply to their own lives. Whether it’s an engaging story at the start that connects with your listeners, an interesting illustration or two that helps them better understand the text, or a powerful closing story that guides them toward decision, a little seasoning goes a long way.
Serve it while it’s still hot. What a shame to cook a delicious dish on the grill, then let it sit on the shelf too long and be served cold. I’ve heard it happen too often with sermons as well—a well-prepared biblical message ends up being presented with no passion, no energy. When we are sharing the truth of God’s Word, our folks need to see and feel in us that this matters to them and to us, that this is vital—they need to recognize the passion in us. That doesn’t mean yelling all the time—see above, “Set the heat at the right temperature”—but they deserve better than to have a beautiful cut of Kobe beef grilled and served as a diner minute steak.
If you’d like to discuss this at greater length, feel free to invite me to lunch. I know some great barbecue places to suggest.