People Forget My Sermons (And Yours Too)

People forget my sermons…and that’s ok.

On the last night of our church’s mission trip to Belize we had a debriefing. All 26 participants shared a highlight from the week. One lady in our group described the moment when she felt her heart tugging her to sign up for the Belize Trip; it was on Easter Sunday. She made somewhat of a confession to me as she spoke to the entire group: “I don’t remember what you preached on or what you said, but I remember being convinced that I had to go on this international mission trip.” (A sarcastic member of our group, who incidentally is our worship pastor, said, “he probably preached on Jesus”).

This church member who made this confession can rest easy – maybe 5 people of the over 300 present on Easter Sunday could tell me the contents of my sermon from Easter. And those 5 will forget it soon enough. Of the millions of sermons that have been preached since the resurrection of Jesus Christ, only a minuscule percentage are remembered and documented. All the rest are long forgotten. So why do we do it? Why do we preach?

Because being transformed by something is not dependent on remembering it. 

The same truth applies to reading. I have hundreds of books, most of which I have read. I have forgotten most of the specifics in those books. I nevertheless read carefully, I mark books, underline, write notes, etc. Yet I have forgotten much more in books than I remember. This seems like a depressing truth; what’s the point of reading if you just forget the specifics of what you have read?

Because being transformed by something is not dependent on remembering it.

From the formative early years of childhood to the 30 minutes sitting in a pew listening to a preacher, so much of what shapes us into the people we become we do not specifically remember. Oh, there are those big moments – the “Ah Ha!” moments we all remember, but the inner core of our being is formed and shaped by the subtle, gradual, necessary lessons we consume, digest, and forget. Author and theologian Doug Wilson says it like this in his book Wordsmithy:

“…read like someone who will forget most of it. You have my permission to forget most of it, which may or may not be reassuring, but you will forget most of it in either case. Most of what is shaping you in the course of your reading, you will not be able to remember. . . The fact that you can’t remember things doesn’t mean that you haven’t been shaped by them.”

Are you a teacher? Be encouraged, your students are being impacted by your teaching regardless if they remember it all. Are you a reader? Be encouraged, your reading is making a substantial difference in your life (assuming you are reading beneficial things). Are you a preacher? Be encouraged, your flock is being transformed by your preaching even when they can’t remember a single thing. Are you a writer? Be encouraged, your articles and books make a difference long after they have stopped being retweeted and blogged about.

People forget my sermons…and that’s ok by me.

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