The Carol service talk: how to give those Christmas truths a cutting edge

5

12/12/2017 by Chris Green

We’ve all been there, staring at those same, few stories, and wondering how to to preach them differently this time.  The Carol Service is a major event in our church calendars, and those of us who are going to preach at them have been thinking about them for months.

Maybe you started to think about visual aids, but quickly realised you were running through the same ones as every year, and that everyone else uses.  A Giant Christmas card?  A huge cracker?  Presents? Nativity?

We feel stale before we’ve begun.

The dilemma is clear: this is the one service of the year, where people already know what we’re going to say.  They expect certain truths, certain events, certain explanations. They feel cheated if they get anything else (if you don’t believe me, try continuing your expository series through Job instead, and see what happens).

But we preachers are pretty sure that most people turning up don’t understand what they know.  If they did, they’d be changed and converted.  But somehow the truth doesn’t get through.

So how do we give those Christmas truths a cutting edge?  How can we be fresh, while still working with the familiar?

Well above all, pray. 

This time of year we can be so busy getting Christmas ready for other people as well as for ourselves, that we forget our basics.  God honours his preached Word – pray your sermon home.

Assuming your doing that all week, here are six items to cross off the list. My main gaol in these talk is brief clarity (I don’t want to go over 12 minutes’ and I don’t want to waste a second.

1 Choose one obvious passage.

An obvious passage is an obvious choice, right?  But we have to fight against our inner ‘they’ve heard it all before’ instinct.  That’s what tricks us into looking at something more unusual, and a little bit different.

Now there is a place for that.  We have just finished a short series on the major prophecies that we tend to read in carol services, looking at Jacob’s blessing of Judah, Balaam’s blessing of Israel, Micah’s prophecy of the status of Bethlehem, and so on.  Good, solid passages – but not quite mainline enough for the Carol service, where we need to be crisp and clear.  Choose one of the old faithfuls, that requires minimum explanation of context and background.

2. Work on one obvious surprise.

The ‘surprise’ is what’s in the text that people haven’t seen or focussed on before.  The ‘obvious surprise’ is one that you don’t have to have done a huge amount of textual archaeology to show.  This is not the time to dig into the Greek in public, or produce an archeological rabbit from your hat.  This is something that is hidden in plain sight, so simple and wonderful, and and yet people will say, ‘I’d never really noticed that before’.

3. Have one simple metaphor, that will work all the way through.

Sometimes we can let metaphors run away with themselves, and we have two or three that ‘kind of’ do the job. But there’s great power in returning time and again to the same simple idea, and letting it go deep.

Choose it, and walk around it.  How can you make it memorable? Visual? How can you make it develop throughout the talk, rather than just sitting as an opening item and then being dropped?

4. Have one apologetic focus.

We have a larger number of non-Christians in our chest than any other time of year (at least, those of us in the northern hemisphere do).  And the temptation is to deal with all their objections and questions.  Did Jesus really exist?  What about Mithras?  What about Father Christmas?  Was Jesus born in a stable?  Did the wise men turn up at the same time as the shepherds?  What about that bishop who said he didn’t believe in the virgin birth?

Again, we don’t want to confuse through too much information.  Choose your one ‘defeater belief’ and ‘defeat’ it.  The one that comes from reading this passage, and is the most obvious reason people won’t believe what you’re trying to say.

5. Have one ‘this week’ story

I’ve blogged recently about the need for our illustrations to be ‘fresh’, and this is the time to rise to that challenge.  Stop surfing famous preachers’ Christmas sermons, and go for a ‘this week’ edge.  What’s one the front page of the magazines today?  Don’t know?  Well grab a coat and go looking.

6. Plan the response

What are you praying and preaching for – conversions?  Taking away a booklet?  Signing up for a course?  Whichever it is (and it might be several) think about it and be prepared.

For instance we have: a giveaway book, which has a cover we’ve used across all our publicity to give a united theme, and adverts for our next Life Explored course, advertised on the back of the service booklet, on the invitation cards for the service, and on a card tucked into the back cover of the giveaway. That also functions as a way for people to communicate  via email if they’ve made a decision.

I know there’s nothing new here – but notice my repeated stress on ‘one’.  Don’t clutter this talk. Simple and clear is the brief.

What have I missed?  What’s your checklist?  Pile in?

5 thoughts on “The Carol service talk: how to give those Christmas truths a cutting edge

  1. Jonathan Bell says:

    Do your carol services have lots of readings? Do you make sure that the ‘one obvious passage’ is last before you preach, even if that interrupts the flow of the narrative of the readings?

    • Chris Green says:

      Not the full nine, but a good 6 to 7. I move the sermon round – this year, it’ll be towards the end. but I’m happy to be separated from the reading, as they are all printed in the booklet and i can refer people back.This year the sermon is on one word, so it’s not that hard! Looking for a strong musical finish as well!

  2. […] be a beautifully wrapped box and the message could be ‘The Gift of Christmas’.[Tom adds – Chris Green has written a great post about the Carol Service Talk, which dovetails nicely with […]

  3. […] 1) The Carol Service Talk: How to Give Those Christmas Truths A Cutting Edge – Maybe it’s too late for this weekend just gone, but worth bearing in mind.  2) Year In Search 2017 – Where To Find Truth – Provocative little video from Go Chatter, perhaps to use on the first Sunday after Christmas.  […]

  4. […] 1) The Carol Service Talk: How to Give Those Christmas Truths A Cutting Edge – Maybe it’s too late for this weekend just gone, but worth bearing in mind. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Publication of The Goldilocks Zone

Launch day at Oak HillJanuary 18th, 2018
18 hours to go.

Living as a Christian in the 21st century means we face constant battles to please God. That’s why I wrote ‘PURITY: Living to please God in an impure world – 15 daily readings in 1 Thessalonians.’

There’s only way to get it – by subscribing to my  email newsletter here.

Topics

God, Suffering and Joy

A conversation between me (with cancer) and Michael (with Multiple Sclerosis)

Legal stuff

This blog does not share personal information with third parties nor do I store any information about your visit to this blog other than to analyse and optimise your content and reading experience. I am not responsible for republished content from this blog on other blogs or websites without my permission. This privacy policy is subject to change without notice.

I welcome your participation on the Ministrynutsandbolts site, and invite you to share ideas elsewhere on what you learn and read here. At the same time, I ask that you respect my intellectual property rights in the process.

You are welcome to link to my site or any specific post on my site, extract and re-post less than 200 words on any other site, provided you link back to my original post, or print my posts in any non-commercial publication (e.g., company newsletter, class syllabus, church newsletter, etc.), provided you include this copyright notice: “© 2017 Chris Green. All rights reserved. Originally published at www.ministrynutsandbolts.com.”

Please do not do the following without written consent: Re-post one of my posts in its entirety anywhere else on the Internet, use this content for commercial purposes, including selling or licensing printed or digital versions of my content, or alter, transform, or build upon this work.

If you have some use for my content that is not covered here, please contact me. If you would like me to do a guest post on your blog, email me at ministrynutsandbolts@gmail.com

Copyright does not apply to the titles of books, but transparency means I should own that the title of the blog is taken from the excellent ‘Ministry Nuts and Bolts: What They Don’t Teach Pastors in Seminary ‘ by Aubrey Malphurs (Kregel: 2nd edn. 2009)

© 2018 Chris Green

%d bloggers like this: