I am incredibly passionate about the art of preaching. Declaring the Word is a privilege supreme. When I look at the current state of the pulpit in western culture, I get depressed because many pastors believe things that are simply not true. These false assumptions affect the quality and effectiveness of their preaching. Frustration is the result of seeing an easy solution to an obvious problem and not seeing it implemented. In the last couple days I have read some great material on preaching and wanted to summarize and link it here.
First up is a blog post from Chuck Warnock (who I do not know at all) about 5 things churches must learn to survive. In particular he writes about the expectations of preachers and the expectations of listeners. When there is a difference in expectations, we can expect tension. The way that people get their information and the speed at which informational transactions occur have radically changed. The preacher must make considerations of the implications of these changes and adjust accordingly.
We had Jeff Foxworthy come to our Christmas party for our staff several years ago. I sat there on the first row, and I can hardly breathe because I am laughing so hard. It went two hours and I sat there thinking: there were no points; he has no application; he has no outline that I am aware of. I have been sitting here for almost two hours, and he is talking about rednecks. And I am fully engaged. There is no takeaway. There is no value. There is nothing biblical. There are no visual aids. There is no video. And I am fully engaged for an hour and a half.
The reason I bring that up is: there is this myth that people say, “Sermons need to be short because people today have short attention spans.” That is totally irrelevant. People’s attention spans are as long as their engagement. If I’m engaged, I will sit and stay engaged until I have to go to the bathroom. The issue is: are people engaged, not how long is the sermon? Granted, there are things that determine how long worship services should be. But communicators need to figure out how well do they engage people, and they should not talk one word longer than people are engaged.
There are people like Jeff who can engage you for an hour and a half in your chair, and they should go an hour and a half. And there are other communicators who can’t keep you engaged for more than 15 or 20 minutes, and they shouldn’t talk longer than that. Because once I am disengaged, then I begin to process the information as: this is irrelevant; church is irrelevant; God is irrelevant; the Bible is irrelevant. And all of a sudden I am learning the opposite lesson. I am drawing conclusions that are opposite of what the communicator is trying to make me draw because I am disengaged. So, the issue is: how do you engage the audience? And one of the things I talk to our communicators about is: The outline is great; the stories are great. But how do you engage them? How do you make it feel like we are on a journey, not you are just up there giving me information.
Finally, there’s also new stuff from Sermon Central (via Stetzer) on preaching to younger unchurched people. This is a significant time in the western world as their is a dying generation that was raised with the church as a chaplain in their lives and a new generation is rising who has no knowledge of God and the things he has done. This article gives interesting insights and recommendations for preachers who don’t want their churches to just grow old together.