Preaching — Twenty-Years Into This Century
“Speeches” no longer matter.
The age of “speeches” is past.
√ We live in a world of sound-bites. Elections are powered by social media and political arguments built in response to polling.
There are no more “Patrick Henry or John F. Kennedy Moments” in American life, any more than there are “Perry Mason or F. Lee Bailey Moments” in the courtroom. “Give me liberty” and “Ask not what your country” has been replaced with “tweets.”
Oh, there are remarkable exceptions — maybe more historical anomalies than exceptions. Thousands assemble to hear President Donald Trump — something that is remarkable in an age where most political personalities draw tiny crowds. There are not many other examples of where hundreds of people decide to gather together to hear a speech.
√ We live in the world of the visual. Attention spans are now down to minutes, and there are no signs that this is going to change for the better.
People are not disposed to listen to a speech which is primarily verbal. Powerpoint has not helped if the images are not stunning, inspirational, AND changing.
However, there is still one venue . . . .
where people willfully attend to listen to a “speech”
where people attend regularly
where the “culture of the visual” is actually not a game-changer when it comes to listening and responding
where thinking, attitudes, and actions are changed by a “speech.”
While “public speaking” is a dying art in our culture, it would be patently mistaken to conclude that “speeches” are irrelevant when it comes to Christian life and living.
While “public speaking” in the political and legal arenas are at best — a dying art — that is not true when it comes to the present-day Christianity. Argue if you want that people are abandoning the local church experience,1 but what may be a more accurate description of a trend is that God’s people are expecting something meaningful.
Attendance will drops when the meal does not satisfy. No matter how good a “restaurant’s” service, ambiance, diversity, and multitude of menu options, or manager’s affability, if the meal is unworthy of “spending the time and energy,” attendance will suffer.
If a local church pastor operates under the assumption that God’s people believe that listening to a message is just part of what a Christian is supposed to do, whether the meal is “rhetorical hash” or “a healthy and meaningful dinner,” he is deluding himself!
“Sermonic-hash” produces spotty, stagnant, and/or declining attendance at the best, and the possibility of “under new management” sign — at the worse! Is there a connection between short pastoral ministries and poor preaching — between mediocre preaching and looking for a new restaurant or a change of management?
The makeup of today’s congregation — in “2020” — is obviously far different than in previous decades . . . .
Under greater societal and cultural pressure
Facing intellectual challenges to their beliefs
Increasing demands in raising their children
Change – geographical and in employment
An explosion of religious voices call ing for their attention and support
Preaching may be facing the “perfect storm” of this century . . . .
√ the desire and demand for a meaningful spiritual meal
√ a higher demographic expectation level
√ the profusion of ministry-message options
God’s people are looking for someone who can effectively communicate a message that addresses real-life and living — after having spent a week living in the world! If they can’t find in in the local church, they will go online.
God’s people come with a reasonable expectation.
God’s people are looking for “meal.”
God’s people are not asking for a “happy meal,” but they are seeking a meal which satiates.
God’s people have spent a week in this world, this ever morally, spiritually, and culturally declining world. They live much of life in a world which is far different from the administrative and pastoral halls and offices of the local church.
• What may be of interest to you as a pastor may not be to them.
• Your “spiritual battles” as a pastor in the local church setting may not be at all what they might be experiencing.
• Your stories may leave them unimpressed — “Tell me about it.”
• What you care about, may not be what they care about.
Pastors have one of the few opportunities to speak a message which can and does still affect people’s lives. Who of us hasn’t heard a message which changed our thinking and direction and/or influenced our lives?
The pulpit ministry remains
one of the great opportunities
to influence lives.
1. I think there is real justification for questioning the reports that church attendance is down among this-or-that group (typically referencing “Millenials”). There is little doubt that attendance continues to decline as a whole among the liberal denominations. However, the “mega-church” and/or CCM movements say the opposite. What really may be happening is a shift as to where people can and do go. Enough said.
Aside: In fact, for a political candidate to ignore and/or miss the opportunity to speak to God’s people in the local church setting, is misguided. That is not an argument for politics in the pulpit. It is an argument for the fact that “church” people are extraordinarily comfortable listening to such a speech. The local church is one of the few places where the art of public speaking is still practiced and on a weekly basis.
I would also maintain that there are few speakers in this world who are as practiced and effective as preachers. Most secular people who are asked to speak at this-or-that event are actually terrible!
However, it should also be pointed out that there is a high risk when speaking to such an audience — an audience which is practiced at listening. And to walk into that venue without understanding the audience’s beliefs is high risk as well.
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