Monday, June 15, 2020

Not compelling. . .

As I have written before, those who presume that video and media can and will replace the live preaching of a pastor facing people in the pews should simply look at the statistics provided by social media.  Few folks listen to the entire video and less than half make it through the typical sermon.  I confess no magic and our statistics are similarly abysmal.  Yet sometimes I wonder why we would expect folks who have the option of fast forward, mute, and delete to stay tuned.  The folks in the pew have to be there and few leave until the benediction but I presume they might have the same complaint as those who are supposed to be listening at home.

Today's sermons are many things but I fear they are not very compelling.  In part this is because sometimes even the preacher could fall asleep during his own sermon.  Sermons are dull.  Not dull in the sense of a lack of excitement but dull from the sense that they make little difference to and therefore little impact upon the listener.  It is as if the information provided had no point or need.  It is just information.

Part of this is the fact that we have been taught that words have little meaning.  The hearers of sermons have grown up at a time in which truth is true only if you want it to be or decide it is.  They have been taught to be passive in the face of words.  These words may offer information but it is largely irrelevant information -- the way we treat information we get from the internet.  Part of the blame falls on hearers accustomed to sound bites and information limited by Twitter rules.  But that is not all.

Part of it is the preacher -- in fact, a good part of the blame falls in the pulpit.  We as preachers do not preach compellingly.  Our sermons are not focused and our manuscripts are not written to persuade but to inform.  We as preachers presume we are good at our craft but we are not as good as we think.  We need to listen to good preachers regularly (most pastors never listen to the sermons of others) and we need to learn how to craft a sermon.  Our skills are not born but are learned and one of the best ways to learn our craft is to listen to those who are good preachers.  I personally feel the fault lies in trying to do too much from the pulpit; instead of accomplishing a clear and compelling and direct sermon, we squander the attention of our hearers with unfocused sermons.  If hearing or not hearing that sermon made little or no difference to the hearer, then we have failed in one of our primary tasks.  This is what I mean by the word "compelling."  Sermons should force the hearer to look inside, to listen to the Word, and to act on behalf of that Word.  Now I am not naive and believe the Word of God works in spite of our flaws and failings but why should we let this comfort lull us into complacency?  Preaching is one of the most important things we do as pastors.  Preaching requires our full attention, expects our full labor, and presumes that the sermon is compelling.  Why would we fail to less than our best for this?

During this pandemic I often preached the same sermon 6-8 times, often 4 times in a row.  I got to know the manuscript a little more intimately than I do most of my sermons.  It is instructive, however, to be forced to preach the same sermon so often for it quickly reveals to you the weaknesses in that sermon.  I suspect that many folks have been in the same boat.  If we pay attention to what we have learned, I hope and pray that our people will benefit from better preaching down the road.

I will admit that I did not have great teachers in Seminary.  They were not bad but they were not great either.  I will also admit that the chapel sermons that were compelling and memorable were few.  It was and is less a problem of failure than lost opportunity.  In a few years my regular preaching opportunities will be less and I will be listening.  But until the day when I am no longer in the pulpit, I promise to try harder to be better.  I ask you, whoever you are as hearer, to make the same promise to be better at listening.  And, while you are at it, don't worry about comments after the sermon unless you mean them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sermon daydreaming, but at least awake. When I was a kid, my folks would take my siblings and I to "big church", every Sunday. The sermons seemed interminable and I was not allowed to sneak in a book to read so I came up with topics to think about during the sermons. My favorite TV show at the time was the original Star Trek, so I'd sit and think about how cool it would be if I was on the Enterprise. These daydreams were reserved for church only. (my dad probably was snoozing so I would sit next to him for a gentle elbow jab)

Now I am an adult and attend church only with my elderly parents when I am visiting them but the sermons are just as long and dull. So I start thinking about the old Star Trek shows again and they still keep my mind occupied.