Monday, September 21, 2009

Don't Preach for Content (use visuals)

“Sermon time is not a time for a pastor to call attention to himself through style or content. It is time to help worshipers experience God through faith in the risen Lord Jesus.”

And, by the way, it is a time to use lots of visual aids.

So says Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist in the September 17, 2009 issue. At first blush, Terry’s statement about preaching seems to meet biblical muster. It denies that pastors should call attention to themselves. It affirms that worshipers should experience God. It speaks of faith in Jesus. What could possibly be wrong with such things?

Or content”, that’s what.

In his editorial, Terry covers much ground, including smart-sounding research about the attention spans of adults, impressive data regarding how people learn better when additional senses are employed, and how dynamic speaking styles might actually detract from a gospel message. In short, people are dumb, preachers must use lots of pictures, and preachers themselves must be dull.

I must admit that I am probably confirmation of at least one of Terry’s assertions: I have a short attention span for dull, shallow preaching. But that is not the point.

What is significant is that Terry believes it wrong for a pastor to call attention “to content,” and that he further sets up a false choice between that “content” and helping “worshipers experience God through faith in the risen Lord Jesus.”

How, precisely, can a preacher – or anyone else – help people worship, help them experience God, or facilitate the operation of faith in Jesus without content? And, if a preacher is prohibited from calling attention to 1) himself, and 2) content, what is left to call attention to?

What Terry is opposing here is not the failure to help people worship. It is not a lack of focus on Jesus. It is not omitting an emphasis on experiencing God. What Terry opposes is biblical preaching that actually proclaims something; preaching that fills listeners with the word of God, challenging them to employ their will, emotions, and yes, even their minds, in worshiping God and in serving him.

Most people have no attention-span problem in the classroom, in the courtroom, or in the conference room. People have no problem focusing when they set up their Twitter account, follow their Facebook postings, or monitor their blog threads. What people have a problem following is dull preaching.

And dull preaching is dull even if there are lots of pictures.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tranformation! (And if you act now...)

Many will describe the appeal of the Christian life as ‘transformation,’ as in, “If God can transform the life of Paul, who persecuted and killed believers, he can transform your life, too.”

But reports of changed lives can be greatly exaggerated. For instance, I recently heard a pastor talking about the work involved in preparing sermons. Comparing his efforts before the advent of computer programs and afterward, he remarked “The computer changed my life forever.”

When we talk like that, we invariably cheapen the idea of transformation. It becomes not so much like the radical reorientation of a man’s soul as is described in Scripture, as it resembles more a late-night promo for ShamWow®, Mighty Mendit™ or anything else promoted by Billy Mays, where we all anticipate the ubiquitous “But wait! If you act now…” and the amazing deals and life-changing properties of the Awesome Auger™.

We are surrounded by promises of things that will ‘change your life forever.’ Most of them fail to deliver. And, most of the time when we claim something has ‘changed my life forever,’ what we are usually saying is that it has improved my life, at least for now.

Is personal improvement the company in which we should place the gospel, which is the ‘power of God for salvation’? (Romans 1:16) Or do we think the gospel is the promise of a ‘better life now’? And, that if you call in the next 30 minutes, streets of gold and a mansion made of pearls is thrown in for free?

The Bible does speak of transformation. But it is not the slickly marketed idea of change that we can put on our credit card for three easy payments. It is no less than the conforming of our sinful image into the holy image of the Lord Jesus Christ. And to receive Biblical transformation, modifying our outward appearance and behavior won’t do, for as the Bible says, we don’t need ‘transformation’ as much as we need resurrection, because we are dead in our sins until God makes us alive together with Christ.

The real issue, then, is not what will transform a man’s life, but what will create life where there has been none.