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.

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