The last few days have seen my blog traffic increase quite rapidly. I guess the issues on my heart speak to others also. I appreciate the good comments and emails I’ve received. As I proceed here I do want to say that I’m not necessarily “knocking” the issues that I’m writing about (i.e. Video Venue churches for example). Rather, I’m asking for the “why” behind it all and trying to make sense of its necessity. Perhaps there’s good reason for it. A church like LifeChurch in Oklahoma has allowed itself to be a help to other churches and I’ve used some of their technology myself. They are incredible. Still, I wonder about their multi-site vision and taking over churches elsewhere while piping in their video teaching. Is it wrong? I don’t know. I’m not trying to be critical here. What I want is dialog about why it’s good or why it’s not good for reaching others. This isn’t something I can just bring up in conversation in my local coffee shop which is why I chose to discuss it here. It seems that if you play “devil’s advocate” in questioning ideas then you’re labeled as a stuffy, stodgy critic and dismissed. That’s not good for discovery.
Today, let’s take the message we preach under consideration (if only briefly since this is a blog!). My blogging friend Peter Mead from London, England recently wrote a guest column on the “A Spreading Goodness” blog titled “Preaching and Affective Hermeneutics” which I felt was one of the best blog posts on the issue I’ve read in years. I’ll not rewrite everything from his post but a couple of great quotes stick out that bear repeating..
…many churches have moved to purely practical how-to messages giving helpful tips for life. The fruit of this change may be bulging pews, but shriveling souls, as biblical illiteracy sweeps the contemporary church scene.
…Do we indeed have a deep dissatisfaction with our own ministry? We try to compete with the world, but often do not sense that hearts are truly won, nor that genuine peace and joy result in the spirits of those listening. We give much, but do we really give much of God or a genuine confidence in Christ?
There’s more but you can read the rest of it yourself. I italicized the two issues that I think are central to discovering what it is preaching must accomplish in the sermon. Correcting biblical illiteracy for one. How many churches require their members (or at least give the expectation) to bring a bible to worship? I’ve purposely STOPPED putting my biblical text on my “Impress” presentations (Impress is the open source clone of PowerPoint) because I want my congregation to “open their bibles” as I say each week. They may have a different translation but the books are in the same order and they can follow along. Why do I do this? As a way to combat biblical illiteracy.
The second part deals with the preacher’s heart. As one who speaks each weekend, I take this to heart seriously. Is my confidence in God such that my passionate presentation of His Word one that will project that confidence and assurance, or am I tiptoeing around the hard bits to keep my head above water? It sounds silly but I know a lot of pastors who do this because they worry about the backlash. Remember my passage yesterday from 2 Timothy 4 when Paul instructions were to “patiently correct, rebuke and encourage” when speaking. The correcting and rebuking part sometimes hurts so many times, we focus on just the encouragement. That, I’m afraid, is where biblical illiteracy comes from. Mead speaks of this in his “bulging pews” remark.
I’m not saying that some good can’t come from encouraging messages. We should provide encouragment even when we’ve stepped on toes. In recent visits to churches striving to be more “current” or “relevant”, I’ve sadly seen very little preaching that focuses on sin and the eternal redemption of the believer. Again, don’t take this as criticism but more as an observation. These churches market themselves well with great sermon series titles, stunning graphics, and catchy individual message titles. Some perhaps are truly preaching the Word but, like Mead, I see many more that are not. In some cases (not all), less than 15 minutes was given to the actual preaching of God’s Word. No wonder biblical illiteracy is climbing in our culture.
So while I think that focusing on providing a 5-star worship is overall a good thing, how much of the peripheral items we worry about is too much? Do we spend as much time studying the Word of God as we do worring about the airpots that deliver the coffee?
Some final thoughts tomorrow…