Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Preachers Won!

OK, in case you don't know, I'm a pastor, what some old-timers call a "preacher." In fact some folk address me as "Preacher Merrell." So, I can hardly plead impartiality on this matter. Having established my place behind the pulpit--figuratively, since we haven't used our pulpit for several years now, I'll proceed.

For some time now the point has been made that people won't listen to preaching anymore. We have to use PowerPoint and videos, we need to put on carefully scripted shows, and never quote Charles Spurgeon or do anything else "preacherly." People who have been making this point overlook some well-known and very popular preachers. Even listening through my keyhole, I am aware of a number. Many of them are best known through radio, so obviously the video element is not a factor in their effectiveness.
  • Chuck Swindoll keeps on telling stories, enthusiastically laughing at his own jokes and highlighting the intense practicality of the Word of God.
  • Granted it appears that Charles Stanley has bought some hair, but he is still counting off 3 of this, 5 of that, and 7 of the other thing on his long slim fingers.
  • John MacArthur, and James McDonald seem to just talk about the Bible.
  • Even from the grave Oliver Greene and J. Vernon McGee continue to have a following. I think they died before Powerpoint was invented.

Another preacher, Allistair Begg, has helped me clarify thinking on this. Part of the reason he has impressed me comes from the fact that he has come to some of the same conclusions I have, only he said it better. (Don't you love it when someone agrees with you?) You'll have to do the research if you want to find out more (and if anyone wants to send me a link to any of this, I'll be glad to post it.) since the input Preacher Begg has had in my life has been through borrowed Cd's and a couple of Pastor's Conferences I have attended at Parkside Church. Begg acknowledges that many critics claim that people won't listen to preaching anymore. In part he--and I--agree with that conclusion, but not for the reasons that are usually given. Since I don't have Begg's words in front of me, I don't want to take a chance on misrepresenting him. So the following points are mine. These opinions have been shaped by the Scottish preacher's words, though.

People don't listen to preaching because:

  • Much of it isn't worth listening to. I notice this in particular when I go to funerals. Here preachers have the opportunity to talk to the people that they wish they could talk to on Sunday. If what they do at the funeral-chapel is typical of what they do at church it is easy to understand why people don't listen.
  • Much of our preaching lacks authority. Messages that are like presentations of feel-good magazine articles garnished with scripture offer little of interest to people in need. Oprah and Dr. Phil have a bigger budget than we do. If we try to play in their court we'll lose. If we preach God's word, we win, because they don't.
  • We seek to preach what people want to hear, or what they think they need to hear. Pastor Begg said something to the effect, "We cannot preach what people want, because no one is demanding the gospel."
  • This one is mostly mine. We act as if all the truth of God's word can be mastered with little thought or effort. Proverbs talks about digging for treasure. Paul told Timothy to be diligent in his approach to the Word of God, 2 Timothy 2:15. I haven't read the book yet, but I understand that Bill Hybells has something to say on this matter.

In other words much of the lack of interest in preaching can be attributed to the sorriness of the preaching being offered up.

I've been thinking these thoughts for several years now. The recent election provided further confirmation that the day of preaching is not past.

  • It is not coincidental that the best speaker won the presidential race.
  • Then there was the highlight of the campaign. Sarah Palin's fresh, frank, folksy, effective rhetoric energized the race.
  • Mike Huckabee did more with less, and landed himself a job on Fox News to boot, on the basis of his ability to speak clearly and persuasively. In case you didn't know, or forgot, Mike Huckabee is Rev. Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor.
  • Huckabee went to Seminary with Rick Warren. The civil forum at Saddleback clearly showed that a preacher who actually believes something could speak sensibly, persuasively, and reach across barriers.
  • In my state we elected a new Senator. No doubt Mark Warner (No relation to John Warner, whom he is replacing) was helped by the Democratic tidal-wave, but Governor Warner is also a much more effective speaker than Governor Gilmore, whom he not only beat, but buried.

The preacher--the good ones at least won.

For those of us who seek to persuade people, It's Something to Think About.

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