We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Preaching Challenges (vii)

FPC, Lowville, NY
This is the seventh posting in a series working on what it means to be a church, based on eight criteria the Mars Hill Church uses to define its branch congregations as churches, which are listed in the first posting of this series (here).

As we've already seen, the third criterion used by the Mars Hill Church to define its branch congregations as "churches," is, "The church regularly gathers to hear God’s Word rightly preached and to respond in worshipful ways."  We've also seen that preaching "is in our blood" as Protestants.  It's what we do.  It's what we've been doing for centuries, and it's worth asking why we keep doing it—apart from the fact that we tend to keep on doing what we've always done.

Preaching today is challenging.  In the past, the Sunday preachers dominated the local media aside from printed newspapers.  They were the only regular, weekly game in town when it came to listening and watching public media.  They could preach for 60 minutes or more and hold people's attention.  In the old days, New England families devoted hours of table conversation to dissecting Sunday's sermon.  Then came radio, and now, of course, preachers are only one small voice in the overwhelming daily bombardment of public media.

So, the challenge is to say something on a Sunday morning that is entertaining, intelligent, and relevant to the lives of a congregation.  The entertaining part is crucial.  In education circles, there is a term, "edutainment," which means using entertainment media and techniques to communicate educational content.  The highly popular and effective children's TV show, Sesame Street, is the industry standard for quality edutainment.  How does one compete with that?  But, preachers have to try.  If we aren't entertaining, we won't be heard.

Preaching a relevant, meaningful, and thought-provoking message is also important—more so than ever, actually, in our world where soccer dominates Sunday mornings, worship attendance is on the decline, and our Protestant churches still want quality preaching as they always have.  Speaking personally, some weeks this feels daunting.  How does one stay fresh, interesting, and relevant week after week?  Still, it's not quite that grim.  Local churches continue to value preaching excellence, and the weekly sermon is important to them.  Preachers have an amazing array of resources, many of which the Web puts at their fingertips (literally).  Where there is great challenge, there is also great opportunity.  Amen.