Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Has Preaching Become Entertainment?

In many respects, American culture is not much unlike the ancient Roman Empire, not the least of all American's hunger for entertainment. Just as the Romans had monstrous structures, professional actors and actresses, and inexhaustible resources so we have all these things and more. Our hunger for constant entertainment has seeped into church life and often unrealistic expectations are placed on the preacher to "outpreach" himself.

While in seminary, it was not uncommon to see a line up of "big-name" preachers on the chapel list; the likes of David Jeremiah, Johnny Hunt, and James Merritt. The president of the seminary even said during a chapel service that, "Frankly, if we don't invite the big guys, you just won't come." I always had a problem with that attitude, primarily because I am biased toward small churches. I will cover why in later posts. However, he was right, simply because the chapel was packed out on those days. If a man that had "Rev." in front of his name was scheduled, the chapel would barely be one-quarter full. Those were the days that I made sure to go to chapel.

However, when the big guys did come, there was always a different atmosphere; the air almost seemed electric. They would name-drop, make fun of one another's preaching style, or even poke fun at the others' stands on secondary and even tertiary doctrines. Needless to say, I felt more like I was being entertained rather than taught the Word of God. This attitude is indicative of the overall view of the church on preaching. Now don't misunderstand, preaching must entertain in some ways so as to capture the attention and stir the will. This is exactly the point of illustration. The most effective illustrations drive points home to the degree that they stir a decision in the heart of the listener. As Stuart Olyott mentions in his useful little book, Ministering Like the Master, "We must put eyes into people's ears." Jesus typically used illustrations! Who can forget a lamp hidden under a basket, a boy feeding with pigs, or a fisherman fishing for men? So much preaching has become about who can tell a better story. My thought is that delivery and style should never override content. It smacks of sounding brass and clanging cymbals, all for the sake of self-aggrandizement.

I believe the preacher is walking too close to the world when he feels like the next sermon he preaches must be better than the last and seeks primarily to entertain. Emotional response is no indicator of how effective a message is. I laugh when I watch cartoons with my children; I cried at the end of Shadowlands; I swelled with pride watching Band of Brothers. None of these things stir me to action, though. None of these things grab my will and shakes it by the nape of the neck. When I hear the Word of God preached, I do not seek to be entertained. I seek rather to be challenged in my depraved thinking and encouraged to make a Christ-honoring decision. This is a primary goal of preaching, to illicit a response in the hearts and minds of the listeners.


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