When I was in New Jersey, I had an intriguing conversation about communicating to multiple generations during the Sunday morning sermon. Kristen’s uncle, Fred Provencher, is a senior leader and one smart cookie. I loved this conversation on a lot of fronts. Fred is a great communicator, he is a great pastor, and yet he is doing bucketloads of research to try to figure out… “How do I become a better communicator and pass on some best practices to others?” How many senior leaders are really wrestling with this? I think most feel that their messages aren’t that effective, but very few will actually take the time to learn why and how to fix it.
The task is nearly impossible!
When I was on staff at a church we always had this feeling that Sunday was-a-coming. Like clockwork. It was always in front of you like a ticking time bomb. The local preacher has to prepare 50 messages a year, keep the attention of loads of different communication preferences, evaluate the effectiveness of last weeks message, prepare this weeks message, begin planning for stuff 6 weeks out so the worship team is can prepare, on and on. On top of all of that the preacher must try to factor in a way to communicate to builders, boomers, and all the rest of the generations… all of whom have strong preferences for how the sermon should be delivered. You can see why some teaching pastors just give up and do what their talents and preferences dictate. Which is why I’m so excited for Fred’s research.
The task is wholly necessary!
For 2000 years the Sunday morning sermon has been the primary communication tool of the church to the church body. Going forward I think it’d be hard to argue that the sermon will be less important in the future. The real question is, will it be as effective in leading the church going forward as it has been to date? Or will it fade into a tradition we do but see little fruit from?
It’s about technology!
The sermon is not about video, audio, big screens, dramas, special music, or even a talented speaker. But it is about finding the right technology for each audience. A communication style is a technology. Adapting to your context is a technology. The words you use to convey biblical truth are technology. The Bible is the content and the technology is how the communicator delivers that content.
Context, context, context
As I think about this I think about it as 3 contexts.
Context of where you are: If your church is in suburbia and your audience is hooked on Facebook, YouTube, and are business people I’d think that you’d want to communicate differently than the church I go to which is mostly working class poor. I’m always shocked to see people emulating the communication styles and technologies of churches that just don’t fit the local context in which the church operates. That’s why Erwin McManus’s stuff is so powerful in his context but falls flat in other places. In the context and shadow of Hollywood, storytelling and visual arts are powerful technologies. I don’t think that would fly in rural Kansas.
Context of the passage: I’ve been shocked to see misuse of technology in relation to the passage of Scripture the preacher is teaching. How can you teach the beatitudes… blessed are the poor, blessed are the meak… while using a $100,000 A/V system and by hiring professional actors to do a skit? Sometimes we get so worried about being hip and relevant that we actually offend the context of what we’re trying to teach. Imagine you are a working-class poor person attending a service that is supposedly teaching me that its OK to be poor. How can I undertand that message in a $20 million building from a pastor who makes $100,000 more than me! Sometimes we forget to look at the context of the passage through the lens of the the technology we use to deliver it.
Context of who you are: Another shocker is seeing a communicator try to go outside of themselves. I’ve seen communicators put on a public persona or try to communicate in a fashion that just isn’t them. We visited a church in which a very type A, direct and to the point preacher tried to close his message with an artsy prayer experience. He fumbled through the instructions. He felt awkward telling people to get up. And he never stopped talking while people were supposed to be praying. The biggest thing a preacher should do is to be who they are. If you are hip, be hip. If you are a nerd, be a nerd. If you are artsy, show us. But if you can’t send an email don’t try to tell us you found this video on YouTube. When you do things that are out of context for you, it doesn’t matter if it was done to appease a generational expectation.. it just makes you look stupid.
It matters who you are the other 6 days.
The Sunday morning sermon is important. But it is validated by who you are when you aren’t preaching. Otherwise, they are just words. We live in a high expectation, low trust world. The true measure of your Sunday morning words must be lived out through your actions. That communicates to every generation that your message is worth listening to.