“He is twenty minutes into his sermon, and he has not yet mentioned one Bible verse.” That was my comment one Sunday morning, right after our move to Oklahoma. Valerie and I were church shopping, looking for a church that would be a good fit for us. Someone had recommended a church, and before we went, I decided to go to the church website and listen to the pastor preach. For the twenty minutes that I listened, the preacher was engaging and funny. He just wasn’t biblical. We never attended that church. The church we landed at has a Gen X pastor who preaches long expository sermons to a packed house of young Millennials and Gen Xers.
As I committed to writing a series on preaching on stewardship, I started thinking about how the Internet and Covid have impacted preaching today. What should preaching look like in the 21st century? I thought I’d take a stab at that with this Coach titled The 21st Century Sermon.
Is preaching in danger of becoming a lost art? I believe in many ways it is. Here are a few observations I feel have led to the decline in biblical preaching.
- We have made our worship services outreach events focused on “guests” rather than using them to disciple members to carry the Gospel message to their neighborhoods and workplaces.
- The desire for cultural relevancy is destroying biblical preaching, which has and will continue to produce shallow followers and a weak Church. When difficulty arises, shallow followers are the first to leave.
- We have become more style-focused than substance-focused.
- The tyranny of the urgent is limiting the time pastors spend toiling and praying over their sermons.
- As a result, far too many pastors find their sermons online rather than finding their sermons on their knees reading the text.
I’m sure there are other reasons behind the lost art of preaching, but these are some of the most egregious.
James Emery White recently wrote a post for Outreach Magazine entitled “The Danger of Confusing Tactics and Strategy in Leadership.” White used a military analogy to describe the difference by stating, “So strategy lies behind when and where (and even if) to use armed conflict in view of a wider objective; tactics dictate the battlefield maneuvers.” White wrote, “without an overarching strategy, you have no way of evaluating what you should be doing and, sometimes more importantly, what you should not be doing.” He illustrated this by sharing stories of how his church held huge special events, which are tactics, yet they were not meeting their strategy. They stopped the events. White explained by saying, “One of my mantras is that the mission, vision, values, and message of the church are timeless and unchanging; the methods, however, must be continuously evaluated in light of their ongoing effectiveness.”1.
This led me to think, are preachers confusing tactics and strategy in preaching? As I began to mull over the 21st-century sermon, I started texting questions to one of my preaching buddies, Jason Bunger.
In the spring of 2020, it was my honor to help my friend and fellow seminarian, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, with his book, Ten Percent: A Call to Biblical Stewardship. A major part of the book was six sermons Dr. Floyd had partially written earlier but needed to be updated as Covid began spreading through the country. To help assure our message resonated with younger generations, I included Dr. Jason Bunger on my team to help evaluate the clarity of our content for his generation. Dr. Bunger serves as the Senior Pastor of Hope Church in Dayton OH and is an adjunct professor at Moody Theological Seminary. One afternoon, Jason and I began texting back and forth on this topic of preaching in the 21st century. The following is what Jason texted to me when I specifically asked how the Internet and Covid had impacted his preaching.
How Online Preaching Has Changed (for the better) My Preaching
1. I assume that what I am preaching will be viewed by non-Christians who do not (and probably would not) go to our church each week. When I preach, I preach to un-churched people and assume they are watching. Sometimes, pastors can get discouraged because they prepare an evangelistic sermon, only to look out and see the same handful of people. But when I preach online, I assume that non-Christians are watching it.
2. It has forced me to be more precise in what I say. If I say something stupid in service, people will roll their eyes and move on. But I say something stupid in an online sermon; people will turn it off, change the channel or “share” my ignorant comment with others.
3. Online preaching has forced me to be more engaging. I compete against the dog, the NFL pregame show, and every other distraction online or in someone’s house. There is no social pressure for people to remain engaged. They will log off or tune out if they are no longer engaged.
4. Online services can be repurposed. They can be repackaged and used for new members’ classes, specific studies, or online communities.
5. A great online service can be shared. In the past, someone might say, “I wish ____ were here. They could benefit from this.” But now, you can test drive the sermon first and then share it with others. “Hey, Charlie. This was a message from our service this weekend. It reminded me of what you have been going through. I thought you may enjoy it.”
6. Online preaching can make the preacher more approachable. I realized that most people were watching me while sitting on their couch. People are inviting me into their living room, so I want to make them comfortable that I am there with them. Therefore, I wanted to be more interactive with them. I began dressing more casually, tried to ask more open-ended questions, and sometimes used my inside voice.
7. Online preaching extends the conversation. Instead of the sermon being a Sunday morning event, we have tried to extend it through the week. We send out questions and the passage through our app a day in advance, upload a sermon on Sunday morning, have a ministry leader lead an online discussion. At the same time, the message is being shared and then may provide post-sermon application questions or additional passages.
Those are great thoughts from a guy who weekly preaches expository sermons. Jason has shown that while the tactic of how stylistically we preach the Word changes, our strategy to make disciples through the ministry of the Word never does.
The Apostles early on dealt with the importance of the ministry of the word of God in Acts 6 when they said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait tables.” Deacons were appointed to wait tables, and the Apostles said, “We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” What happened? Acts 6:7 records the word spread, and the church grew. That is the power of the preached Word! The 21st-century sermon’s style might change but may we never water down the content.
Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach