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Preaching In A Media-Saturated Culture

This post is part of The Disciple Making Preacher series by . This series attempts to answer those who are against preaching and to propose that preaching is an irreplaceable means of disciple making in the church today.

The prophets of doom in today’s Church are confidently predicting that the day of preaching is over. It is a dying art, they say, an outmoded form of communication, ‘an echo from an abandoned past’. John Stott

Modern forms of communication have had a profound effect on preaching, preachers, and parishioners today.

Some preachers have shortened their messages to cater to the dwindling attention spans of their people. Others have supplemented their sermons with video clips and other visual aids in preaching.
But perhaps worst of all, there are those who have decided that preaching is completely outdated and must be replaced altogether. While supplementing a sermon with video or drama on occasion is not inherently bad, supplanting the sermon completely is a big problem.

A Media-Saturated Problem

The average American watches nearly 5 hours of video each day on TV’s, phones, and computers according to the latest Nielsen Cross-Platform Report.
The average YouTube video is 2 to 3 minutes. Most hour long TV shows might have 6 or 7 commercial breaks.
Hollywood movies have even found a mathematical formula that lets them match the effects of their shots to the attention spans of their audiences.
This amount of media consumption each day, according to John Stott in Between Two Worlds, makes us:

  1. physically lazy,
  2. intellectually uncritical,
  3. emotionally insensitive,
  4. psychologically confused,
  5. and morally disordered.
It is in this media-saturated culture that the preacher must preach.

Preaching takes place in an over-communicated society. Mass media bombard us with a hundred thousand “messages” a day. Television and radio feature pitchmen delivering a “word from the sponsor” with all the sincerity of an evangelist.” – Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching.

But the messages that we are bombarded with every day aren’t just from TV’s and smart phones.
We also receive messages from print ads, billboards, magazines, radio commercials, emails, and direct mail. Advertisers are placing messages on coffee cups, napkins, and even the eggs you buy in the grocery store. You might find an advertisement at the bottom of a golf hole, in bathroom stalls, or on your receipts.
When we get to church and prepare to hear a message our brains are working against us.
The preacher who has a timeless and timely message has his work cut out for him.

Two Incorrect Responses

Here are the two most common responses to the problem of a media-saturated culture:
2. “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

Still worse has been the increase in the element of entertainment in public worship – the use of films and the introduction of more and more singing; the reading of the Word and prayer shortened drastically, but more and more time given to singing.” D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers.

Some church leaders make the Sunday gathering as attractive as possible to keep the attention of the listeners. Personally, I’m not very interested in catering to those who need to be entertained. Why feed that appetite?

I’m also not convinced that you should draw crowds with big events filled with video and lights and special effects and hope some of the entertained “crowd” will become a more committed “core”.
Jesus didn’t say ‘If anyone would come after me, let him gratify himself, take up his comfort, and be entertained.’

When we have a “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude, we drive religious consumerism rather than strive to become a distinct community of Jesus’ followers for God’s glory. Supplementing sermons with video or illustrations from pop culture is fine on occasion. Having an attractional approach for the purpose of gathering crowds is not.

The church should produce disciples. When we offer a media-saturated church to a media-saturated culture we produce consumers. A church that places more emphasis on entertainment than on edification has failed in their mission to make disciple-making disciples.

2. “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”
Another response to a media-saturated culture is to completely abandon all “traditional” elements of Biblical worship gatherings including the sermon. These church leaders have decided that the forms and patterns of the world are better than the Biblical ones in making disciples (if making disciples is even the goal).  These leaders think the only way to understand and communicate with culture is to live like culture. These are the first to say we need to remove sermons altogether.

Can different forms be used at times? Can a sermon be preached in creative ways? Can round-table discussions be used at times? Can we show a movie to help communicate a truth? Can we include Q&A in the middle of a sermon? I think so, but these tools and methods must be analyzed for their long-term effectiveness. Is the purpose to get people’s attention or to make disciples.

Perhaps a better response would be to warn our people of the dangers of submitting to an entertainment-based culture. We shouldn’t watch 5 hours of TV a day. We should feed our people a steady diet of gospel-saturated, theologically rich, and God-glorifyingly engaging exposition of a text each week. We should teach them to focus on their own personal study of God’s Word each day.

I don’t think the response to a media-saturated, entertainment driven culture  is to throw out the sermon or doctor it up until it looks just like Hollywood. I think the response is to set a high bar through faithful preaching and teaching even when the people just want to have their ears tickled.  How can church leaders prepare their people to hear and respond to the Word of God? Do you agree that preaching is still an effective means of making disciples today?  Do you believe God is still Word centered in the way he reveals himself?

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