Monday, December 5, 2016

Why is Preaching Harder Than It Used to Be?

The ability to preach a meaningful sermon has always been important for a minister. Many pastors feel that preaching great sermons has gotten harder than it used to be. While there may be many reasons why preaching has gotten harder, technology is driving many of those shifts in preaching.

1.Technology makes preaching harder because it allows us to listen to excellent preachers from around the world.

In the past we mostly only heard sermons from our local minister. Perhaps once or twice a year a guest speaker might come through and lead a series of meetings. Perhaps once or twice a year the pastor would allow a young “preacher boy” to fill the pulpit. But for the most part, we only heard sermons from our local pastor. Since that was what we were used to, we accepted whatever his style of preaching was as the “normal” or “right” way of preaching. But now technology allows us to listen to excellent preachers from all over the world. We can listen to them on podcasts, watch them on TV or live stream them on the Internet. This allows us to watch the best orators from all around the world. While this can be helpful to our spiritual walk, it can also make us more critical of our local pastor than we should be. Local pastors are feeling pressure to preach like all the celebrity pastors. But for many, that is an unrealistic pressure. There are only so many David Platts, Andy Stanleys and John Pipers in the world. Expecting our local pastor to preach like them is unfair. It puts far more strain on him than it did on previous generations of preachers. Though we should enjoy all the great preaching that technology allows us access to, we should strive to prepare our hearts to receive something from the sermon in our local church no matter the oratory skills of our local minister.

2. Technology makes preaching harder because it allows us to fact check sermons instantaneously.

Though pastors should strive to be as accurate as possible in their sermon preparation, no one is perfect. Every pastor will eventually misquote a statistic, refer to the incorrect tense of a Greek or Hebrew word, or get the details of some illustration from popular culture wrong. In the past, we might have thought something the preacher said was a bit off, but with no way to verify it until later, we normally let it slide. If we did remember to check the details later and learned the pastor was slightly off, we often still benefited from everything else he said in the sermon regardless of some minor mistake he may have made. Today our smart phones allow us to instantly fact check pastors’ sermons. And if we find that he has messed up some minor detail, we often become so focused on that small error that we are unable to hear the rest of what he is saying. Our immediate use of technology often leads to us discounting the truth of the rest of the sermon over a minor point that really is non-essential to what he was trying to say. This is unfair to the minister. Imagine if a room full of people were fact checking everything you or I said in real time? That is a lot of pressure to put on a minister, or anyone else for that matter. That does not mean that pastors should be sloppy in their research, but it does mean that congregations should not hold them up to some standard that is impossible for anyone to achieve. Let’s refrain from using our smart phones to fact check the pastor during the sermon so that we do not miss the point of what he is trying to say in the rest of the sermon.

3. Technology makes preaching harder because it gives pastors access to other people’s sermons.

At first glance, this might sound like an advantage. And indeed, when done correctly, listening to, or researching, someone else’s sermons can be a helpful part of sermon preparation. However, it also increases the temptation for a pastor to just preach a sermon someone else created. Seldom does that work as well as a sermon that a pastor has embedded deep in his spirit through prayerful mediation and study. Conscientious pastors may use someone else’s sermon for ideas, outlines and research but will not try to pass those sermons off as their own. They may incorporate some portion of someone else’s sermon and give credit where credit is due, but the heart of their sermons will be of their own making. But technology allows pastors who are less than conscientious pretend to be more prepared than they are. Most people see through the ruse and the result is that even when the content is great, the credibility of the pastor is in question, thereby producing a sermon with less impact than it should. When we suspect that our pastor is using someone else’s sermons, we should pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal to our pastor the dangers of that approach. We might also ask our pastor for a copy of his notes from time to time, not in an effort to catch him doing wrong, but in an effort to enhance our own learning experience. By doing that we also help our pastor remain accountable for having notes that came from his own study and were not just downloaded from some website.

4. Technology makes preaching harder because we have become a very visual culture.

As a culture, we have gotten used to graphics, videos, and other digital media to help us learn. Many pastors lack the skills, or the time, to incorporate these technological items into sermons on a regular basis. This is especially true for bivocational pastors, who have very limited preparation time. While it is hoped that pastors will try to learn these skills and squeeze the time in, the reality is that many pastors will not be able to take advantage of all the technologies available for the visual presentation of their content. We should train our hearts and minds to focus on the content of what our pastor is saying instead of judging him for his lack of graphic design abilities.

Technology is changing how we communicate, including how sermons are prepared and preached. Some of those changes are great. Others are not as helpful. We must commit ourselves to making the best use of technology and avoiding the pitfalls of it.


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Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

10 comments:

  1. In my 63 plus years of preaching I do not believe I have ever preached a GREAT sermon but I have enjoyed preaching about a GREAT savior. All the things a pastor must do, while important, are minor which compared to standing in the pulpit and proclaiming the Word of God. Dr. Otis Strickland once said that we preach the Living Word from the Written Word using the Spoken Word.

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    1. Thanks for sharing Bill. And thanks for your faithfulness in 63 years of preaching.

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  2. I enjoy so much how you deal with the realities of the age. Orthodox theology is another problem, as all the new tech opens up all the old old heresies that we thought had been settled, along with the various schools of thought and the cults. It has come to the place that almost every thing that you teach or preach will be questioned no matter how much time you put in on sermon prep.

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    1. Thanks for the encouraging words Russell. And you make a great point about technology also giving access and new life to old issues long settled.

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  3. Terry, people are turning away from God, that is why our churches are not full anymore...

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    1. Let us pray even more fervently for revival to come.

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