Say, What?

By: James Flynn
Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Does the picture at the right remind you of some of Sunday mornings during sermon time? One of the primary tasks every preacher needs to master is helping people listen.  Most people are not natural-born listeners.  People that are good listeners are actually the exception—you notice them right away.  We all hear, but rare is the person who actually has “ears to hear,” as the Scriptures call the person who listens with their full attention and understanding.  Remember—only 25% of the people in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) actually heard the word, and it was preached by Jesus Himself!  If that was true for Jesus, what are the chances of someone actually hearing me?  What can I do to help people listen?

If we are to help people hear and listen to our sermons, then preachers must understand the people we are preaching to at this moment in history. Today’s multimedia and visual culture has changed the way people think and process information. By the time people graduate from high school, they have spent more time in front of the television than they have in the classroom. The average person may spend fifty minutes a week in a church, listening to a sermon for a half-hour, but that person spends more than two thousand hours in any given year watching television. Today’s bombardment by visual communication from television and multimedia sources on the Internet has literally rewired our brains and the way we think—our right brain is literally clamoring for involvement in life and demands to be fed visual images. The wise preacher will see this as an opportunity and seize the day.

Good communication is all about images and putting flesh on the bones of our sermons. The preacher who knows how to paint vivid and colorful images with his or her words will be speaking directly to this generation and communicating precisely in the way their brains have been trained to listen. In God’s providence, people are more susceptible to stories, metaphors, and word pictures than ever before. The question is will we meet them where they live at this cultural intersection or retreat to our own safe place and hope that things will go back to the way they used to be?

Today’s culture is in love with story and personal experiences.  These changes might be scary to some, but they present an extraordinary opportunity for people with creativity and imagination. Today’s listeners do not like being lectured at but want to participate in the discovery experience. Preaching today also presents an extraordinary opportunity for the introduction of multimedia into sermons. To be sure, that multimedia must be the flavoring on the message rather than the main course, but the addition of spice to food is what often makes the meal and gets the family to eat.

What we do now is critical. How we use culture for the gospel should be on the mind of every preacher as we prepare our sermons. If the preacher can build a bridge that helps people understand how they can be satisfied in God, then that preacher has built a cultural bridge to answer the questions that are being asked, making the preached word relevant to the culture. My fear is that preachers will decide to continue to ask questions that don’t matter to people today and focus on the answers to the questions no one is asking. It doesn’t do much good to preach a sermon to a bunch of folks who have been dead for fifty years.

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James Flynn
This entry was posted by on Tuesday, June 1st, 2010 at 5:00 am and is filed under Church Ministry, Faith & Culture, Renewal Studies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “Say, What?”

  1. Stephen Hightower says:

    Preach on, Dr. Flynn! I expressed some similar thoughts a couple weeks ago in my contribution to Renewal Dynamics ( Whether word pictures or actual images are used, the preacher must understand the audience and how they are likely to respond. Communication is “with” not “at” others. I believe it just as important to know what we’re talking about as it is to understand the audience. Years ago I heard a definition from Dr. Mark Rutland that I particularly liked: Effective Preaching is saying the right thing at the right time in the right way to the right people. Pretty difficult task if you unpack all of that. One of the many reasons why I firmly believe a call to preach is a blessing, but also an incredibly difficult job.

  2. Tyrone Duos says:

    Great blog post.Really looking forward to read more.