Are You Not Entertained? Good!
People love to hear God’s Word opened up to them so that it challenges them, inspires them, and transforms them. Some pastors have a special gift to study and uncover rich insights into the Scriptures, find wonderful illustrations and metaphors that connect the points with hearers, and provide clear applications so the truth can make a difference in their lives. This kind of speaking is certainly a gift, but it’s one that’s coupled with a love of truth and a commitment to study for long hours. These pastors aren’t entertainers.
~Leadership Pain, Samuel Chand
“I don’t feel like I’m being fed.”
“Your sermon titles are boring.”
“Why don’t you retell the story of the Good Samaritan like it were two people from rival college basketball programs. I think people will connect better if you present it like that.”
The people who said these things to me have two things in common:
1. They’ve never preached.
2. They seem to think that the work I do as a pastor/preacher is intended to entertain them for a brief moment in time.
As to the first item, I understand that you don’t have to do something in order to decide whether or not you like it. I’ve never made a movie, but I can tell you whether or not I liked the movie. I understand things like plot, character development, storyline, etc. And, certainly, there are sermons that are just awful. When I was in seminary, I visited a church and the sermon started off with six unrelated stories that the pastor never circled back around to include in the main point of the sermon itself. I had never preached to that point, but I knew it was a terrible sermon. I don’t remember anything about it, except that I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
My approach to preaching is to help people understand the text, and then look for ways to make it relevant in their lives today. So, yes, a large part of my sermon writing and preaching focuses on context, teaching, languages, history, etc. That’s the foundational stuff. If you’re going to build a house, have a good foundation. Don’t assume that everybody knows everything, and teach it in a way that makes it easy to understand.
As to the second item, the entertainment value of preaching. I’m less concerned about that. I hate forced jokes in a sermon. This doesn’t mean I won’t say somethings that are funny from time to time. I think humor is a good tool to have in the preaching toolbox, but I’ve never — in nearly 14 years of preaching on a weekly basis — looked up a joke to put into the sermon. Humor in a sermon cannot be forced. If you are preaching, and you aren’t funny in day-to-day conversations, don’t try to be funny in your preaching. Just… don’t.
That being said, my goal in preaching is not to entertain. My goal is to help people grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. That means there may be times when I dive into some difficult subjects. Preaching should challenge people, make them think, and call them to a different way of living. This is not always going to be entertaining. I don’t know anybody whose life was changed by a forced joke in an “entertaining” sermon.
So, the next time you hear a sermon that’s not grabbing your attention, examine yourself first. Don’t jump right to criticizing the message or the messenger. I’m not saying don’t do that at all. Any pastor worth their salt is going to be open to genuine, honest feedback and conversation. But do the work on your end first. Because, more often than not, the sermon you hear could probably be better, but pastors have a lot on their plates and can’t always do all the fine-tuning and depth of research that is necessary for every message. Oh, and just drop the petty bull crap, nobody cares if the sermon title doesn’t excite you. Get over yourself!