I enjoyed this article in the Wall Street Journal for many reasons: The Hunt For the Good Sermon.
First, in today’s busy and high paced society I often find myself struggling with the idea of “entertaining” people in church. This article speaks to this, quoting something that Shane Claiborne said on Twitter: “We won’t lose students because we didn’t entertain them, we will lose them because we haven’t given the FULL gospel.” Did Jesus entertain people?
Emanuel Swedenborg wrote the following about preachers who are deprived of their office in the spiritual world: “I afterward heard many reasons why those preachers were deprived of their office. I was told that the chief reason is, that they did not prepare their sermons from the Word and thus from the Spirit of God, but from their own rational light, and thus from their own spirit. They begin, indeed, as a prelude, with a text from the Word; but this they merely touch with their lips, and then abandon as tasteless, immediately selecting something savory from their own intelligence, which they roll about in their mouths and turn over upon their tongues as something delicious. Such is their teaching. It was said that as a consequence there was no more spirituality in their sermons than in the songs of birds, and that they were merely allegorical adornments, like wigs beautifully curled and powdered on bald heads.” (Swedenborg – True Christian Religion 810) What a great passage! Preachers especially seem to be in danger of developing an unhealthy need to “entertain”.
The other thing that struck me was Eugene Peterson’s comment, that one of the most serious threats to biblical preaching is, “pragmatic vocational embrace of American technology and consumerism that promised to rescue congregations from ineffective obscurity.” It’s true. Mr. Wilson ends his article with this related comment: “The obsession with measurable ‘results,’ the rebranded promise of some technique or strategy: Preachers are bombarded with this stuff every day (four keys to success, six marks of a healthy church, seven principles of growth). Many ignore it and get on with their work in “scripture, sermon, and sacrament.” Praise God for that.”
So how do we break away from this obsession? Person by person. I’ll start.