If you were to call my preaching boring, I doubt I would much argue with you. There are links on the side bar of this blog to Faith Southern Baptist Sermons, and you can hear for yourself if you’re that brave. Personally, I think the CD copies we provide at church should come with a warning label: “Do Not Use While Driving; May Cause Drowsiness.”
So maybe I’m being a bit defensive with this post. I recently read a couple blog posts by Carl Trueman over at Reformation 21 in which he begins by simply saying that boring preachers should be fired. (You can read the original and the follow-up here and here.)
He actually makes some good points about the need for the presentation of God’s Word to incite worship, and than when doxology doesn’t result from the doctrine, it’s not good. He’s also careful to point out that engaging talks may be just that, with no real doctrine, so that can be even more harmful.
But here’s my beef. My undergraduate degree was a double major in Communication and Religion. As a communication major it was drilled into us that messages are not sent unless both speaker and listener are putting in equal effort; therefore listening is just as crucial as speaking. So then, if the sermon is boring, is it because the speaker is really that pathetic, or is it because the listener isn’t putting in any effort at all? Or is there some sort of middle ground?
Christopher Ash has a wonderful little book called “Listen Up! A practical guide to listening to sermons.” I think it should be required reading in every church. He reminds us that Jesus Himself tells us in Luke 8:18 “Take care then how you hear,” or “Consider carefully how you listen.” Ash points out that listening is an active thing, something that should be approached with purpose.
When we come to hear God’s Word, we should expect just that: God’s Word. We should go in expecting God to speak, go in prepared to apply what we hear, looking for truth that God intends for us to live out in our own lives. When we have an active approach to listening, you’d be surprised at how much less boring something might be.
Now, that’s not to say there aren’t bad sermons, and quite frankly bad preachers. Ash’s book even has some advice on how to handle those. If it’s bad in the sense that it’s unbiblical or even biblically inadequate, those are different stories. Yet those guys aren’t the target of Trueman’s “Kick ‘Em Out” campaign.
Here’s some of what Ash says: “Let us suppose, however, that this dull sermon is biblically faithful and accurate, and delivered by a preacher who believes the truth, has prepared as best he knows how, and that the sermon is surrounded both by his prayers and yours. If this is so, we ought to do all we can to listen with the aim of profiting by it. We may be able to encourage the preacher to get help with presentational skills. Certainly we should pray for our preachers, and encourage them whenever they show signs of improvement…
“But above all, we must search our own hearts and come to the sermon praying for God’s help to listen as attentively as our bodies will let us (caffeine may help). My advice is…to ask God that some part of it may stick and be turned in us to repentance and faith. Try taking notes,…try going with a friend and agreeing together not to spend lunch lamenting the preacher’s inadequacies, but rather, sharing positive Bible truths that you have learned or been reminded of, and praying together for God’s help in putting them into practice.”
Wow, that’s a lot different than “fire all boring preachers and teachers” isn’t it? Pray for them. Encourage them. Put effort into it yourself. The truth is, sometimes sermons are boring because they fall on dead ears, and only God can change that. Can these bones live? Only if God makes them live. So pray for life, both in the preacher and in the pew.
Again, I’m not saying this as an excuse for shoddy preaching. I still am responsible before God to put in the time, effort, prayer and study required to faithfully proclaim His precious Word. I’m still accountable for the accuracy of the messages I give. Not because I’m concerned about boring people vs. entertaining them, but because I’ll have to give an account to God for it!
But the gift of preaching ought to be seen in the same light as any other gift in the church. We don’t kick folks out for not using them to the best of their abilities. We encourage, pray for, nurture that gift in any way we can. If a person truly doesn’t have the gift they think they have, then maybe we gently urge them to seek some other service. That’s much different than Trueman’s admonition that “elders should make sure they fire consistently boring teachers and preachers.”
Again, maybe I’m just defensive because I might be one of those. I’d like to think I’m just trying to be more gracious in my approach, as well as helping folks to see that the sermon is a two way street: you have to put in the effort as well. So get yourself all prayed and studied up and get ready to go hear a good sermon this Sunday.
Addendum: In interest of equal time, here is an excellent and brief article on how to have Better Teaching By This Sunday.