I have spoken over 11,000 times in a span of 55-years in classes, sermons, lectures, radio, TV, banquets, debates, etc. In my early years of preaching meetings, it wasn’t unusual for dozens of attendees to respond for prayer, rededication, and baptism. It wasn’t unusual to have overt responses during Sunday morning and Sunday evening services as well as on Wednesday evenings.
One brother recently tagged those past days as “The golden age when hearts weren’t encumbered with 101 attractions which prevented the word of God from ‘pricking people in their hearts and souls.’” Sadly some preachers can’t quickly recall when they last had a response to their preaching; especially for baptism. I visited a congregation that was using the baptistery as a storage place; assuring me they could have it ready in a couple of hours if they needed to baptize someone.
What has created these phenomena in congregations of the Lord’s people? The Gospel hasn’t lost its power to convert (Romans 1:14-16). Preaching is still authorized by God’s word (Matthew 28:18-20). One answer lies in the sowing of the seed. In the simple but dynamic Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:11-15) Jesus spelled out clearly that the battle was occurring in the hearts of the hearers of the word. Even a casual reading of the text reveals that one out of four hearts will receive, keep, obey, and practice the word (Cf 8:15).
Somewhere in our history congregations have created two distinct forms of communicating Scripture. First, is the pulpit where the preacher does all the talking thus creating a monologue? Second, the classrooms where questions and answers occur on a limited basis. Some attendees don’t bring their Bibles to either opportunity.
The operative question is, why is this occurring in many congregations today? Coupled with the why is the question, what are the dynamics involved in producing this auditing effect at this time among the Lord’s people? In my opinion, there are several answers to these questions.
From watching, listening, and reading sermons and lessons, past and present, presented in congregations across the nation there is evidence that both forms of communications, preaching and teaching, have fallen on tough times. There seems to be evidence that some of the issues relate to trying to match the entertainment activities of Hollywood, televangelists, and comedians. What is being passed of biblical messages in the pulpit and classroom is more like an attempt to entertain than “prick listener in their hearts” (Acts 2:37). A few Scriptures are tacked on with an overdose of human wisdom, pop-psychology, and feel-good emphasis. It’s the telling of “my story” more than the telling of HIS story. The response most frequently heard is, I enjoyed your sermon/lesson”, not “what must I do?”
There are endless materials, products, and media gadgets to help us in our quest for spiritual growth. One media program which can be download on your phone or viewed on a computer makes it possible for you to listen to the Bible with background music so you can fall asleep. Have we become like the people in Isaiah’s day? “Who say to the seers, ‘Do not see,’ and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things” (Isaiah 30:10).
I believe the answer lies with both participants in the teaching and preaching event. The preacher/teacher and the hearers both have attitudes, disciplines, and responsibilities for creating the success of the event. No, this is not a blame game exercise but a reality check relative to making the learning event…