Saturday, July 4, 2009

Choking on Mediocrity

I'm discouraged by the Joel Osteens and the Rick Warrens. They're not bad guys. Just lightweights.

Where are the power preachers like Paul and Peter who stirred people to repent or riot?

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Most sermons bore me with their mediocrity.

Most preachers are nice enough and smart enough, but the messages we give are watered down wastes of time. I'm not sure why anyone bothers to listen.

O, we've learned a few tricks. Dress for the audience. Keep a bag of clever phrases handy. Self deprecating humor is good. Step away from the pulpit and walk around the stage. Have a wireless mike like the rock stars use. Look people in the eye. Tell a story to keep their attention.

But somewhere along the way we left out the substance of the sermon, which I think is kind of crucial.

And it's gotten so formulaic. If you're a fundamentalist preacher, the sermon outline goes like this:
--Read the Scripture
--Talk about something great God did through you (you can brag and be humble at the same time this way).
--Say something vague but catchy about the text.
--Insist that we must believe what it says, with no doubts whatsoever, even if we don't know what it means.
--Tell a cool story.
--Offer to rescue people from hell by prompting them to say the proper prayer (incantation).
--Play the music long enough to wear folks out so someone will respond.
--Go to lunch.

Here's the outline if you're a liberal, intellectual preacher.
--Read the scripture.
--Show off your intellectual credibility by:
--------Explaining why the text doesn't mean what it says.
-------- Explaining why the text probably isn't valid in this day and age.
--Demonstrate outrage about a social justice issue (e.g.: the environment, war, the mistreatment of women and/or gays, the homeless and hungry, etc.).
--Talk about how heaven is a selfish, ignorant pursuit and we really ought to be concerned about the aforementioned social justice issue.
--Tell a cool story
--Offer the proper benedictory liturgy (incantation).
--Leave no time for a response.
--Go to lunch.

Mediocrity is our problem. Our messages have no message. We have powerful deliveries with no punch in the words.

It's a bigger problem than the crazy preachers who get hysterical on TV. It's bigger than the crooks who steal the widow's copper coins in the name of God. It's bigger than the clergy sex scandals that the news agencies publicize.

I'm discouraged by the Joel Osteens and the Rick Warrens. They're not bad guys. Just lightweights. How are they successful with their cotton candy theology in their underpowered sermons and poorly written books?

Am I jealous? There was a time when I was, but I'm too tired for that now. And I'm too discouraged. Frankly, I wish we had a few more pastors who could show the rest of us how to do it well.

Where are the power preachers like Paul and Peter who stirred people to repent or riot? We need those kind of preachers who can move the church out of the self serving sludge it has gotten stuck in. We need them to pierce our hearts. We need the power of their words to fill the emptiness.

At the very least, we preachers ought to be good enough so as to not waste people's time.

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