Saturday, 19 January 2013

Boring preachers vs dynamic preachers

A recent post offered this scenario of a churchgoer named Adam who decided not to attend his church one Sunday because the preacher is not the one he liked. Adam decided to attend his friend's church instead. The question posed is: What does it say about Christians like Adam?

Here's my reply:-

I will attempt to put myself in Adam's sneakers and see things from his perspective. I will also bear in mind that Adam is a product of our technology culture. And there is one thing that is relevant for this discussion in our culture today. It is what I call the "deluge of options". 

The world is not only flatter, smaller and localized, it is also pickier or fussier. Consider how instantaneous a seemingly prosaic news of someone's manicured armpit hair at the other end of the world can go viral within minutes, and you will know where I am coming from. With more options, comes more choices, and with more choices, comes more exacting opportunity costs. This all snowballs to a more fastidious generation. 

We can therefore expect Adam to be a typical fastidious individual; a cherry picking type. Can we really blame him? Maybe. Maybe partly.

Honestly, I am guilty of the same thing. I therefore identify with Adam somewhat. When I sit before a preacher who is monotonous or unexciting, I switch to oblivion mode. Alternatively, I would privately and quietly edit my letters on my i-phone.

And here comes the self-incriminating part: I think that is the wrong attitude to adopt. And here's why. I can safely assume that every preacher, young or old, sincerely prepares his sermons. Unless it is a screed from Hitler or Stalin, I can also assume that I can learn something from it, however mechanical it is delivered.

Of course, and especially for people like Adam who has choices galore in this modern age, it helps that the preacher is dynamic. It is even better if he is also good looking. Admittedly, that’s how superficial we can be sometimes. 

So, still in Adam's sneakers, I lament the current state of affairs for him. It is difficult to fault another, especially the young and impressionable, for getting excited by sheer excitement. And when news becomes viral about a more dynamic preacher somewhere else, the temptation is quite irresistible to church-hop. 

Even years of church loyalty can break under the spell of a bigger and more exciting church a few blocks down the road. One must not forget that loyalty works better in a technologically backward world. With more available options enabled by the media technology, membership loyalty is sometimes no different from video shop membership. When the going gets dull, the dull usually gets going.

Now, let's continue with my self-incrimination. I think such attitude is wrong because of wrong attribution. Although dynamism/charisma helps, there is a danger of idolization. There is also the danger of the cult of personality when we focus more on the person than on his sermon or his life.

(Honestly, here's a bit of side tracking. The members are at times as guilty as the leader when the latter falls because they collectively and blindly feed his ego and his ego in turn feeds the members’ ego and the wheels of the bus go round and round and round). 

But because the preacher’s life is largely hidden from the public, we are left with the content of his sermon as a guide. And I dare say that sermons in general vary little between preachers. Let me clarify. I know there are great sermons out there with wonderful content, well thought out that is, and scrupulously organized for clarity. But as with my previous assumption, I believe that any preacher worth his salt earnestly prepares his sermons before presenting them on Sunday. And it is based on this assumption that I think their sermons vary little with the sermons of other more charismatic preachers.

Having said that, I am also aware that a boring preacher may have in his hands the greatest written sermon in the world and yet without that definitive charismatic spin, it's difficult not to put even a die-hard member to slumber.

So, from this young "old-timer",  I see the solution as a trite one and it is this: the difference between Adam and a mature Christian is how he applies the word. I believe there is a deep excitement in a life transformed by the word. And this is where a crucial difference can be made in our Christian walk, that is, to focus on how we can be transformed by a carefully prepared sermon rather than on how exciting the preacher is.

Many people think that "doing church" is on Sunday. Actually, I see church as on any other day except Sunday. You see, Sunday is "receiving the seed" day and the rest of the week is "planting the seed". Unfortunately, me included, many have, in their spiritual storehouse, bags of unplanted seeds. I think that's the main problem of spiritual maturity - an unplanted life, a life unapplied. And a life unapplied is a life of spiritual bluntness and everything such a life touches turns to boredom.

The way I see it is this. The main responsbility rests on the initiative of the congregant’s life and not on the dynamism of the delivery. In the end, what makes a sermon exciting is how a life is gradually changed by it. So, it is immature to equate a good sermon with how charismatic the preacher is. And Adam and I are both guilty of doing just that.

Sadly, in today's “me-first, self-therapeutic” culture, most of us are not looking for how we can be changed by a sermon but by how exciting a sermon will make us feel. And this excitement is externally generated, that is, from the charisma of a preacher. We are therefore more a "feel good" generation rather than a "heal deep" one.

Let's end with this thought. I think tying our belief to the charisma of a preacher is like tying our faith to a fiery comet. Sooner or later, the comet will burn out and crash head first. May I suggest that a better anchorage would be Calvary because even in the worst of time, amidst the pain and suffering, Christ still remained faithful to the end. Now, that's a good life to follow, a good foundation for our anchorage. Cheers out!

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