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That’ll Preach!!

Apparently it is called the ’18 minute dash’.

It is allotted time for any speaker giving a “TED talk”. TED, (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design), involves a series of talks given by individuals prominent in their respective fields.  With well over 1000 Talk given on a wide range of topics, TED is like a one-stop shop for anything interesting or inspiring.

The thing I find intriguing in all this is the fact that TED Talks are just that: talks.  They are not flashy video montages or fast-paced music videos.  They are just what they claim to be.  They are content heavy messages mediated through a sole speaker.  The speaker speaks, the audience listens. Yes, some talks will employ picture, video, or music in the presentation of their topic, yet these things are never a replacement for the basic dynamic of a speaker with a message.   A TED talk is more a lecture than a commercial; a speech not a sound byte.

The reason I find this interesting is because for years I heard people assert that preaching is a dead art.  It is anecdotally argued that people no longer wish to sit in a pew and listen to a preacher for longer than a couple of minutes.  This argument usually blames the likes of television or social media for the diminishing of our attention spans.  It is argued that the glitzy flash of quick-imaged commercials has so sapped the culture’s ability to sit and listen that it is not enough to simply stand in the pulpit and speak the good news of God in Christ.   Rather, the ever eroding attention spans of the congregation demands that the preacher develop some type of ‘sermon hook’ in order to keep people tuned in.  Enter the power-point slides and the movie clips!

Believe me, I am no stranger to referencing popular culture in the midst of sermons.  An appeal to the culture that surrounds people’s lives can be an important element in all of preaching.  Yet this doesn’t replace the power of vocally proclaiming the good news.  Amidst the fast paced images and studio-enhanced audio, the simple and unhindered relationship between speaker and audience, preacher and congregation, has the ability to cut through all such distractions.  It gives witness to the power of God’s eternal word.  It is this relationship that is being evidenced in TED talks. TED seems to be proving that there is something grand and inspiring about someone standing before others with simple and plain communication.   Its popularity seems to show that there is an audience that desires content-rich, challenging, and inspiring vocal messages. What is more, this audience is growing.

What is it that sparks the popularity of these talks?  Have we fed this generation so much on the pabulum of superficial sound bytes that they are now longing for something much deeper?  Have we filled our ears with so much noise, and our eyes with so many images, that the act of standing and speaking is so jarringly counter-cultural that it actually shakes us to the core?  Could this be a wake-up call to the Church, and in particular, preachers? While we try to squish the gospel message into a run of fancy phrases or 30 second clips, have people actually been calling out for something more?  Could it be that it is time that we stop trying to inculturate the gospel message and just give it?

Paul voiced this very dynamic in his letter to Romans when he asked “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without some preaching to them?’  Perhaps that is our challenge today.  Instead of adopting the different communication strategies of the current culture, perhaps we need to go back to the basics: Where we simply stand and speak unaided by toys or gimmicks, flash and pomp;  where we own the truth of our message so much that we need no distracitons or hooks, where we unabashedly, emotively and passionatley present the Good news of God in Christ Jesus to all who have gathered before us.  Otherwise, how will they hear the good news?

You have 18 minutes.

What are your reflections on the state of preaching today?  Has it changed in recent years?  Does it need to change still?

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith.

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0 Responses to That’ll Preach!!

  1. Sharon Harding

    This is very interesting. I have listened to a few TED talks and really liked them. The things that struck me about the talks I heard was that the author really knew their subject, could make their subject accessible to those listeners who didn’t have the same educational background, and they were passionate about their subject. That’s what I’m looking for in a sermon. I find that many preachers tend to tell their listeners what they should do or believe. I would prefer to be challenged to think about what I believe and how that belief intersects with my life.

  2. I too, Sharon, have heard a few of the TED talks. And they are engaging!

    I also preach weekly and sometimes get stuck on finding the passion within me to make the sermon as inspiring as it might be – whether I’m having an off week, or have been too distracted/busy to spend the time in biblical exegesis and prayer, or have totally missed the point on what the congregation is wanting/needing to hear.

    I try to preach the Good News, and invite our congregation to join into the living out of that good news message.  I try to use examples that are meaningful and relevent, and I remind them that we are all on a journey together – none of us is perfect but we can all try to do our best.

    I think the difference between sermons and TED talks are many – yes, we all want to inspire and motivate and uplift. But sermons are weekly, TED talks a one-time thing; sermons are delivered by clergy or laity who may have had no formal training in public speaking or homiletics, TED talks are public speakers; not all sermons are written by biblical scholars, TED talks are composed by a team of experts; sermons follow the lectionary which can be difficult, TED talks are on the topic of speakers’ preference.

    What I am hearing in this post (and thanks Kyle!) is a call for preaching to be more engaging and inspiring, and expressing an invitation for us to find ways to engage with the content of the gospel, rather than try to ‘spice up’ sermon time with gimmicks and sound bytes.

    I’m also hearing to make sure I keep dedicated sermon prep time every week to try and let God’s amazing story come through my muddled words!

  3. Kyle Norman

    Thanks LauraMarie. 

    You definately heard right.  I think it’s sad that many sermons try to use flash and gimmick to mask some very weak messages.  I think it is the deepness that inspires me so much about TED.

    The other element of TED (which I didn’t mention) is how they are rated.  People can  rate TED talks as “Inspiring, Innovative, Funny, Convincing, Powerful, Challenging – (or the negative of each thing).

    I wonder what it would look like if we got such a report after each sermon.  Imagine if we heard back that majority of our congregations sees our sermon as ‘Boring, Unconvincing, and Weak’, that just might shake us up a bit.

  4. Fr. Bengry

    One of the most disappointing aspects of my seminary education is that there was only one mandatory preaching course and only two offered. i thought that was so very strange and mixed up — for something a preacher has to do at least once a week (I do it three times a week at least)… and knowing that sermons have the opportunity to do so much or so little or (God forbid) to turn people away. One mandatory class. Only two offered. Crazy. I always thought instead of writing some fancy (and boring) essay to prove what we seminarians learned, I thought it would be better to write and deliver a sermon. That’s where the rubber hits the road. Thank-you for your insight…

  5. “inculturate” ???

  6. Inculturation is “the gradual acquisition of the characteristics and norms of a culture or group by a person, another culture, etc.” Specific example: “the adaptation of Christian liturgy to a non-Christian cultural background.”

    The perfect word choice for Kyle’s argument.