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?