Early in the week I received a text message from a friend who was sitting in a church service in another state. I know, shame on me for accepting texts from someone who should be paying attention in church. But that’s the subject for a different post.
Anyway, long story short, the text message bemoaned the vacuity of the preaching to which they were listening at the time. I know, shame on me for listening to someone complain about someone else’s preaching. But that’s the subject for a different post.
The text message actually said, “This speaker talks a lot, but doesn’t have much to say. It’s like trying to fill a cup with the water dripping from a stalactite,” to which I responded with something sarcastic about said speaker’s potential popularity on the celebrity speaking circuit. I know, shame on me for being sarcastic and not supportive of this speaker’s ministry. But my friend replied “That’s what happens when you grow up listening to [Insert My Friend’s Pastor’s Name Here}.” And that was the end of the conversation for which I now, in retrospect, realize I have so much to repent for. But the conversation being over, I didn’t think much more of it until this morning when I received an email.
The email in question was my daily update from Churchleaders.com which suggested, among other things, that I read 4 Dangerous Church Growth Myths by Greg Laurie. It was myth #3 that got me thinking again about the text message from my friend. Laurie writes:
People and churches develop an appetite for what they are accustomed to being fed. A church with a steady diet of feel-good sermonettes in place of solid teaching from Scripture might eventually grow to become a large congregation—but it will be weak and immature.
You could easily conclude that many congregants want the church to be light and hassle-free. No heavy meals or five-course messages. But just because people have developed an appetite for empty calories doesn’t mean their bodies have no need for nutritious meals.
Do you see how this is the flip side of my friend’s text? My friend, accustomed to “meaty” preaching found the fast food fare being served up insubstantial, unsatisfying and more importantly, unconvicting. (After all, it’s not satisfaction, but disturbing that is the mark of good preaching.)
Laurie warns that a steady diet of homiletic junk food creates an appetite for sugary fluff which is ultimately detrimental to spiritual heath.
My friend bears witness to the way a steady diet of Biblical meat creates an appetite for more careful exegesis and insightful application.
The principle at work here appears to be you learn to crave what you are routinely fed.
It’s one more application of the principle described by the author of Hebrews: “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14, NIV).”
It’s a perennial tension for preachers: balancing the need for accessibility to the need for Biblical truth and practical application. I understand that preaching, especially Sunday morning preaching, needs to be well illustrated, attention grabbing and relatable. But I also understand that preaching, especially Sunday morning preaching, needs to stretch both the preacher and the hearer to create a greater awareness of and a greater hunger for the things of God.
The next-to-last thing I want to hear on a Sunday morning is “Pastor, some of that went over my head.”
The only thing worse is hearing “Pastor, none of that went over my head. Thanks for staying in the shallows, were I feel safe and comfortable.”
It’s these tension-laden questions that I struggle with week in and week out:
What is your preaching training your people to crave?
How much of your preaching is having no impact because it’s going over people’s heads and bouncing off the back wall?
How much of your preaching is having no impact because it falls short of where your people are and doesn’t stretch them in any meaningful way?