The September 17, 2001, issue of Time magazine hit newsstands on Monday, September 10. On the cover was a photo of T. D. Jakes staring regally at the camera, holding an oversized leather-bound Bible in his equally oversized hands. The headline posed the provocative question: IS THIS MAN THE NEXT BILLY GRAHAM? Inside was a gentle profile of the Pentecostal preacher and his rise to prominence. Accompanying that story was a shorter article that explored the state of preaching in America, whose title asked an even more compelling question: HOW MUCH DOES THE PREACHING MATTER?
On September 11, the terrorist attacks and their aftermath provided a quick and dramatic answer, as record numbers of Americans flocked to local churches to weep and pray and listen. They sat attentively in crowded pews, desperate for words of comfort and reassurance. Suddenly, for a spiritually rattled nation, the role of the preacher became just as crucial as that of the firefighter and police officer. How much does the preaching matter? In times of trouble and uncertainty, it matters a whole lot.
September 11, of course, was not the beginning of our culture's hunger for meaningful preaching. Long before that terrible day, it was clear that preaching had to supply more than soaring oratory, syrupy psychobabble, or sterile didacticism to sustain the interest of contemporary audiences.
Beyond Banal Preaching
Lori Carrell, a communications professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, studied 581 U.S. congregations to measure how preaching affects its listeners. Her findings are featured in the 2000 book The Great American Sermon Survey. Among other things, Carrell discovered that 65 percent of listeners primarily expect spiritual inspiration and life application ...1
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