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December 22, 2009Leadership

Preaching Magazine Interview (Pt. 2)

Here's Part 2 of my interview with Preaching Magazine (part 1 is here). It's a discussion that is tied to my book, Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and The Churches That Reach Them. Here we get into the subject of preaching.

Preaching: You wrote an article for the last issue of Preaching called "Sermons that Stick." Of course, that title relates to a book I think both of us really like, called Made to Stick.

Stetzer: Great book.

Preaching: What do you see as things that will help sermons stick?

Stetzer: Well, we did a research project, of course in partnership with Preaching Magazine, and what we did was actually two projects. First, we surveyed a thousand Protestant pastors to ask about their preaching practices. How do you open a sermon? How long do you preach? What do you do with the text? Do you start with the context or the text? So, we wanted to find a way to report that.

In the second part, we actually downloaded 450 sermons from the two leading, audio sermon resources on a two-week period; so we'd get a random sampling from that set. We listened to them. We actually had a team listen to the sermons to report on what they did. Then we asked pastors what they thought they did.

What we wanted to do was report fairly the data but do so through an article that brought some advocacy for engaging preaching. So, I wrote about the four things preachers need to do. They need to enter their [congregation's] world, open the book, pull back the curtain and call [listeners] to respond. Then for three of those four, we brought data about how pastors did that in their preaching. For example, we asked: "Do you start with the text or the context?" About 37 percent said they prefer to start their sermons with their listener's context by addressing issues such as the current question or a decision their listeners are facing. We found preachers in their 40s and 50s more likely to do that. Younger preachers actually were less likely to do that.

Preaching: I sometimes get the sense that many preachers think they have one preaching style, and in reality they don't. They really are doing some different things than they think they're doing. Did you find that to be the case in your own research?

Stetzer: It's interesting-- in this specific study I was referencing, 37 percent said they prefer to start their sermons with the listener's context. So the rest are going to not have said that. The reality is that as we listen to them, more than half (52 percent) of the preachers actually started their sermon with the context.

Now, I'm one who believes we want to bring people to the text; but I'm not one who believes we need to get up and say, "No donuts. No coffee. Just the Bible. Come and get it."

I want to start with the text, but I want to introduce it with the context. So I think many people who start with the text like I do, I'm going to preach the Bible, not my own ideas with the Bible used as spiritual footnotes, but I still start with: "Here's why this matters." I don't have to make the Bible relevant, it already is; but I need to help people understand why this is relevant to them today.

I think for some, they say they start with the text; but really they're starting with the context and then immediately bringing people to the text of Scripture. So they report that differently.

I think a lot of preachers also probably think they preach shorter than they actually preach!

Preaching: As you've done research on preaching and preachers, is there anything that surprised you--something that was other than what you really expected?

Stetzer: One of the things on this one that surprised me was when we studied the 450 audio sermons. I think there's a perception that everybody is projecting their messages on screens now, so in that study we listened for that. Preachers asked listeners to turn in their Bibles to the primary text they were preaching from in 37 percent of the 450 sermons. For the other verses, they asked them to turn in the Bible about 15 percent of the time.

Actually, only 6 percent refer to biblical passages displayed on the screen for the audience to read. I expected that to be higher, but I think actually more than a third, almost four in 10, actually are asking people to turn in their Bibles to such and such a text. PowerPoint's wonderful, and those projection systems are wonderful to a point; but I still think it's interesting that many of us have projection screens [while many pastors] have people open their Bibles and say, "Let's work through it."

Preaching: Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, said technology never ignites a revolution. Sometimes it contributes and helps move things along, but it's never the igniting factor. I think some churches are putting overly high expectations on technology as a resource.

Stetzer: I've found as I speak at conferences and preach at churches, I actually find myself using PowerPoint less. I think there's sort of an expectation that I would because you've got to send your PowerPoint ahead of time. No, I joke, I'm just going to read the Bible and yell. I think sometimes those tools are helpful; but in our churches, we often turn tools into rules. Then you must do something; it becomes expected and mundane and loses part of its purpose and use.

Jump into the comments after and share your thoughts. I'll post the final part of the interview soon.

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Preaching Magazine Interview (Pt. 2)