One of the problems with preaching today is that presentation matters. Actually, what I mean is that presentation is important, and we're neglecting it. As good Evangelicals we have a strong view of scripture: that is powerful and change peoples lives. We believe in the centrality of the word in preaching, empowered by the Spirit. We believe in good exegesis that is driven entirely by God's word. So does presentation matter?
My answer is yes, it does. In preparing our sermons we spend so much time working out our three points (preferably alliterated), a humorous introduction and some sort of application at the end that includes Jesus. And what we are producing is an half-hour essay that has been fitted into that format and read out loud. We need to do better than this.
But before I go further, I must say two things.
- Presentation means more than eloquent words. The Apostle Paul was quite clear that when we taught it wasn't going to be the beauty of his words that changed lives (see 1 Cor. 2.1-2). Presenting when doesn't mean we sell out to a rhetorical exercise. It's about serving God well; and some of the preaching in the church today just 'doesn't cut the mustard'.
- Presentation is doesn't necessarily equal spin. In a world were people are cynical of most things that they hear, preaching spin would be far more dangerous than delivering a 30 minute essay. The best preaching is personal. As I will explain in the pomo series, good presentation requires authenticity, not spin.
Back in 2007 Joshua went into a Washington subway with a violin. Wearing jeans and a cap, he started busking. In the 45 minutes he played, 1097 people passed by. Hardly anyone stopped and only 27 people gave money. All up he earned $32, less than a dollar a minute.
Away from the subway, Joshua Bell is an accomplished violinist - one of the modern worlds great. A couple of days earlier, playing a violin handcrafted in 1713, valued at $4 million, he’d packed Boston’s - Stately Symphony Hall to great acclaim. Tickets were $120 each. He earned $1,200 a minute!
Same bloke... same violin… same pieces of music… same brilliant performance…His presentation of himself and his performance - were the only variables.
Presentation matters! Presentation counts! Preaching a 30 minute essay isn't good enough any more. We need to prepare what not just what we say, but how we say it. If we should learn anything from the 2008 US Presidential campaign, great oratory and careful presentation is powerful. It can lead you to the most powerful office in the land (although Abraham Lincoln had already taught us the power of words: his Gettysburg Address, arguably the greatest speech in American history, was over in just two minutes). But for us who proclaim the resurrected Jesus, it's never just about great oratory. The best sermons are personal and authentic.
Preaching like this has great potential. According to the great author on preaching, Haddon Robinson:
"The effectiveness of our sermons depends on two factors; (of course)what we say – but how we say it...The age of the preacher is gone, the age of the communicator has arrived".
There is more to come...