Oftentimes, a person recognizes that the culture has changed, but he is not able to recognize the specifics of those changes. The pastor has a difficult job in understanding his congregation when those changes become more and more apparent. The pastor can be baffled with the people his congregation because of their response, or lack of response to his preaching. The culture has changed due to the outpouring of information on society via the internet and television. The better a pastor understands his congregation the better he will be able to effectively communicate God’s Word.
One specific change the culture has made is outpouring of information. This has caused the “information-action ratio” to greatly decrease. Before the age of technology “the information-action ratio was sufficiently close so that most people had a sense of being able to control some of the contingencies in their lives. What people knew about had action value” (Postman 69). There is more information available at a person’s fingertips than ever before. How much of this information prompts a person to action? Very little action occurs on account of the amount of information a person consumes. Decades ago, information was very likely to cause some sort of action on the receiver’s end. Now, it is just the opposite, people consume very large amounts of information but it causes little turnover.
With so much information going into the minds of people and so little of it actually causing or prompting a person to do anything about it, people are prone to compartmentalize most of the information they receive. It is as if there is a box in each individual’s mind marked “low value,” and all the information that doesn’t affect a person’s way of life goes into the box. When living like this all the time it becomes natural to just toss things into that box.
Unfortunately, that is how many people in the congregation can feel and react when more information is tossed at them. There needs to be a context in which people can learn from. When the pastor makes the context in which he preaches, both God’s Word and the lives of the people in the congregation, the congregation is going to be steered in a direction where transformation and sanctification will occur.
Here and Now
Years ago, pastors use to be able to basically read a commentary for two hours and the sermon was effective. However, that is not the case now. It used to be the case when the majority of the information consumed prompted action. The congregation in a church could critically think about what the pastor said from a particular passage and make the needed inferences. Now, the majority of information prompts people to no action, as a result of the culture they live in. Much of the information from a technical sermon goes into that “well that’s nice, low value box.” A pastor who reads a commentary today to his congregation as a sermon would put most of the people to sleep and few could get anything from it to take home.
A pastor needs to closely analyze his sermons and decide whether or not they are relevant to the congregation’s needs. Without a sermon being relevant to the congregation there is little value to it.
Without an appeal for a response, however, expository preaching lacks distinctive theological purpose and may function merely as a form of public address. The preacher must relate the Scriptures to the people who face diverse situations and needs. Unfortunately much of expository preaching is merely pedantic explanation, almost to the extreme of being an oral commentary (Willhite 96).
In many evangelical churches today there is disconnect between the pastor and congregation because of this.
There is much more too preaching than just understanding the audience and the culture they live in, and it would be unfair not to address the work of the Holy Spirit here. So, what does make a sermon a “success” in the twenty-first century? First of all the Holy Spirit has to be involved from the beginning of a sermon to the end. A seminary professor always tells his students when it comes to preaching, to “prepare as if it depends on you and pray as if it depends on the Holy Spirit.”
Secondly, the pastor needs to be in step with his walk with Christ. If a pastor is living in disobedience in any area of life he is not daily surrendering himself to Christ, and therefore lacks a strong element of the Holy Spirit’s work in his heart. I once heard a pastor say when it comes to preaching “purity equals power.” When the pastor does not allow the Holy Spirit to work in his heart his sermons will be just as empty. How can a shepherd lead his flock to green pastures when he is not there himself?
The third thing needed for an effective message is for the pastor to understand his congregation. This is not done at the expense of Biblical truth. A good pastor “aims to “adjust” the audience to the biblical message without adjusting the message to the audience” (Willhite 97). When the pastor can better understand his congregation, the better he will be in relating the truths of God’s Word to their everyday lives.
Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death. New York: Penguin Books, 1985. Print.
Willhite, Keith. Gibson, Scott M. Ed. Preaching to a Shifting Culture. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004. 95-111. Print.