The following article was first published on Suite101.com
As a protestant Christian, I have become keenly aware of a growing problem among mainline and independent churches alike. The problem has existed for years and primarily affects the average weekly church attendant. It has never successfully been identified because most of us faithful churchgoers live in denial. We say we go to church in order to praise God and receive a word from Him. While this may be true in part, we are afraid to admit that we really go in order to fulfill a sense of obligation and, above all, to be entertained. As long as we live with this denial, the real issue will never be addressed: the terrible condition called "Sermon Depression."
Every week, faithful Christians will go to church to fulfill their duty, knowing that they will be wearied with another inconsequential dissertation. Often, the preacher is the only one present who sees any value in the lectures, but somehow is convinced that others actually receive some significant benefit from the lengthy diatribes. This is due in part to the fact that most members of the church audience think it is better to lie than to be impolite. Thus, no service seems complete until the preacher receives many flowery congratulations for a speech well given from the exiting congregants, leaving the problem of “Sermon Depression” undiagnosed.
Participants of the church service leave with an empty, unfulfilled feeling, but attribute it to hunger pangs. They then proceed to some type of extravagant meal where they overeat in an effort to subdue their emptiness, never recognizing the true source of their troubles.
While the early symptoms of “Sermon Depression” simply range from drifting thoughts to pew snoring, its advanced stages can actually cause regular attendees to leave a church fellowship. Oh, they will say things like, “I’m not being fed,” or “I’m not growing under the Pastor’s teaching,” but it is obvious to all that they are really bored and dejected. Nevertheless, despite the severity of the condition, it is not a hopeless one. I am a firm believer that “Sermon Depression” can be cured with proper education. Similar to individuals who are bored at an opera because they have never been taught to appreciate that particular art form, are congregants who sit downcast before a rambling minister because they have never received instruction on sermon appreciation. Therefore, I would like to share what I call “Sermon Appreciation 101.” Although there is much too much to cover in such a short article, I have listed some observations that should be very helpful.
The first thing one needs to understand is that preachers can be categorized. Knowing under which category the one behind the pulpit falls is the first step to full appreciation of the message. For this reason, “Sermon Appreciation 101” will identify the two main categories of preacher and cover one of them in depth. Before I commence, please note that my generic use of masculine pronouns is for the purpose of style only. I am very aware that the preaching ministry is one practiced by male and female alike, and hope that no one will assume I think otherwise. I also am aware that every reader is not a protestant Christian. It is merely the perspective closest to me that I chose to use, but the information set forth is applicable for any faith that uses a public speaker at its meetings.
I would like to begin by identifying the two primary classes of preacher: The Shallow Entertainer and The Dull Instructor. The Dull Instructor seems to be totally unaware of the congregation’s reaction. His purpose is to put forth information only. In fact, it seems as if this category of preacher believes that redemption exists in facts and opinions and that one can receive salvation through the knowledge of those facts and opinions. He is concerned with what he is saying but not to whom he is saying it. I often believe The Dull Instructor could preach to a group of deaf people and not realize it until he requests they stand for the benediction.
On the other hand, The Shallow Entertainer can be easily identified by his strong drive to feed off of the congregation’s reactions. There is a need for immediate gratification in this preacher and he receives it through audience response. Since laughter, applause, and praises are all he is after, there is little concern with any lasting effects a sermon may have on the listeners. The Shallow Entertainer can be amusing at first, but superficial novelties soon wear out and “Sermon Depression” begins to take hold. It is The Shallow Entertainer class of preacher that will be the focus of this article.
There are three sermon styles used by The Shallow Entertainer. First, there is the “Holy-Comic” style of preaching. The preacher using this style almost appears to be a stand up comedian at amateur night. He tells jokes that may or may not fit the sermon because the sermon is always secondary to the laughs. In fact, the sermon is just a means to set up the jokes. You must give this preaching style some latitude, though, before rendering a negative opinion. Considering the fact that the “Holy-Comic” style preacher is very limited to the types of jokes that are acceptable in a religious setting, he should be admired for the creativity necessary to put together a weekly routine. Trying to make sense of this sermon type will definitely lead to frustration and end up as "Sermon Depression." Just sit back and enjoy the jokes.
The second type of Shallow Entertainer sermon can be referred to as the “Theatrical-Theologian” style. This style is almost the opposite of the “Holy-Comic” style because, instead of trying to get the audience to laugh, the “Theatrical-Theologian” preacher tries to get them to cry. Everything is emotional. When a story is told, it is told with passion. When a scripture is read, it is read slowly and emphatically. Statements such as, “Doesn’t it just break your heart ...,” and “It takes me back when I ponder ...,” and the like are frequently used. It needs to be understood that the one using this preaching style is either a frustrated poet, or an individual with both emotional and hormonal problems. Please do not fret over these sermons. Since the preacher expects those present to be caught up with emotion, you can place your head in your hands in a bowed down position and fall asleep without anyone noticing. It will appear that you are either crying or praying, and therefore, you will not be disturbed (as long as you don't snore).
The last type of preaching style for this category is the “Excited-Exhorter” type. The one using this style seems to be trying to incite a riot, or at the very least, win a political campaign. This preacher carefully uses form instead of substance. He always uses rhyming and rhythmic statements in the place of reason. Phrases like, “The more you shout, the less you’ll doubt,” and “Your light won’t be dim if you’re lit-up by Him,” and many others are scattered throughout the discourse. Also, this method of oration is known for its repetitions. You may hear the same group of words repeated three, four, or even five times in a row in order to excite a crowd. Phrases such as, “You will have the victory; Oh yes, you will have the victory; I said you will have the victory ... ” are shouted over an over again. Do not allow yourself to get caught up in the hype. You may begin to feel something you can’t explain. The best way to enjoy this arousing address is to observe it for what it is. Treat it as you would treat a rap-style-music concert. Enjoy the rhythm and rhyme, but do not expect to receive anything of importance. And whatever you do, never ask, "What does that mean?" That question could result in "Sermon Psychosis," which is far worse than "Sermon Depression."
That completes “Sermon Appreciation 101.” My next article will focus on The Dull Instructor category and the three styles associated with it: the “Faithful Fact-Giver,” the “Profound-Prophet,” and the “Godly-Critic.”
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