The following article was first published on Suite101.com
Welcome to "Sermon Appreciation 102," the second part of a two-part article. These instructions are written with the hope that proper education can greatly alleviate "Sermon Depression," an epidemic that is presently sweeping the organized church. I advise the reader to thoroughly complete my article entitled "Sermon Appreciation 101" before reading this one since the first article contains much needed background information that will not be rehashed.
As mentioned at the end of "Sermon Appreciation 101," this article will focus on the three styles associated with the category of preacher called The Dull Instructor: the "Faithful Fact-Giver," the "Profound-Prophet," and the "Godly Critic." It must be mentioned that all three of these preaching styles have two things in common. First and foremost, they are dull. (While the "Godly Critic" may appear at first to be interesting, it is only our natural desire to see other people ridiculed, embarrassed, and ruined that draws our attention. As you will see, all three styles are tedious at best, and mind-numbingly boring at worst.)
Second, they are totally out of touch with their listeners. The Dull Instructors are concerned with what they say, not to whom they say it. It is their information, their opinions, and their understanding that matters. To them, the purpose of the congregation is only to hear, absorb, and agree with their orations. This is why so many of these preachers enjoy being on the radio. It is the speaking that matters, even if the speaker is not sure of the size, nature or type of listening audience.
The first style of Dull Instructor to be examined is the "Faithful Fact-Giver." This preacher just recites fact, after fact, after fact, after fact. Though he comes close, he never quite arrives at making a point. Lacking normal voice variations, this monotone speaker begins to sound like an accountant explaining tax law. All the original Greek and Hebrew words from which his Biblical text was translated are defined. All historical and cultural backgrounds are carefully explained in detail. And no "Faithful Fact-Giver" sermon is complete without several quotes from prominent theologians and authors of respected commentaries.
Although the attentive members who somehow manage to remain awake during one of these lethargic lectures receive an enormous amount of information, they remain empty. They leave the service without a clue regarding the practical application of these recently acquired facts. The reason is simple. There are no practical applications for one of these sermons.
My suggestion for coping with this style of preaching is to simply make use of the time. Bring a big Bible in which you can easily hide some stationary, or a small book. Spend the sermon catching up on your letter writing or reading. Everyone will think you are following along, and taking notes. Most of all, do not be discouraged. While they seem to last an eternity, these sermons are usually very short, since there are no points to be made.
The next type of Dull Instructor is the "Profound Prophet" style of preacher. This preacher wants to build up everything he says to a dramatic crescendo. He emphasizes each insight as if it were some extremely profound revelation. Although his so-called revelations are little more than warmed over cliches, he actually believes his listeners are enthralled with his depth of understanding. In fact, this preacher thinks the long periods of silence that follow some of his declared insights are moments of meditative adsorption. In reality, these silent moments only reflect the audience's patience in waiting for something new to be said.
Even though this type of preacher is very proud, he is also very sensitive, and can be easily hurt. Therefore, my suggestion for enduring this style of sermon will take a little effort. It is what I refer to as "Amen Bingo." The basis of this idea is not new or unique. Similar games have been played on the corporate level for years. The general concept was originally designed for company staff meetings. However, for the purpose of this article, the game has been adapted to fit the church setting.
This is how it goes. You get several friends to play with you. Each player is given a piece of paper with five rows of five squares each, much like a bingo card. In each square, the individual player writes a different religious saying, something that the preacher is expected to use as a "profound-statement." During the sermon, every time a saying that is written on the sheet is used, the player marks that square. The first player to mark five squares in a row, either across or diagonally, yells "AMEN" as loud as possible. The preacher, and all non-players, will think the "profound-statement" moved the person to the point of shouting. All players will then know who won the game and a new game can begin. You can have loads of fun, while at the same time making the preacher feel good about his sermon.
The last type of Dull Instructor is the "Godly Critic." There are no groups, doctrines, practices, or people with whom this style of preacher cannot find fault. In fact, he specializes in finding minor errors and converting them into major problems. Words and phrases like "hypocrisy," "apostasy," "false prophets," and "doctrines of demons," are his favorites. No one is truly safe from this preaching style since it thrives on exposing evil or error. Where evil or error does not exist, it is merely created.
The one who uses this style of preaching always considers himself right; yet he is really insecure. He must destroy others to gain a much-needed sense of value and credibility. This is why he appeals to so many at first. Those of us who are likewise insecure love to hear how evil and wicked those other practices and beliefs are. It makes us feel big to look down on others. But inevitably, one or more of our practices or beliefs will come under attack. When this occurs, the once interesting and righteous sermon type becomes little more than the boring ranting and raving of an opinionated simpleton.
Upon reaching this point, my suggestion is that you begin taking detailed notes. It may seem odd at first, but after several weeks you will notice a pattern. The "Godly Critic" preacher changes the rules to suit his purpose. He will interpret Biblical passages literally when the literal interpretation helps make his point, then he will interpret a similar passage figuratively, or symbolically, if he needs to make a different point. One week he will condemn a denomination, or a theology, only to quote someone from that same denomination, or theological persuasion, the very next week. When you begin to see this pattern for yourself, you may find these sermons amusing.
Well, there you have it. This concludes the two-part message on Sermon Appreciation. I hope these insights and suggestions will help you survive, and possibly overcome, the dreaded infliction of "Sermon Depression."
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Bob, Still here and still enjoying your most unusual and humorous style! Wondering why there are not more comments...and think others may fear some of your works border on sacrelege of a sort...On the contrary...it's GRACE, beautiful grace that I see here. So purely honest are the descriptions of human behavior and thought...how uncomfortable most of us are to have them so exposed...embarrassed at the nakedness of reality. We'd rather hide beneath our outer covering and play the "devout" & "holy" roles. Thankyou, Bob for making me laugh at the foolishness we all get caught up in from time to time...for helping me to see myself as the hypocrite and to deal with it in honesty with our Father...always to find His smile. These writings of yours are by no means cynical,but gifts of grace!