A series of Lilly Foundation grants and several large-scale evangelistic events demonstrate the continued importance and effectiveness of preaching. But being relevant without catering to the culture is a challenge.
The subject of preaching is often lost in today’s urgent talk about church decline, closure and relevance. Most of the buzz centers around embracing technology, social media, worship styles or whether to stay in or sell the building.
But what about homelitics? Where does the message from the pulpit fit into debates on “nones,” “dones” and the Millennials? Do those groups care about sermons as passionately as they are said to care about music and missional service?
Direct experience and research shows that indeed they do, and a few recent developments seem to prove that while preaching is evolving, it’s still considered important and effective.
Among them is the Lilly Endowment, which has issued several large grants to U.S. seminaries — including Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary — to strengthen preaching.
Another is Luis Palau, who will join other evangelists for four days of worship, song — and preaching — in New York City in February.
But it isn’t just the high-profile preachers who are putting a lot of thought into preaching, especially when it comes to reaching young people.
‘It was very powerful’
“Millennials tell me that what matters are not preachers’ degrees or where they went to school, but that they are authentic,” said Bob Ballance, the senior minister at Pine Street Church — formerly First Baptist — in Boulder.
The once-dwindling congregation has experienced a resurgence in recent years as the American Baptist church has become a magnet for Millennials.
It’s vital to that generation that sermons not attempt to pander to them with awkward references to social media or references to the latest films or television shows.
They’re also not interested in the basic “three points and a poem” sermon model, Ballance said.
“They want real stories from life,” he said. “They want sermons that really matter — not just a devotional thought.”
Preaching to an increasingly young congregation has required a change in his approach, Ballance said.
He left traditional preaching behind in the mid-’90s and started incorporating technology like PowerPoint.
That’s evolved to using film clips when appropriate, and has also tried passing out pen and paper to have congregants describe their image of God.
“I was shocked — I got 70 written, prophetic responses,” he said. “It wasn’t just me talking, it was the congregation. It was very powerful.”
Ballance added that his sermons usually run about 15 to 20 minutes.
They have also gone by different names.
“We used to call them ‘reflections,’ and sometimes ‘meditations,’” he said. “In the last couple of months we are back to ‘sermon.’”
It all reflects that the purpose of the sermon isn’t necessarily to evangelize, Ballance said.
“It’s a time of guided reflections — it’s not me having all the answers,” he said.
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SOURCE: Baptist News Global