Preach it!

mcluhan2The first Christian sermon was delivered by Peter on the day the church began.  But with the pace of technological change and the various ways that we get information in this era, could there be an end in store for preaching?  I don’t think so – and this post says why.

Ever heard the expression, “the medium is the message”?  It’s a quote from academic Marshall McLuhan (pictured) who started using it in 1964.  This is the concept that he was trying to get across: a medium affects people not only by the content delivered, but also by the nature of the medium itself.

That is a pretty difficult concept.  Here’s that sentence again – a medium affects people not only by the content delivered, but also by the nature of the medium itself.  So if the medium is, for example, television, then the mere fact that a message is delivered by a TV show (especially if it is on a commercial channel) means that it might be regarded as entertainment rather than education.  It does not matter what the content of the show is – the mere fact that it is a TV show affects what people think of it.  Don’t get hung up on my TV example – the point is that the medium does affect the message.  In my opinion McLuhan is making a quite profound point.

Here’s another idea, one that I have heard stated by various Christian leaders over the years – “the message never changes but the way that we deliver it does.”  At one level that is clearly true – that you are reading this blog post makes the point.  No Christians in the 18th century had blogs.  But people in the 18th century could read the bible and publish their thoughts about it, just like Catherine and I do here.

But on another level it conflicts with McLuhan’s insight that the medium is the message.  One of the peculiarities of the Christian faith is that it has been spread primarily by preaching from the day that the church was born all the way to the present day.  This Sunday the vast majority of Protestant churches on every continent will feature preaching as the centrepiece of their meeting.  In the West, where technology is most advanced, it is just the same.

Last year at Hillsong conference they routinely had a multimedia presentation in the late morning time slot, usually lasting about 45 minutes.  It was well made – I could not complain about the production quality, the sound, or any technical detail.  But it just did not inspire.  If I never saw anther one again I would have no complaint.  I found myself sitting there wishing that it would end and that someone would get up and start preaching.

I think that the medium of preaching contains a message in and of itself.  Even if the preacher manages to say nothing good at all, the mere fact that a sermon is delivered in a Christian church service says that:

  • What we are doing today is a continuation of what the Christian church has done for centuries, so if you buy into this you are buying into these      traditions;
  • The subject matter that we are dealing with is so important that we devote a 30 minute talk to it, and only very serious subjects get that sort of      treatment;
  • The truth that we are talking about here is not up for discussion – what the      preacher says is what we believe and we don’t enter into correspondence      about the truth.

The medium is the message, and the medium of preaching is here to stay.  In the US there are numerous Christian television channels, and there is no lack of ministries that have the resources to produce good quality Christian TV.  Yet most of what you find on Christian TV is people preaching.  Here’s my tip – no matter where technology goes that won’t change.

John

One Comment to “Preach it!”

  1. Certainly there are ways preaching can improve (like less lecture and more interaction/respect that there actually is an audience), but that is just it, real flesh in the same place. The preacher can actually change what happens based on what action/reaction comes from people. I remember the Sunday when a woman was deeply distressed and as I preached people moved over and surrounded her with actual, tangible, holding-hands love. Multi-media can’t do that! Nor will it stop in a situation like that, or come down from the front and pray for someone, and so on. Amen, preach it friend!

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