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The problem with preaching

The problem with preaching

The Rev. Mary M. Brown of the Odyssey Networks summarizes the findings of a Lilly Foundation-funded study on preaching in an article for the Huffington Post:

A year ago, when my fellow passenger in row eight inquired about my occupation, I casually shared I was a pastor who had been called to serve as associate director of a seminary’s center for biblical preaching. He nearly dropped his newspaper. “Finally, I have found someone who can answer my question. I like my pastor a lot, but can you tell me why his sermons are so boring?” This question was a first. As he and I began to chat, I immediately sensed his sincerity. His was a question I needed to think about and answer.

A Lilly-endowed study of more than 10,000 Christian laypeople revealed that while 78 percent of them have never discussed a sermon with their preacher, church members do have strong opinions and deep hopes for their pastor’s preaching. The study found that:

Laypeople listen to a sermon expecting inspiration to encourage spiritual growth.

Laypeople look to preaching for spiritual leadership, especially as it relates to current life and societal issues.

Laypeople rely on preaching for serious spiritual content about the Bible and not good advice that can be found in a self-help book.

Laypeople listen to preaching expecting a long-lasting impact. When this happens, listeners are motivated to return for another church service.

Laypeople come to church hoping for a sermon that will make a difference in their hearts and an impact on their lives. Unfortunately too often they spend the sermon passing their time by doling out lifesavers to their children, doodling on the bulletin insert or making a mental “to do” list for the upcoming week.

What do you make of these findings? Do they confirm what you have previously supposed, or is there news here?


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Sure, the findings make perfect sense. Preaching well must be pretty difficult – but it makes a huge difference.

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