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High Stakes

The first national lockdown of the Covid pandemic started four years ago this week.

The guidance was to stay at home if at all possible, apart from a daily walk and essential tasks like shopping. Larger gatherings were banned which had massive implications for the church. People who had never heard of Zoom suddenly found themselves on a steep learning curve.

During this time, I found that when I preached live to camera it was much easier than preaching a pre-recorded sermon with nobody present. A sermon, even when one person is doing the talking, is an interactive event. The presence of active listeners draws something out of the preacher.

One of the discoveries or rediscoveries that many preachers made was that the act of preaching was not merely a matter of getting the content right, it also meant giving attention to how that content is communicated.

Many preachers began to give more attention to maintaining the attention of the congregation. This required carefully considering how to help hearers find a way into the sermon, the use of arresting visuals, compelling illustrations and penetrating applications.

A congregation sitting on the sofa at home could easily be lost to domestic distractions. Some members of the congregation changed channels by tuning into other online services. It was easier to reach for the off button when listening remotely than when being part of an in-person congregation.

The end result of this was that by the end of the pandemic some people had decided to switch churches, others had decided that they might not return to in-person church ever again. On the bright side there were many people who tuned into church for the first time, were converted and are now part of a living church.

One of the positive things about that season in the church’s life is that it forced preachers to more intentionally evaluate the impact of their preaching.

Have you noticed those signs on the backs of works vans and lorries, that say: “How am I doing?” It acknowledges that how a driver is driving will have an impact on our attitude to the company they represent.

Perhaps preachers need to ask more often: “How am I doing?”

I guess for all of us the response would be that: “There is room for improvement!”

“A few years ago, the most common criticism of preaching was that sermons were not biblical. Where justified, the criticism was an indictment of preaching. More recently, however, the common criticism is that the sermons are offered as though nothing were at stake. Where justified, that criticism focuses on a flaw that is not simply serious, it is fatal.” (Fred Craddock)

Fred Craddock has a point.

I guess that the most important, often unarticulated, question that many listeners ask is:

“Why is this important to me or anyone else?”

I love the way that Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones began most of his sermons:

“This is probably the most important text in the Bible.”

If the sermon slot in the service is going to have any meaningful impact, preachers must convince their hearers that there is something important at stake in their message.

It is preaching that pays attention to those three classic questions:


So What?

Now What?

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