The Messenger is the Message

I’ve thought a lot about “the medium is the message”. It’s probably one of the most insightful phrases about media to come out of our media-saturated 20th & 21st centuries. I’ve mused about how live worship music (for instance) takes on the aspects of a concert no matter how hard you try to stop it, simple because using the form of a concert to worship with speaks as loudly as the music itself. Why do worship leaders drift away from using the word congregation and start using the word audience? Why does the audience spontaneously start clapping after a particularly invigorating song? Well, it’s because both the leader and the participant see a concert, not a service, and the language of a concert bleeds over into the worship experience.

Now, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing (or both) is yet to be seen. For better minds than mine to figure out. But at least we can agree that tossing the conventions and traditions and history of the church casually aside without any thought whatsoever is a bad idea. And that we need to talk about these things.

Another area this happens in is preaching. The way you preach is a powerful message, perhaps even more powerful that the message you wrote because it’s not something your listeners are going to think of.

Preaching is a craft and a calling. It’s not for everyone. It requires someone who can think not only about what he’s saying, but also about the way he’s saying it.

If you take the huxter revivalist preaching tradition as an example, what does the rhythmic, almost hypnotic style of preaching say about what you’re saying? Is it, perhaps, that you’re trying to bypass the brain? Is it that you don’t trust people to be convinced (as, I might add, Paul was convinced) as much as brainwashed?

Or take the sedate, methodical, three-point sermons of the Reformed church. Is there a distrust of emotion there? Is there a desire to satisfy an intellectual hermeneutic framework without addressing the whole person?

Or imagine a topical sermon that simply references scripture to support its points, when it feels like it. What does this say about scripture? Does it say that scripture is to be used as a crutch for your arguments only when you can find a verse? Or, deeper, does this say something about our basic trust in the Bible? Maybe it’s saying that we don’t need scripture as the source, the thing that we go to first to find where to start instead of where we go to confirm our biases.

To put it another way, translate the message of a sermon into the message of a life. If a person says he’s a Christian but only appeals to the Bible selectively when he feels like it, to confirm what he’s already doing, what does that say about his foundation? Isn’t he supposed to go to scripture first and let it and the Holy Spirit guide him to the truth? Isn’t he supposed to hide the word in his heart so he doesn’t sin, as opposed to hiding it in his pocket so he can win arguments?

Recently my wife wrote an article about how she loves going to church because church is a place to hear God’s word. And this is as it should be. The difference between the church and a bunch of losers is the Bible. This is an important difference. It’s a difference that bears repeating, and examination.

So what does your preaching say? Where do your sermons come from? What’s the hidden message behind the message?