What Preachers Are Fighting Part 7: Let Me Entertain You

To go to the six previous parts of this post series:

What Preachers are Fighting, Part 1: The Epidemic of Fear

What Preachers are Fighting, Part 2: Guards at the Gate

What Preachers are Fighting, Part 3: Getting Past the Guards

What Preachers are Fighting, Part 4: Sense Making and Surprises

What Preachers are Fighting, Part 5: Compromise – Of Buses, Attention and HBO

What Preachers are Fighting, Part 6: Busy-ness: An American Way of Life

In Part 7: Let Me Entertain You

When we stand before our various audiences to teach or preach, I think those folks expect us to keep three promises:

  • We promise that we are intimate with Christ, walking in Holiness by His Grace and keeping short accounts with God.
  • We promise that our teaching is Holy Spirit-fueled and not some attempt on our part to impress humans.
  • We promise to treat teaching and preaching as a craft that we will work to develop so that God is glorified and people are fed.

This series is about that third promise.



There are some in our congregations or classrooms who have been successful in separating themselves from our culture, for better or for worse. They are not influenced by media, the internet or the prevailing world view.

But we have the sense that they are in the dramatic minority. When we stand before our congregations or classes, we are facing a diverse group – in fact we pray for unbelievers or seekers in our midst (don’t we?). So, it makes sense that we work to craft our messages to be relevant to a wide variety of hearers, influenced to varying degrees by “the world.”

Now think about the world in which those hearers live.

  • In 2008, Americans spent right around $21 billion dollars on entertainment – and that’s just for in home entertainment.
  • In addition to that, in 2009 we spent just under $1.5 billion dollars at the box office going to movies.
  • While the average family spends around $1700 per year in charitable giving, it spends just under $3000 per year in entertainment. (And that $3000 annually is just under 4 times what they spend on education.)

There’s more

  • The average American watches TV more than the average American spends working in a typical week – about 34 hours a week in front of the tube. (About 30 times more time watching TV than in church.) Rest assured though, the average two year-old only spends 24 hours per week watching TV.
  • One study, cited below, inferred that 9 out of 10 infants under the age of two watch TV regularly. With many spending as much as 40% of their waking hours in front of the TV.

I doubt any of this shocks you, although the thing about the infants is a little chilling.

So the question is: How should this entertainment culture impact our preaching and teaching?

You could ignore it, of course, and just teach like you’ve always taught, without regard to the state of your particular audience. Chances are if you’ve read this far that’s not the direction you’re headed.

Further, something I see in Jesus leads me to believe He taught people specifically where they were, with a keen awareness of culture, especially where that culture veered from Truth. He brought the pure Word, unchanged and unwavering, to a culture in ways that were relevant to that culture.

And I think that’s the question for this post. What’s the difference between preaching in ways that are relevant and meaningful to your audience and simply entertaining them because they are used to being entertained – because they demand it?

It is tempting to entertain – who doesn’t love getting a laugh or being told the sermon was “great” largely because it was entertaining?

But 2 Timothy 4:1-5 stares us dead in the face. (Here’s The Message translation).

I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder. Christ himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead. He is about to break into the open with his rule, so proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple. You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.

So, with that, here are some thoughts on the difference between being relevant/meaningful and just being entertaining – the difference between solid teaching and serving spiritual junk food.

  • Relevance is understanding God’s Word first and our culture second and teaching from both of those understandings prioritized correctly.
  • Relevance is keeping things simple and as closely connected to the biblical exposition as possible.
  • Relevance is structuring a message so that it takes into account how hearers understand or mis-understand the Word.
  • Relevance is refusing to use a cool story or youtube video just because it’s cool but insisting on direct connection to the exposition.
  • Relevance is using story intentionally so that it is obvious to the hearer why the story is being used and how it connects to the Scripture in question.
  • Relevance is teaching in such a way that a middle-schooler could follow, attend to and understand, without using a kind of “middle-schooler shtick” to hold them.

Mere entertainment, “ear tickling” or the serving of spiritual junk food is…

  • Building a message around a piece (story, photo, video, song) because of the piece and not because of its relevance.
  • Worrying too much about how a message is “received” when you know it was sourced by God.
  • Starting with a joke just because you’ve always started with a joke or always been told to start with a joke.
  • Being emotionally manipulative.
  • Jumping around thematically in the same message because you’re worried you might “lose them.”
  • Stretching the truth a bit to make something sound more interesting or impressive. Or, characterizing something as “true” to make it more impactful when it might not be.
  • Avoiding tough subjects because of how you want to be perceived. Perhaps you shouldn’t always teach/preach on sin, conflict, money, Christians and politics, hot button issues, etc. But if you NEVER preach on tough topics…)
  • Being someone other than who you are to get attention.

I’m interested to hear what you think and how you have avoided the temptation to be merely entertaining. It’s a subject about which I want to constantly be learning. Email me.


Visual Economics Consumer Data

American TV Habits

Science Daily: Infants and TV

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