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Position Paper: “Widening Your Net: How Effective is Your Preaching?”

(St. John 21:1-6)

“It is not simply the preacher’s job to preach the gospel; it is the preacher’s job to get the Gospel heard, then believed and then lived.”

O. Wesley Allen, Jr.

Positional Thoughts

As I have moved about the country in recent years, I have noticed, as I am certain you have also, that there are a number of conferences on church growth.  No one can deny that in so many instances church attendance on Sunday morning and throughout the week is in decline.  I would dare not speak disparagingly against legitimate strategies that one might employ when it comes to dealing with this issue.  I believe that pastors must do all within their creative means to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  However, I am convinced that those of us who occupy the pulpit must never forget our sacred obligation to preach the Gospel.  We have been ordained to do this and I believe preaching still has efficacy and power.  Our churches must never succumb to gimmicks in order to fill the pews.  We must yet hear the clarion voice of our Christ – “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men (women) unto me.”  (St. John 12:32)  I still believe in the preaching power of the pulpit as the chief means by which the Word of God is conveyed and accepted.

I recently read an article which stated that in the average church on Sunday morning there are at least five generations present.  These five generations co-exist in worship and are privy to whatever is being preached in that setting.  These are the five generations—

  1. THE TRADITIONAL OR SILENT GENERATION (1925-1945)
  2. BORN DURING GREAT DEPRESSION AND WORLD WAR II.
  3. ENFORCED DISCIPLINE, CONFORMITY, OBEDIENCE.
  4. VALUE TRADITION, SECURITY, HARD WORK, RESPECT.
  5. UNDERSTAND THE VALUE OF PATIENCE, DELAYED REWARD, DUTY.
  6. THE BABY BOOMERS (1946-1964)
  7. CAME OF AGE DURING A PERIOD OF RELATIVE PROSPERITY AND PEACE.
  8. FORCED GOVERNMENT, CULTURE, INDUSTRY TO CATER TO THEIR PREFERENCES AND PERSPECTIVES.
  9. WORK AND CAREER ARE CENTRAL FOCUS.

III. GENERATION X (1965-1979)

  1. SKEPTICAL, INDEPENDENT, PRAGMATIC.
  2. FEELING HOPELESS, MANY CHECKED OUT OF SOCIETY BEFORE THEY EVER FULLY ENGAGED.
  3. REALISTIC, BALANCED, COMPETENT WITH TECHNOLOGY, EXPERIENCED IN THE WORKPLACE.
  4. MILLENNIALS (1980-1995)
  5. NARCISSISTIC, DRIVEN, CONFIDENT.
  6. HAVE A STRONG SUSPICION – DISTRUST OF ORGANIZED RELIGION.
  7. BELIEVE THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RELIGION (TRADITION AND DENOMINATION DOGMA) AND SPIRITUAL.
  8. HAVE A FADING SENSE OF LOYALTY TO A PARTICULAR CONGREGATION.
  9. EVERYTHING IS RELATIVE – NO ABSOLUTES.

 

  1. GENERATION Z (AFTER 1995)
  2. INCREASINGLY DIVERSE.
  3. DECLINING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES, CHANGING FAMILY STRUCTURES, POLARIZED POLITICAL LANDSCAPE.

With this reality clearly in front of us, the question must be raised – “How does the preacher address the Gospel to these five generations in one setting and be relevant to each one?”  Each generation has its own issues and mindset, and the preacher must speak to each one simultaneously with a proclamation that is timely and relevant.  This is, indeed, a great challenge and one that must be faced.  Not to face this challenge is to deny the contemporary relevance of Christian preaching and usher a generation out of the church.

Every preacher must seriously consider the content of his/her preaching and make the determination as to how relevant is their proclamation.  If we are not careful, we can “turn off” the emerging generations simply because we are trapped within our own generation; thus, isolated and confined to certain ideas and thought patterns that fall within a particular chronological context.  The mold must be broken and our thoughts expanded as we seek to make the Christian enterprise exciting and challenging to all who sit beneath the weight of our preaching.

Our theme scripture takes place in the aftermath of our Lord’s resurrection when the disciples decide to go fishing.  These men have fished all night and caught nothing.  The Master appears on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius, but He is not recognized by the men with whom He has spent the last three years of His life.  The disciples are told by Jesus to cast their net on the right side of the boat and to their astonishment they catch an enormous amount of fish.  In other words, Jesus is telling the disciples that they must not continue doing the same thing with the expectation of different results.   They must go beyond their normative approach to fishing and try something new; something different.  This does not mean that they should abandon what is basic to the fishing enterprise, but He is suggesting that they broaden their approach and expand their effort.

Perhaps we are called upon to do the same—to move beyond traditional mindsets to the extent that we widen our preaching net so as to include not just the generation we represent, but the other generations seated before us whose need for the Word of God is equally as great.

It is the hope that this year’s preaching conference will allow preachers to seriously consider the content of their message and an honest assessment as to whether or not one’s preaching is multi-generational.  If we do not critically approach this reality, we shall run the risk of losing not one, but many generations.  This year’s conference is a call to multi-generational preaching and ministry!  We must preach to what Phillips Brooks called “the withheld completions of life.”  Let it not be said by future generations that we failed to be relevant by our inability to preach a changeless Christ in an ever changing age!

Dr. Charles E. Booth, Pastor
Mt. Olivet Baptist Church

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