September 22, 2014

Drinking from a Fire-Hose: why so many sermons (reprise)

by Clint Archer

In good churches there tends to be a LOT of preaching. Sometimes it feels a tad overwhelming. Sermons come at you rapid-fire from all directions, like a paintball ambush.

Sunday morning and evening, Tuesday cell groups, Saturday men’s meeting, and now with the advent of MP3 players a barrage of world-class preaching is a screen-touch away. It can be a bit like drinking from a fire-hose.

And how much of this biblical truth is really going in? Am I honestly expected to beware of the 15 symptoms of hypocrisy in Luke 11, as well as the 3 tools God uses to save sinners, and the 6 steps to being a good steward of my money? And if I am supposed to remember this stuff, what about next week, and the week after that?

Is a photographic memory a requirement for being a faithful Christian these days?

We are not the first generation to flounder in information overflow.

At the height of the Eighteenth Century Great Awakening in New England it was not uncommon for the Puritan churchgoers to imbibe 8-12 hours of sermons per week. Some felt this was counter-productive, leaving overwhelmed listeners unable to apply any of what they were hearing, never mind all of it.

But a brilliant retort come from famed preacher, Jonathan Edwards, who in response to the criticism that congregations cannot possibly remember everything they heard preached replied:

“The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind at the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered not the effect of the memory.”

In other words, the Holy Spirit does a work of change on people during the preaching.

There are short sound bites and fleeting nano-moments of epiphany, which act as tiny chisels that tap away at our souls while imperceptibly shaping us.

I am a fan of note-taking but the true help of taking notes is not only that it will assist in recalling the information, nor that it locks in print a reference for later consultation, but primarily that it focusses one’s attention on the preaching at the time of it.

It is in the “wow” moments, the “Amen” responses of your soul in the sermon that leaves an imprint that is more lasting than the pneumonic alliterated sermon outline your pastor slaved over all week.


grenadeA lesson to preachers: don’t work as hard on the clever outline as on the accuracy of the truth. Your sermon is there to pull the pin of God’s grenade. The Holy Spirit does the explosive work on the sinner’s hard heart.

So, this week at church, home group, and in your personal quiet times of Bible study, work hard at understanding the truth and leave the help of remembering to the Spirit (John 14:26).



Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Paul


  • I just said that to my son last night after a guest speaker had a very animated sermon. That sermon wasn’t/couldn’t be remembered for a number of reasons, but the Holy Spirit did his work during the sermon. And I especially find useful in your post the paragraph

    “There are short sound bites and fleeting nano-moments of epiphany, which act as tiny chisels that tap away at our souls while imperceptibly shaping us.”

    Thanks for this today.

    • Glad it was helpful.

  • Steve

    Thank you. I especially appreciate your word to preachers at the end. Good thoughts to have as we prepare each week.

    • You’re welcome Steve. Preach the word.

  • David Johnson

    Clint. While I agree with your article, and I listen to many different sermons and studies throughout the week, do you feel that it is wise that we should give preference to, say, a sermon series that works through books of the Bible that compliment our personal study? In other words, shouldn’t we be focusing more specifically on applying Gods Word in our lives a subject at a time?

    • I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to your question. People learn in many different ways. I think if one’s heart is to learn and apply and grow closer to Jesus, one will find profit in many different methods of Bible intake.

  • Samuel H Kennedy

    excellent overview to the challenges Christian face in this new or post modern; liberal society. What stands out as well Ps Clint is the plethora of messages in the social media world today as well. So solid preaching presenting sound doctrine is fact a pre requisite. I like the point of Jonathan Edwards. Thank you…excellent post! God Bless.

    • If sermon intake isa fire hose, social media is like having an IV needle hooked up to a sewer!

      • Samuel H Kennedy


  • Thanks, Clint. And I agree. Although I would add something.

    I have been given an opportunity to teach SS to adults and Wednesday night to kids. I have discovered (among other things) that it is OK to repeat yourself … a lot.

    Either by repetition throughout the teaching/sermon or by review and constant refer-back to previous lessons.

    So, you get the effect which you described (hopefully), as well as increase the chances of the teaching being ingrained in memory. Sorta like the fact that we RE-read God’s Word all the time, we never stop, resting in the fact that the Spirit did a work the first time.

    Not really contradicting you at all, maybe sorta appending. Blessings.

    • Totally. Peter reminded his readers, as did Paul. And Jesus obviously taught many of the same lessons in different settings.

  • Excellent!

  • Dan Sudfeld

    I needed to read this. Thank you!

  • Mike Lively

    Very good post Clint. I like the, “pull the pin of God’s grenade” and “the Holy Spirit does the explosive work”. That was my “Amen” moment.

    • Thanks for checking in Mike.

  • tovlogos

    Well, you covered everything, Clint. I was thinking your last paragraph as I was reading.

    My wow moment:

    “There are short sound bites and fleeting nano-moments of epiphany, which act as tiny chisels that tap away at our souls while imperceptibly shaping us.” These are the statements that illustrate the intensity of a person’s relationship with our Lord.

    I get this most when I study with a hunger.

  • pearlbaker

    Clint, this was so good, to be reminded of how the Holy Spirit works and uses our senses (of hearing in the case sermons, and sight in the case of reading the Word) as little pathways to our heart. I am so often amazed when He brings to mind some verse that I need to pass on to another in need of it, a verse I might not have been able to recall on demand, but which was hidden in my heart by the hearing or reading of the Word, just waiting there for a good use at the right time.

    I am an avid note taker in church, in fact my writing hand has ached a number of time from such furious note-taking. I even find myself grabbing a paper and pen while listening to a sermon on radio or CD. Once in a while I refer back to my notes, not often, but some time ago I realized what you described, that the act of taking notes kept me focused, and more of the sermon got in than if I tried to pay attention just by listening alone. I highly recommend note taking, even if a person does not get it all down, and even if you think “I’ll get the CD for stuff I miss when I nod off”, chances are you will forget to go get the CD in the midst of all the hustle and bustle fellowshipping with others after being dismissed. But, if you take notes, you might actually stay awake and internalize something which the Holy Spirit can bring to your mind at just the right moment.

    • Thanks for this. You’ve got the right idea.

  • David

    Hearing your name on the radio late last evening caught my attention… an overnight talk host on a Christian radio station read your “Firehose” post. He emphasized your admonition for listeners to “work hard at understanding the truth and leave the remembering to the Spirit”. It was a ‘sound teaching from unexpected corners’ moment! Thanks for your ‘radio ministry’ through Cripplegate!

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