April 9, 2012

Drinking from a Fire-hose: Why So Many Sermons?

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 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 nano-moments of epiphany which act as tiny chisels that tap away at our souls, 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 to 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 sermon outline your pastor slaved over all week.

A 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 on understanding the truth, and leave the help in remembering to the Spirit (John 14:26).



Clint Archer

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Clint is the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church. He and his expanding troop of Archers live near Durban, South Africa (and pity anyone who doesn't). When he is off duty from CGate, his alter ego blogs at Café Seminoid, clintarcher.com
  • JT


    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint


  • Michael Delahunt

    Thanks for the post, Clint! It is by the renewing of our minds through such overloading that is a means of grace that the Spirit uses to change our hearts towards God. We spend much of our time during the week imbibed with worldly thoughts; is it too much for us to enjoy a few hours during the week to consider heavenly matters? 8-12 hours sounds pretty good to me…it takes a lot to get through to me!
    PS) Ironically, I had the opportunity to hear for the first time some of your South African preaching from the state of Minnesota on anger…good stuff! Thanks for being faithful not only here in the blogosphere but also to preach the Word in your local congregation. Cheers

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      You’re absolutely right that we tend to have time for every junk meal the world dishes up, so it’s good to make time for healthy food too. Glad you enjoyed the audio vault. Plunder away!

  • http://www.reformedstudy.com Danny Gudzen

    What a great reminder. Thanks Clint Archer.

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Always a pleasure!

  • Jim Korth

    If one eats 21 meals a week it is unlikely he will remember the details of every meal, yet each meal in and of itself gave energy to the body. We may not remember every message we hesr or Bible passage we read, but it gives overall nurture to a soul.

    A boy asked his grandmother what good it did to read the Bible if she couldn’t remembe what she read. It went through her mind like a sieve. She said if you run water through a sieve it might not hold the water, but you’ll have a clean sieve.

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Brilliant! Thanks Jim, for both those great insights.

  • Karl Heitman

    I would hate to think of Christians saying that they get too much preaching. If I could get up and hear Jonathan Edwards every morning, I hope I’d take advantage of it. I always listened to sermons on my way to work, so I’d hear about 5-7 sermons per week, and couldn’t get enough of it (now I’m privileged to hear 4-5 per week + hours of study). The moment I start yo think that “I don’t need to hear another sermon,” I am convicted about my own pride. As you said, it wasn’t the note taking that changed me, it was the basic truths that flowed from the preachers’ lips.

    Don’t you think that much of the doctrinal error and ignorance comes from a lack of Christians unwilling to sit under a substantial amount of good preaching/teaching? Like you said, it’s not like we don’t have access to a vast array of good preaching….

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      I think you’re right, Karl, when we become dull of hearing, we stop learning and growing.

  • JM

    I love this and can definitely identify with it! For me, though, I still need reminders to not be satisfied with just listening all the time. I struggle with intentional sermon application in my life.

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      So true, JM. Application is key. It’s all about being doers of the word and not hearers only.

  • Cecilie

    Well, you’ve just described, verified and affirmed my experience as a listener to the preaching of the WOG, not only in the main point you made with the grenade and explosion example of how the HS works with the hearing of the WOG, but in how note-taking focuses my mind at the time of myt listening. Not that my experience rules or guides.

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Well said, Cecilie. Thanks for your input.

  • Larry

    Great post Clint!

    Jonathan Edwards’ quote and your lesson to preachers is epic!

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Thanks Larry. No one does ‘epic’ like Edwards.

  • http://doggiesbreakfast.wordpress.com/ Stephen

    This is a great post. It captures the real purpose of preaching. “…to pull the pin of God’s grenade” – brilliant!

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Thanks Stephen.

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  • http://scripturethoughts.wordpress.com/ Lynda O

    Great post, Clint, and good observation from Edwards. Throughout my week, with the various sermons I read and listen to, often it is certain impressions at the time, particular things said and the way they are said, that I remember, but not every detail and every point made.

    It is sad to see professed Christians who think we only need to listen to the local pastor’s preaching each week — and who even criticize those who have a hunger for more in-depth and quantity of sermon reading/listening.

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Sad but true. tx Lynda.

  • http://sieveandsand.com/ Roger Mugs

    I’m curious what percentage of the overwhelmingly positive comments in agreement were made by pastors…

    not saying i disagree… i’m just curious if they’re happy because it reinforces what they’re doing or if it’s due to another reason.

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Good point, we need to justify our existence! Seriously though, as a pastor it warms my heart when I hear of my flock listening to other preachers’ sermons online. It evidences an appetite for the Word.

  • Maryw8

    So glad to read this. I have a lousy memory and I am primarily a visual learner so auditory sermons are often forgotten very quickly unless there area lot of visual descriptions in it.

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Good thing the Holy Spirit never forgets, knows everything, and promises to bring to mind what you need when you need it!

  • Jedidiah

    Hello Yes Hearing so many sermons can also be confusing – we do need to spend time doing personal Bible Reading and study without the props of other’s ideas, leaning on the Holy Spirit to guide us and listening to the Lord Speaking personally to us. By the way I personally have an insatiable appetitie for good preaching and I am NOT a pastor or Preacher myself.
    Blessings Jedidiah

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Thanks for sharing Jedidiah. Good point about personal study.

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