The communications explosion and ongoing evolution of our media culture considerably impact the way we receive and grasp information. One of the challenges faced by those dedicated and called to the craft of preaching, is being keenly aware of the radical changes in the present and future listening context. While sermons and preaching have certainly evolved throughout history, our present reality poses totally new demands on those who have the sacred task of proclaiming of the saving message of Christ. Still the impact of this rapid evolution and superfluity of new forms of media on the mission of Christ’s church, and specifically on its mission to preach the Gospel effectively, has yet to be thoroughly measured and/or evaluated.
We live in an age where many still perceive present forms of communication, new developments in media, and the mission of the church as a terrible challenge or even as being at odds with each other. While those challenges can certainly be very real, nothing will hurt the future church more than ignoring the powerful impact of this media culture, especially as it pertains to the craft of preaching. This thesis will evaluate the present listening context, with the help of some of the latest research. It will also explore and offer perspectives from communicators, theologians, and a diverse group of well-renowned preachers in addressing a host of issues at play for those who are seeking to effectively communicate in today’s 21st century context.
Is today’s church responding to this ongoing evolution by seeking to understand the present-day "listening context" and the often overwhelming "media culture" in which it is called to preach? Must professional preachers and teachers of the Word of God evolve in style and practice, in order to continue being effective communicators of the Gospel message for people today? What impact does the world that is rapidly changing around us have on our traditional homiletical methodologies and/or even the way we express our message?
The aim and objective of this thesis is to analyze and research why contemporary preaching may not be evolving at a pace which meets the needs of our changing world and to study and question how today’s preachers may truly begin to embrace the challenge of effectively proclaiming the Gospel within present-day circumstances. This work integrates developments in both the theology of communication and communications theory as they relate to the craft of preaching and homiletics in our times.
Chapter one looks at the historical evolution of sermons ranging from Wesley to Graham to Curry, creating a sort of summary case study for six distinguished and timeless preachers from diverse theological positions and traditions. Ultimately, we look at specific qualities in each of these renowned preachers which can be useful to contemporary preachers, within the present-day context. Chapter two explores the impact of technology and how it is, in fact, changing the way we speak, think, and process information today. The juggling act between good content, structure, and good delivery is explored at length. Also, a simple survey on the impact of the media culture on preaching, created by the author of this work, is presented. Chapter three looks at how traditional/liturgical churches can transition themselves to preach contemporary and appealing sermons, even within the context of a traditional liturgy. This chapter also looks at how young people (i.e. Millennials) experience the mainstream church and explores some insights from the emergent church and the mega-church movements. Chapter four offers practical examples of extraordinary preaching, as well as analysis and examples of sermons that simply do not work in today’s listening context. In this section, the use of humor in sermons, position of the preacher (pulpit or no pulpit), reading of a manuscript, and other areas regarding effective public speaking are addressed, explored, and applied to the craft of preaching. Chapter five analyzes four sermons using the criteria presented–including two that truly connected with the audience and two that did not. In conclusion, this work challenges the church to take on the media culture and the ever-changing listening context, by seeking new and creative ways to proclaim the Gospel in a style and language that engages today’s audiences.