Style and content

The speaker at church on Sunday wasn’t up to much, frankly. He was a guest speaker from Scotland, and a friend of the pastor (so I have to be a bit careful what I say). He came to talk about worship. I think. I’m not totally clear, to be honest. The thing is, his sermon consisted of 50% pop-psychology (“You’re going to die; live with it”, “You’re not that important”, etc), 40% meaningless Evangelical jargon (“As I was preparing this morning I really felt God wanted me to [x]”), 5% awkward (sorry, “spiritual”) silence and 5% of actual content. Some of that 5%, I’ll admit, wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t much and it was mostly drowned out by the handwavey waffle of the rest of the talk. He threw in a couple of verses at the beginning before veering wildly off course and then skipped over other Bible references because he “wanted to get to his point”. By the end of the sermon, I had no clear idea what his point actually was, or how it fitted in with his prescribed topic of worship.

So. It was quite surprising to me when, talking to another person from my church later on, that they thought it was a really good sermon. I didn’t say anything – because I’m a coward, I just ducked out of the conversation – but it niggled me. And the reason it niggled me is this: the guy could present. He could speak well; he was funny, he engaged with the congregation, he was animated and he held your attention. He was a very good, very natural public speaker. And – here’s the rub – people seem to have a tendency to confuse a good speaker with someone who has something worthwhile to say. So, even though he talked waffly nonsense for forty minutes, the fact that he presented it well made people feel they’d heard a good sermon.

Now, there’s nothing intrinsically bad or wrong with good presentation. Indeed, it makes ideas easier to communicate; it makes people more receptive to ideas and more likey to retain them afterwards if they are well presented. But to confuse the quality of the medium and the quality of the message is a bad thing, and something we very much need to be aware of.

4 Responses to “Style and content”

  1. tenfourty says:

    Have to say I kinda agree with you on this one – I can hardly remember anything from his sermon except that it was about worship – and that he didn’t actually talk about worship at all!

  2. Newfred says:

    Hear hear! It’s the oldest trick in the book, and one that modern politicians have mastered. Impress the public enough with your language and delivery and it doesn’t much matter what you’re actually saying. Our churches would be best off sticking to a substantial message, even if it reduces our attractiveness and public profile. But on the other hand, I feel if we really stuck to being Christ in the world rather than trying to cover our tracks with political waffle, grace would cascade around us.

  3. Richard McIntosh says:

    Jesus came to entertain from our sins. I thought you would have got the 21st century Gospel.

  4. Lori says:

    It’s like looking at a wonderfully laid out and printed CV and thinking you’ve got a good candidate, when you haven’t actually read the content. A speaker has to actually have something to say to be good.