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PASTOR’S CORNER: Finding enlightenment in preaching

By Rev. O.L. Johnson

Religion Columnist

Let’s talk about preaching. Every Sunday, literally millions witness preaching between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the church sanctuaries of the world.

Reactions to preaching vary. Some play cell phone games; others send text messages. Then there are the clock-watchers who can’t wait for the benediction. Some do the puzzles printed weekly in the church bulletin, while others sleep.

It’s obvious that some folks have no interest in what the preacher is saying, even if he’s preaching the pure gospel of Christ. I’m an eyewitness. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

And there’s another phenomenon I have noticed: At various points during a sermon when a preacher is being humorous, the church comes alive with mirth and laughter. But that is only temporary.

When the humor dies, so does the laughter, until the next burst of humor arrives. Preachers have figured out that humor gets people’s attention, so the more raucous responses they get, the more humor they give, and so on, until the end of the sermon.

It appears to be a circular thing that leads me to believe that in many churches a battle exists between entertainment and enlightenment.

In this atmosphere, humor soon dominates the dialogue and the message of the gospel is lost in the process. Everyone leaves the sanctuary smiling and happy, for the moment, having received not one morsel of enlightenment for tomorrow and beyond.

There’s nothing wrong with humor. It has its place in society, but not from the pulpit during preaching time at a worship service.

Paul teaches us in 2Timothy 4:2 that we are to “preach the word” and that we should do so to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.” In this text, I do not see the slightest implication that entertainment through joke-telling or any other vehicle is expected or condoned. Preaching is a serious endeavor for a preacher of the gospel.

The serious nature of preaching is described in detail by Paul in Romans 10:13 and verses that follow. First he shares that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Thereafter, he shares the role of the preacher in one’s salvation.

In verses 14 and 15, he asks a series of questions which in reality are statements of fact. He observes that no one can call on the Lord if he has not believed in him; then, he says that no one can believe in him who has not heard of him; then, he says that no one can hear about him without a preacher; and finally, no one can preach about him who has not been set apart to preach the good news of the gospel. Preachers obviously have a big responsibility.

I feel I need to clear the air on this point. I am not qualified to lecture anybody on the art of preaching. Trust me. I’m more than aware of that fact.

But, I believe the Apostle Paul is so qualified and all of us preachers would do well to pay attention to what he has to say on that issue. ‘Nuff said.

Now, let’s move on to the other player in this scenario – you, the listener.

You have a right to expect enlightenment from the preached word, but you’ve probably discovered that all preaching styles don’t meet this expectation. What can you as an individual do about it?

You can’t change the preacher; forget that. But you can learn to wade through the fluff and the pulpit antics and concentrate on biblical references in the dialogue. There’s enlightenment in there somewhere. Search for it; it’s worth the effort.

Rev. O.L. Johnson, a retired LAPD lieutenant, is an associate pastor in his home church, Greater New Zion Baptist, 501 W. 80th St. in South Los Angeles. Pastor’s Corner is a religious column that looks at the relevancy of scripture in life today. The column will appear monthly in The Wave and on its website, www.wavepublication.com.