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Drinking From a Fire-Hose: Why so Many Sermons

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