My daughter Lilian and I have watched a lot of TV over the last couple of weeks since her birth.
To be more specific she has slept a lot on my chest (apparently far more comfortable than her bassinet) while I’ve watched a lot of TV. I’ve done this mainly to entertain myself while trying to bother her as little as possible.
It’s been fun. We’ve got cable TV and DVR and I’ve had DVD viewing to catch up on so I’ve normally had something that is at least half interesting to watch.
I know, I know – I should be reading Calvin or Luther or Lewis but the lack of sleep that goes with being a new dad has made what is normally enjoyably challenging reading a great segway into a nap.
Recently I’ve noticed that it has become more and more of a habit for me to open up my laptop when I sit down to watch something. Sometimes it’s as though the TV alone isn’t enough to keep my mind occupied.
Apparently I’m not alone. Consider what the Neilsen Wire (the reports and analysis arm of the media company Neilsen) has to say.
In the last quarter of 2009, simultaneous use of the Internet while watching TV reached three and a half hours a month, up 35% from the previous year. Nearly 60% of TV viewers now use the Internet once a month while also watching TV. (Americans Using TV and Internet Together 35% More Than A Year Ago March 22, 2010)
To be honest I’m surprised that those figures aren’t higher.
We are surrounded by more media than we can hope to process. Our response to this has been to try and fit more and more of it into our lives.
Video consumption across multiple platforms is now a global phenomenon. Consumers in all regions are proving their insatiable appetite for video information and entertainment – thus far adding screens to their media mix, not replacing them. (Report: How People Watch – The Global State of Video Consumption August 4, 2010)
“The rise in simultaneous use of the web and TV gives the viewer a unique on-screen and off-screen relationship with TV programming,” said Nielsen Company media product leader Matt O’Grady. “The initial fear was that Internet and mobile video and entertainment would slowly cannibalize traditional TV viewing, but the steady trend of increased TV viewership alongside expanded simultaneous usage argues something quite different.” (Americans Using TV and Internet Together 35% More Than A Year Ago March 22, 2010)
In general terms what this analysis is saying is that the more media we are surrounded by, the more ways we will find to consume it.
This underlines an increasing challenge that preachers and those charged with teaching the gospel must face.
In society today there are only four significant situations where we still sit and listen to verbal monologues of any extended length. They are the university lecture, government or corporate speeches, stand up comedy and religious preaching.
I think it’s fair to say that only one of those would, for the most part, command the average person’s exclusive attention and it’s not the religious preaching. It is more and more common place for people to pull out their laptops or phones and engage other media while listening to these traditional monologues or other forms of modern media.
One of the qualifications for an overseer in the church that is given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is that they are able to teach and in Titus 1: 5-9 it says that an elder must be able to exhort and convict those who contradict the truth of sound doctrine. That means that an overseer must be able to communicate the truths of scripture in a way that the hearer can learn all that the Holy Spirit would reveal to them.
The message of the gospel must always remain true to scripture. So too, the gospel must be ‘preached’. That is, it must be declared, proclaimed, delivered and advocated for. As I once heard a preacher declare; you share ice cream but you preach the gospel.
I don’t believe that this equates to being deliberately loud, offensive, insensitive or arrogant, as the stereotype would suggest, but it does mean that we are to be compelling.
So many preachers today have either watered down the message in order to be entertaining or they have sought only to teach correctly with no emphasis on engaging their audience.
As shown by the quotes above. We as a society have an insatiable desire for media and while we can certainly argue that this isn’t healthy, it is the reality of the world in which we live and the culture that we have to engage with the gospel.
I’m not suggesting that we have to start using multiple video screens during sermons or add fireworks and lasers to spice up our church meetings.
What I’m saying is that I hate boring preaching and if you’ve made no effort to try to draw me in, engage me, relate to me or understand me and my questions, then the truth is I’m probably going to start thinking about reaching for my phone.
As Christians we do have a responsibility to work hard to listen to a speaker who is rightly handling the word of truth, but do we expect the lost to accept that same responsibility? Why introduce the barrier of boredom on top of the spiritual opposition that we face in learning the truth of scripture?
In a world with a million distractions, let’s make sure that if we are charged with teaching and preaching the word of God that we do so in a way that compels the attention of our audience in whatever way God has gifted us to do.