Monday, April 25, 2005

An aside: technology and preaching

Here's a sidebar to the “preparing for a new pastor” issue.

As I discussed the importance of protecting a pastor's sermon preparation time, one of the folks in the Sunday School class (one of the Ruling Elders, no less!) asked the following question: aren't there computer programs for Bible study that make the work a lot easier? In other words, with the tools of computer software available, shouldn't we expect our pastor's preparation time to be reduced?

There is merit to what this man pointed out; the introduction of software into the equation does make the work of good, careful exegetical study easier and faster. Most of the programs available (and there are several excellent options: Logos, Bibleworks, and Quickverse for Microsoft Windows users; Accordance and, recently, Logos and Quickverse for Apple Macintosh users) truly expedite the work of careful Bible study, particularly with regard to using Greek and Hebrew and developing an accurate understanding of translation and the nuances of the text. Particularly for those (like me) who were never completely confident in their knowledge of the languages, these programs restore access to the essential aspects of the study of Scripture.

But make no mistake-- this does not shorten to, say, seven hours what otherwise would take 10. Instead, understand the hierarchy of priorities in sermon preparation: when time gets short, the Greek and Hebrew are the first to go. Next is personal reflection and meditation on the text; it is easier, when you're pushed for time, to go straight to the commentaries. After that will be application-- the commentaries will usually give something pretty general there too, and when you can't take the time to apply the text specifically and personally to your congregation, the general stuff from the commentaries will do just fine. Basically, for the pastor with only 4-5 hours of preparation, the only non-negotiable aspects of sermon preparation are: bare explanation, quick illustrations (again, probably from another resource-- there are dozens of books and websites that offer ready-made illustrations), and general applications.

Sounds great, right? After all, why should we be concerned if our pastor doesn't bother with the Greek and Hebrew? Should it matter if he rarely, if ever, considers the text himself, but instead relies almost entirely on commentaries? Can we live with applications of Scripture that are seldom practical or relevant to our current circumstances? And why worry over “good enough” illustrations that barely fit the sermon?

In fact, these aspects are the very things that make sermons significant for our learning and understanding of the Bible. No pastor can teach what they themselves do not understand, and what they have not thought through; thus, pastors must spend the time required studying the Word thoroughly, including considering the original-language texts. No congregant should (and few will) do most or all of the work in applying a text to their circumstances, recognizing its importance to their lives; thus, pastors must develop applications from the Scriptures that are accurate and appropriate from the text (thus, again, requiring careful study) as well as specific and personal to the congregation. And although illustrations are technically optional in this train of thought, anyone who has heard the Bible's truth well-illustrated will acknowledge its value for understanding the Word of God-- therefore pastors should take the time to find good, helpful illustrations that bring the truth to life.

Technology often saves us time, but in the preparation of sermons, that becomes time that can be spent completing the work of good preparation, rather than cutting short what needs to be done.


Daniel Foster said...

"Technology often saves us time, but in the preparation of sermons, that becomes time that can be spent completing the work of good preparation, rather than cutting short what needs to be done."

Interesting thoughts, Ed. Thanks for sharing. For what it's worth...I agree with you. Bible software is not about cutting corners but is an aid to assist ministers in doing their best work.

Some may find that there were such inefficiencies in how they did their work previously that they will spend fewer hours per week on sermon prep. But many, many others find that the quality of their work vastly improves given the same number of hours devoted to the task.

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the subject.

Ed said...

Thanks for stopping by, Daniel-- and thanks for your comments. I am still in seminary, but I don't think I could do the language work without the software. You're definitely right that it helps pastors do the best work.