Hey, Calvary Fremont –
A sermon is not a TED talk. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. TED talks are limited to 18 minutes in length. A TED talk is designed to transfer an idea from the mind of the speaker to the mind of the listener via a powerful verbal experience.
I listened to a podcast where Carey Nieuwhof interviewed communications expert Nancy Duarte. He asked her about emerging trends in communication. She noted that people today want immediate gratification – a dopamine release. Tik-Tok, Instagram, pornography, internet consumerism with its one-click shopping, gaming, mail, messaging – all offer some facet of immediacy. Preachers need to keep up with the emerging trends in communication. She suggested shorter sermons which would include testimonies and stories…keep it moving. Carey and Nancy mentioned TED talks more than once or twice. Yet a sermon isn’t a TED talk. A preacher’s goal isn’t a dopamine dump.
They spoke of conventions that have multiple speaking venues going on at the same time. Someone in one venue will tweet or message that they are listening to a ‘must-be-heard’ speaker. Convention goers in another venue will leave the venue they’re in and walk to another auditorium to experience the ‘must-be-heard’ speaker. Nancy suggested that this kind of thing would be helpful in churches – to be able to get up and leave one church and drive to the church with the exciting sermon. But a sermon isn’t a TED talk and congregations aren’t information consumers.
I certainly agreed with much of what Carey and Nancy were discussing. Preachers should strive to be better at preaching and communicating. Yet a congregation’s relationship with their pastor-teacher has imbedded dynamics not inherent in a TED talk audience. The relationship between a pastor and the congregation has a much richer texture and more nuanced expectations than between a TED talk presenter and their audience. A congregation doesn’t have the same expectations of their pastors that a TED talk audience has of the TED talker.
A TED talk presenter has 18 minutes to do what she needs to do with this crowd of strangers – she’s got one shot. A pastor has years of weekly interaction – not with a crowd of strangers, but with a family of fellow believers.
The purpose of a sermon differs from the purpose of a TED talk. A TED talk is the transfer of one idea from the mind of the speaker to the mind of the listener. A sermon is the exposition of a Biblical text. An exposition is the comprehensive explanation and description of the Scripture to the congregation. Though this should be a fresh and interesting exposition of the Biblical text, it will also underscore ancient and well-worn truths already known to the congregation. This traversing of familiar ground is absolutely necessary for the spiritual and emotional well-being of the congregation.
Accompanying this exposition is the shepherd’s heart of the preacher. He not only seeks to speak to the mind and convince the congregation of the idea(s) inherent in the Biblical text, but he also seeks to minister to the deep needs and fears and brokenness within his hearers. He seeks to assure them that the ancient paths of God’s truth remain relevant and applicable to today. In a culture celebrating alternate sexualities, gender confusion, and disordered values – a pastor-teacher must reassure the people that God’s path is the safest and sanest way to walk. The sermon is not a TED talk.
The expectations of the congregation differ from the expectations of a TED talk audience.
- The TED talk audience expect a stellar performance from a charismatic personality. They expect to be wowed. I think the congregation should expect a faithful and engaging exposition of Scripture, yet if their expectation is to be wowed every Sunday, they will eventually be disappointed and jump on the treadmill of church hopping.
- If the only criteria someone has of a church is that the preaching be of TED talk quality every week, this person has a mistaken understanding of what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ in a local setting.
- We’re told that a speaker (in any venue) has about 30 seconds to gain the people’s attention before they turn their attention elsewhere. This doesn’t resonate with me in the Church world. When I have the opportunity to go to another church, or to a conference or a retreat, the speaker doesn’t have to work to gain my attention – he has to work to lose it. I’m there because I want to hear what he as to say. I love the Bible – I don’t have to be convinced of its truthfulness or its relevance. A speaker has to work to lose my attention, not gain it.
- The pastor-teacher has a relationship with the congregation that a TED talk presenter doesn’t have with their audience. The TED talk presenter is not there to shepherd their souls. He or she is not there to instruct and rebuke and exhort and comfort and reassure.
- The pastor-teacher is a spiritual father – not a technical expert. I don’t demand excellence and excitement – but I expect integrity and faithfulness. I don’t demand to be thrilled and wowed every week. I do demand to be fed and to have God’s Word expounded in an interesting way. I’m not looking for a dopamine release – I’m looking for a fresh anointing of the Spirit of God. I’m not looking to be entertained – I’m expecting to be led into the presence of God.
Church, don’t demand or expect TED talks from your pastor. Pastor, don’t allow yourself to be convinced that you have to bring a Biblical TED talk every week. A TED talk has one purpose and sermon has another purpose. A TED talk cannot fulfill the purpose of a sermon. A sermon is not a TED talk.
Be blessed and stay healthy and follow Jesus – Pastor Tim