No one was listening. The passengers were getting settled in their seats, trying to get comfortable for the flight ahead. I know the law says the safety message has to be delivered, but there’s no law that compels passengers to listen.
As I watched the flight attendant show us how to blow into our life vest if it didn’t inflate automatically, I wanted to step up to her and say, “I know how you feel. I’m a preacher in a Baptist church. They don’t listen to me, either.”
More and more of us are beginning to recognize how distracted our lives are. We are now beginning to understand what the constant presence of gadgets and media are doing to our lives. Spouses are distracted in their conversations with each other; our teenagers are distracted by texts and Instagram updates. We’re distracted when we walk, when we drive and when we eat. We always seem to need or want to be somewhere else—anywhere else but where we are. We have so much information and entertainment available to us anytime we desire that we never seem to be content with where we are—or who we are.
People are distracted in church, as well. My congregants tell me they’re reading their Bibles on their smartphones, but I know it doesn’t take that many thumb taps to find a passage. You would think the holidays would be an easy time to focus on those things that matter, but between half-off sales and family demands, our congregations are driven to distraction.
Similar to the flight attendant on a crowded flight, we as pastors stand up every week in front of our distracted congregations and try to remind them something important is going on here. God is coming into our world. A child is born in Bethlehem. How will we get our people to look up long enough to see the glory that’s shining around them?
Our calling isn’t unique. It’s the same dilemma found by Elijah, Ezekiel, John the Baptist and Paul. How do we get a people enamored by the sparkling shallowness of the world around them to pay attention to what ultimately matters?
Sure, we’ll have those moments when someone’s life crashes and like passengers on a crashing airplane, they’ll run to us to find out what they should do to survive this emergency. Yet is there a way to get their attention before the crash?
I’m praying there is, and as I study the great preachers before us—those men whose sermons have caused repentance—I find some common themes. What are these themes?
First, these men were seized by the message they preached. In our world of sound bites and social media, I’m afraid we spend more time worrying about technique than we do about content. Jeremiah said the word was like a fire in his bones that threatened to consume him if he didn’t preach. The aged John Wesley had to have help standing—but he would preach with his last breath.
Second, these preachers loved their people. Jeremiah prayed his eyes would become fountains so he could continuously weep for the brokenness of his people. I don’t see preachers like that much anymore. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe the problem isn’t with the world or our people. Maybe the problem is with us. Maybe when we as preachers become so desperate to tell what we have seen from God, and what we know in our own lives, then we will have to preach what we know. When the glory of Christmas becomes a fire in our bones, then maybe we’ll be able to be heard when we proclaim, “Good news! God has come! His child is born! Our Savior is here.”
The world always is going to have something else to do whether it’s in Jerusalem, Rome or Nashville. Somehow, someway, we as preachers have to make them listen.