In his book Write Everything Right!, marketing expert Denny Hatch tells us:
• 50 percent of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth-grade level.
• 45 million are functionally illiterate and read below a fifth-grade level.
• Between 46 and 51 percent of American adults have an income well below the individual threshold poverty level because of their inability to read.
• Approximately 50 percent of Americans read so poorly they are unable to perform simple tasks such as balancing a checkbook and reading prescription drug labels.
What does that have to do with preaching? Many of the same people who can’t read a serious book are the people who are sitting in our pews—or maybe have quit sitting in our pews. The person who can’t read also likely has a problem following a complex argument or explanation with language set at the college level.
Yet each Sunday, pastors are preaching messages filled with theological language we don’t explain, quotes from books and commentaries written for seminarians, and complex arguments set in language that makes little sense to the average person sitting in our congregations. Maybe you serve a church filled with Ph.D.s and seminary graduates, but most of us do not.
The statistics remind us that as preachers, our task is not only proclamation but translation—we are called to express the truth of God’s Word in language and forms that common people can understand. That may take a little longer to prepare, but it’s worth the effort.