Roy Allela, a 25-year-old from Kenya, recently invented a pair of gloves that convert physical sign language into audible speech in real time. The invention, called Sign-IO, uses sensors to read the wearer’s fingers and hand gestures and compares them to American Sign Language (“Smart Signs,” World Magazine, February 16, 2019, 55). The signs are then vocalized for the hearer.
This invention reminds me that we as Christians serve as communicators of the Word of God who may not fully understand it. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the signs and wonders written about in Holy Scripture are relayed through us in ways that listeners can hear about them and understand them more clearly. This can be realized most compellingly in preaching and in Bible study groups. Our interpretation that comes through the Holy Spirit can communicate Christ to many in ways they may not have been aware of before. What a gift we have been given.
Preaching to Generation Z (those born from 1999 on) means you can’t preach your Grandpa’s sermon anymore. Pastor Trygve Johnson has some tips for how to connect to Gen Z from the pulpit (“Next-Gen Preaching,” CT Pastors Special Issue, Spring 2019, 35-36).
I get inside my sermon. Preachers should not be afraid to share their stories from their own lives. They should not be afraid to laugh at themselves. Generation Z seeks a preacher that is relational, that tells it like it is, that it is personal.
I offer a sense of history and place. Preachers should put sermons in context both Scripturally and in terms of the space where they are worshiping. In this digital age, Gen Zers are not as fully aware of some of the stories of the Bible as perhaps generations before have been and they may not be as connected to the meaning and history behind the surroundings in their worship space and the community that formed there. These community stories need to be told as well.
I treat people like insiders. Preachers need to help those who are listening that they are loved, cared for, valued and accepted. Gen Zers are eager to be a part of something and learn new terms and new insights. Preachers should not shy away from sharing those new and perhaps more challenging concepts.
I preach for Gen Z, not at them. Preachers should not try to make their messages trendy, hip, or all about pop culture to impress Gen Z. Preaching for Gen Z means making God the subject of the sermon, and the salvation found in Christ alone. Keeping God at the center of all that is said in sermons is what will be of most value to Gen Z. The Word of God is what they came to hear.
In many ways these principles are actually what can make preaching better for all generations.
Trends in sermons are changing fast. The traditional approach of preaching on a biblical text in a lecture format through deductive reasoning is being replaced more and more by what is being called in seminary circles as “the new homiletics.”
New homiletics, broadly speaking, looks at the preaching of a sermon more as an event or an experience. Those in the pews often become part of the conversation through question-and-answer formats or personal stories that are shared.
Much of what is behind this shift in homiletics has to do with the rise of social media and our increased comfort level as a society in engaging in a dialog about any number of topics.
The challenge for pastors and other church workers is how to direct and control that conversation within the context of a sermon in order to achieve the spiritual goals they have in mind for their message and for their audience.
In “Parable Preaching,” another session I attended at the Best Practices in Ministry conference in Phoenix in February, presenter Pastor Jeff Scheich of Lincoln, NE, talked about the power of parables that Jesus utilized in his time on earth, and the power of a good story we can still use in our day to preach the Gospel message.
In an interesting wary of looking at things, Scheich explained that the parables that Jesus taught in the first century were related to the things that the listeners were interesting in, talking about and involved with: planting, farming, shepherding, going to banquets, attending weddings, etc. And the points that Jesus made from stories about things that people were familiar with would stick with them.