Preaching is the killer “app” because it is incarnational communication. The very best way to communicate a message is to do so in person. I say this because live personal communication is the way that God chose to express Himself. The God who can do anything chose to communicate incarnationally.
My response to those who question the value of incarnational communication is to ask, “Why didn’t Jesus just come to earth for a long weekend?” If the only reason for Jesus becoming human was to die on the cross, why didn’t He just come to this dusty planet for a four-day weekend? That would have been plenty of time for Jesus to die on the cross and rise on the third day. The sacrificial atonement on the cross could have been satisfied in short order.
So why did Jesus share the planet with us for 33 years? What was His purpose for staying so long? Was He bored of heaven? Did He enjoy the stresses and strains of peasant life in the first century? Hardly.
When God wanted to express Himself most clearly, He incarnated—He came in person. Jesus, the image of the invisible God, came in the flesh in order to show us the invisible God. This is why Jesus said, “The one who has seen Me has seen the Father.”21
When God wanted to communicate the most important message in history He used the most effective communication strategy: incarnational communication. Why is incarnational communication so effective?
- Sermons given in person are laden with personal credibility. When you deliver a message in person, you stand as a living embodiment of your message. Who you are matters. It changes how people receive the message that they hear. That is why most people would believe a message delivered by General Colin Powell over Richard Nixon. That is why you believe your best friend over a stranger at a bus stop. The respect that your congregation has for you covers your sermons like paint on a bedroom wall. Who you are colors everything you say. You are not a disembodied electronic representation of a stranger in a distant location, like hucksters on the home shopping network. When you stand flesh and blood in front of people you know and people who know you, you are giving your personal guarantee to the truthfulness of your message. Your integrity guarantees the integrity of your sermon. We are far more likely to trust people we know well rather than airbrushed strangers who grin at us from the back of magazine covers. People trust messages spoken by people they know.
- Incarnational communication is audience adaptive. When I preach to people in person—as opposed to on CD or DVD—I can see and hear the extent to which people understand and agree with my message. I can “fine tune” what I am saying to a given audience based on their immediate response. If they don’t seem to grasp a part of my sermon I may give an additional metaphor I was not planning on giving, or take additional time to explain the original context of the biblical passage. When I am present with the people who are hearing my message, I can adapt my message for maximum effectiveness. Audience adaptation cannot take place on the radio because radio speakers cannot receive simultaneous feedback from their audience. Nor can audience adaptation be done on a DVD or CD. The mediums require that the present hearers receive a stagnant presentation that was delivered to a different audience (or none at all!) at a different place and time. Generic-sized clothes fit very few people well. Generic sermons suffer from the same deficiency. We prefer customized sermons, knowing that the preacher is speaking specifically to us, just like we prefer custom tailored clothes. We buy clothes that fit our bodies, and we buy into messages that fit our life situations.
- Your presence gives evidence of how valuable you think your audience is. It is pretty easy to make a phone call. It is even easier to fire off a mass e-mail. But when you want the person to whom you are speaking to know that you value them, and if you think it is critical that they understand and respond to your message, you have to show up in person. Send flowers if you like, but nothing says that you love your mother more than singing happy birthday in person, even if you are off key! The communicators we respond to the best are those that we can see, hear, and touch. We respond because they cared enough to come.
It is impossible to deny the value of incarnational communication. Certainly the secular world recognizes the value of person-to-person communication. Why else, in our day of sky-high energy prices and increasingly costly air travel, would successful companies spend the huge amounts of money to send a salesperson across the globe? Because they want to seal the deal. And they know that the most effective communication is person-to-person communication. If the client is valuable, they send a person, not an email, to seal the deal.
Adapted from Deep Preaching (B&H Publishing Group, 2009)