Why Preaching is Not a TED Talk

18 Jul

I have discussed TED talks this week in these articles more than I ever have in my life. I used these talks as a way of illustrating that the method of a person delivering a message from a stage to a live audience is not dead and so we should not put preaching in the category of something that is culturally irrelevant.

Of course, with this is the qualifier that preaching is not to be judged based on its relevance to the culture. The Bible is clear that we should go right on preaching until Jesus comes. The question I am dealing with here is whether we can expect our current culture to listen. TED talks show us that people will indeed listen to something like preaching so it shows that our culture is not totally cut off from this kind of method of speaking.

Yesterday I highlighted several characteristics of TED talks which, if adopted by preachers, might make for more compelling and helpful sermons.

Today, I want to briefly cover the other side of the coin. How is preaching different from a TED talk and what about TED talks do we need to avoid when we think about preaching?

First, preaching is different because preaching is concerned with the thoughts of God, not man. If preaching is concerned with the thoughts of the preacher, it is worthless, but if preaching takes up and deals with the thoughts of God in Scripture, it is wonderful. TED talks center on the authority of the speaker. Good sermons center on the authority of God.

Preaching is also different because we are dealing with the most complex and interesting subject in the world: God. The Bible is an endless source of truth about God and God is the most fascinating subject in the world. How a TED talks speaker can be so passionate about some small topic while preachers speak without life from the pulpit is hard to understand.

Third, preaching is different because it is dealing with the heart. Some TED talks are intended to move the heart, but many are simply the communication of ideas. They are, to use the TED phrase, “ideas worth spreading” but still, there is a focus on what I am learning rather than how I am changing. Truth be told, this is often the case in church as well. Having adopted a schooling model for our times of instruction, we have become a people long on knowing and short on living. This doesn’t mean we need to ditch the sermon but it does mean we need to look at the sermon differently than we look at a TED talk. We are not just communicating ideas, we are dealing with the sharp, double-edged sword of the Word of God. This Word does deep things in us when it is preached faithfully and moves us from knowing to worshiping to mission.

A fourth way in which preaching differs from TED talks is that God is vitally involved, not only as the subject of good preaching, but also through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is working in the hearts of believers, convicting unbelievers, doing His good work in lives every week when the Word is preached.

TED talks are not good models for preaching because they are one time talks. The TED website says that the TED speakers are giving “the talk of a lifetime.” This is their shot to speak about what is most valuable to them. While it is true that preachers should look at every sermon as a significant thing which God may use through His Word to change lives, we need to remember that preaching is also a cumulative thing. As we come back week after week, faithful to the text, the Spirit of God uses that time to shape the people of God. I think many preaching styles are valid, but the thing I love most about preaching through books of the Bible verse by verse is the way we see themes emerge in books and how understanding the whole flow of the story of God enriches our lives and helps us grow.

Sixth, the value of preaching is not based on the celebrity or outward success of the preacher. TED talks are given by the “best and the brightest.” But as believers we can learn from any preacher who is faithful to God. We must not give in to the lie that the only good preaching is from pastors of mega-churches. Some of the worst preaching, from a biblical perspective, comes from some of these churches. Other large churches have outstanding biblical preaching. Still, there are countless small churches with unknown pastors who are laboring faithfully in the ministry of the Word. We should listen to them and not have a bias against them because they are not well-known.

Finally, preaching is lived out in community, while TED talks cater to the individual. It is true that the TED organization encourages online interaction but this is different from what happens with good preaching. The same crowd does not always gather for a TED talk but many of the same people gather each week for a sermon. As we live together under the preaching of the Word, as we feed on the Word ourselves and as we talk about it with one another, we find ourselves shaped and changed. Many Christians can attest to the long-term benefit of sitting under good, God-focused preaching.

So with that I am hoping to leave the TED talk connection behind and move on to some other issues regarding the ministry of the Word in our culture. Next time I hope to focus on the question of how the internet shapes our approach to preaching.

One Response to “Why Preaching is Not a TED Talk”


  1. Workman’s Toolbox – 7.8.13 - August 7, 2013

    […] A good article on How Ted Talks differ from preaching […]

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