Sermons and Shock Value

One of the big trends among my contemporaries is sermons and sermon series designed to shock people. They do topical series on things not normally discussed ‘in church’ – subjects like sex (in various forms) seem to come up a lot.

On the whole, I avoid doing series on things like this. My reasoning is pretty straightforward, my place as a pastor is a place of kingdom leadership. What I am called to call people to is something bigger than themselves. Teaching series that deal with shocking things are designed to either 1) make people feel guilty about their sin or 2) make people feel ok about things they weren’t sure about being sin.

The way I see it, neither of those things are the reason I was called into ministry. The calling of a senior pastor is to the teaching of the Word of God for the ‘building up’ of the Church of God. For me at least, these shock value sermons are not the best way to do this. Sure, you might get a crowd and people might even make professions of faith, but is that really what I am called to do?

Shock value sermons go back quite a way. 19th century revivalists did stuff like this all the time. It continued into the 20th and now the 21st centuries. I remember a story about J. Frank Norris, a baptist minister in the early 20th century. There was a car accident outside his church one weekend, and one of the drivers died. The man had been driving drunk, so Norris had the brain put in a jar and displayed it on his pulpit during a message.

Yeah – shock value is nothing new.

This is not a knock on those who do these kinds of series. I have good friends who do them, and I pray that their preaching connects people with Christ. It just isn’t me. I’m not interested in going out of my way to shock people. I would much rather simply preach Jesus Christ, and if he shocks people, so be it.

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