Television's Influence in the Pews

This is an excerpt from a piece that I read by Robert Spinney of Grace Baptist Church in Hartsville, Tennessee.  I recommend the whole article, but in keeping with the theme on TV, I wanted to include this section for reflection.

I am persuaded that we Christians need to think carefully–and think afresh–about how we listen to Bible messages. This is especially true for the pulpit sermons we hear in our churches on Sunday mornings.

Today, we Americans live in a sound-bite-and-entertainment culture. To a large extent, our listening habits are formed as we sit in front of televisions, VCRs, and DVD players. Movies and television shows cater to (and help reinforce) short attention spans. The rule-of-thumb among producers is to make every eight-minute-long section of a movie (or television show) a self-contained unit with its own mini-introduction and mini-conclusion. In this manner, the viewer is not required to concentrate too long on one theme or think too hard about an unraveling plot. In addition, today’s entertainment is a full sensory event: it bombards the audience with special effects, violence, sensuality, danger, extreme sports, strong music, and morbidly gross scenes. Our entertainment accustoms us to being over-stimulated when we are receiving information.

Even once-serious television news programs now cater to our diminished ability to engage in a sustained processing of information. The average length of a story on the nightly news broadcasts is only forty-five seconds. One insider in the television news industry reports that the goal of news broadcasts “is to keep everything brief, not to strain the attention of anyone but instead provide constant stimulation through variety, novelty, action, and movement. You are required . . . to pay attention to no concept, no situation, no scene, no character, and no problem for more than a few seconds at a time.” He reports that the two assumptions that guide television news shows are [a] bite-sized is best and [b] complexity must be avoided.

In today’s culture, almost no one sits down to hear one person talk non-stop for forty-five minutes about anything.

Do you attend a conservative Bible-believing church that is committed to pulpit preaching? If so, it is one of the last places where listeners are expected to really listen intently for a sustained period of time. (Previous generations had far more experience at listening to sustained oral presentations, presentations that required the careful processing of rational arguments. Indeed, hearing public lectures was one of the chief forms of recreation in nineteenth century America!) Today’s church asks listeners to do something that they likely don’t do anywhere else: absorb and respond to a lengthy oral presentation. We should not be surprised that sincere church members have difficulty listening to sermons.

How can we listen profitably to Bible messages? In particular, what can we do–as listeners–to make Lord’s Day pulpit sermons more beneficial to our souls?

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