In his book Write Everything Right!, marketing expert Denny Hatch tells us:
- 50% of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth-grade level.
- 45 million are functionally illiterate and read below a fifth-grade level.
- Between 46 and 51 percent of American adults have an income well below the individual threshold poverty level because of their inability to read.
- Approximately 50 percent of Americans read so poorly that they are unable to perform simple tasks such as balancing a checkbook and reading prescription drug labels.
So what does that have to do with preaching? Many of the same people who can’t read a serious book are the people who are sitting in our pews – or maybe have quit sitting in our pews. The person who can’t read also likely has a problem following a complex argument or explanation with language set at the college level.
And yet each Sunday, pastors are preaching messages filled with theological language we don’t explain, quotes from books and commentaries written for seminarians, and complex arguments set in language that makes little sense to the average person sitting in our congregations. Maybe you serve a church filled with PhD’s and seminary graduates, but most of us do not.
The statistics remind us that as preachers, our task is not only proclamation but translation – we are called to express the truth of God’s Word in language and forms that common people can understand. That may take a little longer to prepare, but it’s worth the effort.
Michael Duduit is founding Dean of the College of Christian Studies and the Clamp Divinity School at Anderson University. He also serves as Professor of Christian Ministry. He is the founder and still serves as Executive Editor of Preaching magazine, one of the nation’s premier publications for pastors. His email newsletter, Preaching Now, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences. He is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Joy in Ministry: Messages from Second Corinthians, Preaching with Power: Dynamic Insights from Twenty Top Communicators and Communicate With Power.