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Information Overload in the Church?

Information Overload in the Church?
Jan 30 Tags: information | 7 Responses Print Save as PDF

Information Overload?

Are we really living in a society that is characterized by information overload? What exactly is information overload? What impact does it have in our daily lives? Does this also apply to us in the assemblies? What is the godly response?

These and many more similar questions have been running through my mind a lot. I believe that the way we deal with this individually and collectively will in large part determine how relevant our ministry will be in this generation.

Defining the term

I write this post acknowledging that I have more questions tha n answers. It will probably be one of those articles that I will look back on in 10 years and wonder what I was thinking at the time! The fear that I have is that we will wait to talk about it until it is well defined.

This usually means having society define it for us and pressing us into its mold and practice. This is one area where I believe we need to stand out as true believers by limiting our information intake to that which is in keeping with our God-given purpose on this earth.

Impersonal preaching

I recently was reading a book by a Christian author who touched on the danger of “educating beyond obedience”. I believe we are often guilty of this. We don’t adjust our giving of information to the level of people’s ability to apply it to their lives. Our first response to people struggling with application is to give them more information. I believe that a very high percentage of our preaching falls on deaf ears because people cannot connect it with their personal need and therefore discard it as “information overload”.

Information accessible in seconds

I am of the opinion that easy access of information is one of the important distinctives of this generation. That information which a preacher of the previous generation spent hours researching is accessible in seconds to anyone with a modern phone in their pocket.

If a preacher does not establish early on on his presentation that he will be delivering “relevant” information, he will simply be tuned out as someone contributing to the burden of “information overload”. It is not enough for the preacher to be convinced that his message is relevant, for it to be received it must be perceived to be relevant by the listener.

It is discouraging to me as a speaker when people in the audience convey by their body language that the message that I have spent hours preparing is being considered “information overload”. Yet, if I were to be honest, when I am the listener I myself often exert more effort trying to make it look like I am engaged than actually taking in the message in a helpful way. (This helps me justify my view that it is not ALL the speaker’s fault.)

I think we often come to the meetings with more on our minds already than we can properly handle. Unless we find some way to “delete” or “minimize” the information taking up our memory and our “screens”, we will be unable to process more information no matter how necessary and relevant.

A unique generation

Whether we like it or not, this generation is very different from any previous generation. I believe that the enemy of our souls is using the information overload to numb the mind so that he will be able to gain global control. How can we effectively stand against his strategy in the power of the Lord?

It seems to me that today’s generation is strongly reacting to what they see as knowledge as an end in itself in the assembly. They don’t feel the need for more knowledge and therefore are not as committed to the preaching/teaching meetings as we would like them to be. I am convinced that many of them are not despising knowledge but are crying out for help in applying the knowledge they already have and are not willing to buy into a sterile knowledge-based fellowship.

Many are overwhelmed with life, in part because of information overload, and are not interested in being overwhelmed further with more information. They need to be given the knowledge necessary for godly living along with the support and fellowship essential to apply the knowledge in everyday living. Come to think of it, this is what we all need.

Preach for application

James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” What are we communicating when we are aware that we are not applying the Word that we already know but keep adding more knowledge without bothering to make application? Are we not perpetrating knowledge as an end in itself? James says that we deceive ourselves when we do that. I would argue that it is that sterile knowledge that Paul tells us leads to pride. To the extent that this is a description of our knowledge, we should all join today’s generation in rejecting it.

In this day of “information overload” it is vitally important that the information that we contribute is living, powerful, applicable, relational and true.

The way that we teach needs to consider what is the most effective way to lead people into a living relationship and fellowship with the Person we are presenting. It must be very evident that we are presenting more than sterile information or we will not be listened to very long.

As I mentioned earlier, I have more questions than answers. I would love to hear some of your perspectives. We need each other in discerning the times and clearly presenting God’s response to the reality that we live with daily.

 


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any other author or an official position of the assemblyHUB team.

Eddy Plett

Eddy fellowships at Port of Grace Community Church in Port Colbourne, ON. He and his wife Erna served as missionaries in Italy for 9 years before returning to Canada. His longing is to edify the Church through helping believers overcome their personal struggles in order to be all that the Lord wants them to be.

7 Responses to Information Overload in the Church?

  1. Avatar
    Joanna

    Some great thoughts to mull over. Scripture never advocates knowing the Word of God as an end in itself, but as a means to the ends of obediance and transformation into Christ’s image (Ps. 119:11; James 1 :25). May God help us become doers and not hearers only for His glory.

  2. Avatar

    In my personal experience one of the biggest problems with preaching in our assemblies — even and sometimes especially the congregations that are most committed to being “faithful” and “uncompromising” in the preaching of God’s word — is the presentation of dry, unadorned exposition with only the briefest (if any) attention to practical illustration or application of the Scripture that is being taught. There is seldom any sense of why the speaker felt compelled to address the topic or passage at hand, or of how he might have grappled personally with the issues it contains; even rarer is there any specific suggestion of how the audience can or should apply these Scriptures to their own daily lives.

    I fear that in our anxiety to avoid superficial, chatty and/or irreverent preaching in our assemblies, we can easily mistake a flat, impersonal and academic approach to the Scriptures for “good solid exposition”. Never mind that a dreary 40-minute recitation of facts (“Here is the historical context of the book of Haggai. Here is the audience for the book. Here is the first chapter of the book, which I will read in its entirety. Here is the first verse. Here is what the first verse means in slightly different language. Here is a dictionary definition of one of the words used in this verse. Here is another verse that uses the same word…”) can be just as dangerous in its own way, because it leaves the audience numb, sleepy, and with little or no sense of how “living and active” the Word of God ought to be.

    That kind of “information overload” is rampant among assembly speakers in my experience, and I am so thrilled and relieved (not to mention edified) when I encounter the rare speaker who chooses a topic or passage with a clear focus and relevance to his audience, illustrates it with modern and relatable examples (rather than some hoary old chestnut from 1893), and takes the time to explain how this Scripture can be applied to our daily lives (instead of throwing in a vague statement like “therefore we should all be less worldly and more godly”).

    It also makes a huge difference to my ability to concentrate and appreciate what a speaker is saying if I have some sense of that speaker as a person with a life and personality beyond the pulpit, rather than simply a mouthpiece for verse-by-verse commentary. I’m not advocating that speakers share deeply personal details about their emotional lives and spiritual struggles (that is, unless they feel it is appropriate and necessary to do so); but I do think it bizarre when a preacher who has a warm, friendly personality and charming sense of humour off the platform becomes a stiff and sober figure with nothing to say but “this verse means” the moment he steps onto it. It creates a sense of artificiality and sets a barrier between the speaker and the audience — an impression that we are not being conversed or even reasoned with, but merely lectured.

    Er, I may have Feelings about this topic. My apologies for the lengthy comment!

  3. Avatar

    I can see where you’re coming from R.J. Thankfully I have had the blessing to sit under some really great ministry but I have also endured through some pretty hallow messages. It’s important to remember that this is not just an Assembly problem, recently my wife and I were visiting a denominational church where the exposition was lame and unfeeling and really didn’t make any sense. The teacher tried to be funny to make up for his lack of content or application, but that of course just made things worse. I leaned over to my wife and said, “well I guess it’s not just the Assemblies that have bad preaching sometimes.”

    • Avatar

      Oh, I totally agree, Mike — the problem of bad teaching is everywhere, and there are different issues in different places. But since we’re talking specifically about the assemblies it seemed reasonable to stick to what seems to me to be a common problem in our circles.

      I think another problem is that a natural talent for giving interesting 40-minute speeches to a silent audience is somewhat rarer than the spiritual gift of teaching, and that we wrongly (and I believe unscripturally) tend to assume that the latter equals the former, but that’s another story…

  4. Avatar
    Tom

    It’s possible that not just our content but our format needs revamping. If 45 minutes on Sunday morning doesn’t work anymore, that’s not the end of the world. There are lots of other ways to reorganize the modern church that are perfectly in keeping with principles enunciated in the New Testament.

  5. Avatar
    Dan

    Excellent, thought-provoking article and comments. Both have challenged me as I prepare to speak tomorrow. Is what I have prepared just a bunch of information based on someone else’s thoughts? Am I just gathering information so I have 40 minutes worth of things to say? What’s there for the listener? What is God trying to say through me? I think there has to be some allowance for the younger brothers who are just starting out, but as one gets more experience preaching they need to learn the lessons of this article.

  6. Avatar
    Leonard VandenBerg

    A while back I noticed from the Gospels that the Lord Jesus never answered questions just to satisfy the mere curiosity of people. In other words, He never gave just information. For example, in Luke 13:23 someone asked, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” The Lord answers with “Strive to enter through the narrow gate …” Another one is in Luke 20:2 when the Jewish leaders asked Him by what authority He was performing His ministry. In both cases He doesn’t answer their question, but appeals directly to the questioners’ conscience. See also John 6:25,26; 19:9. Think also of Paul on Mars’ Hill in Athens, where people spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear some new thing (Acts 17:21). Paul follows the example of His Lord and tells them to repent. C.H. Spurgeon once said, that if you don’t make people either sad, mad or glad, get out of the ministry.
    One way by which we can make our meetings around God’s Word more relevant to the needs of the saints is by having conversational Bible studies as an assembly. At one time the two most distinctive characteristics of so-called Brethren assemblies were the weekly Breaking of Bread and the Bible study. My understanding is that many assemblies no longer have these conversational Bible studies. When done right, these studies can bring up many relevant topics.

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