On-demand television has completely changed the entertainment industry. In years past you would watch one episode then wait a full week for the next episode to be aired. Today thanks to video streaming services the phenomenon of “binge-watching” has forever changed how television is developed, produced, and released.
Though the average binge-viewer watches five episodes in one setting, many will watch an entire season in a weekend. We can certainly have a conversation about the merits of binge watching, whether it is healthy, or it it is the best use of anyone’s time to download that much entertainment in one sitting. That, however, is not the focus of this post. Binge watching has changed the television entertainment industry, and, by extension the way many people intake information. Here are some observations from this phenomenon that are applicable to preaching.
Each episode is tied together for a bigger story. In an interview, Kim Rosenblum, creative and marketing executive for TVLand, says in regards to producing a series, “Instead of it [the series] being every episode as stand alone, we added a storyline that was told more episodically as the mystery unravels.” Each episode stands independent of the others while at the same time is tied to the greater story the series tells. Preaching accomplishes a similar task.
Week-in, week-out, meat and potatoes preaching must not only stand-alone. The preacher should tie that morning’s sermon to the whole redemption story of the Bible. Preaching, whether exegetical, topical or even narrative, is telling God’s amazing story of redemption. Each week pastors have the great privilege and responsibility to stand before their congregations and tell the great story that God has revealed; the promises made and the promises kept. The one story of redemption ties all sixty-six books together. Let us preach Christ from every page.
Audiences are not adverse to complex stories, but confusing ones. The most successful series tell very complicated stories. Characters are brought in and out of the storyline. Just when you think a character will never be heard from again, they show up in the next season. Binge watching has forced writers to pay attention to the details they insert into the first season because it may show up again in season six or eight. The audience will know. They want the complex story but not a confusing one.
The Bible tells a complex story. There are matters in the Bible that are very complex. Peter bemoans the complicated nature of Paul’s letters (2 Peter 3:16). There are issues in our contemporary society that are difficult; we must see how the Bible clearly speaks to them. The men and women of your flock are not averse to complicated issues. Many are in the middle of very complex issues and are uncertain how to respond. The men and women we shepherd are not averse to challenging issues but are against being confusing in addressing those issues.
As pastors, we have the privilege to clarify complicated texts and difficult issues. This is not an easy task. There is, however, great comfort in knowing that Paul, when asking for prayer from the churches, requested that he not only be bold in declaring the great mystery of God but that he also be clear (Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:3-4). The pastoral proverb goes, “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.” Do your best by God’s grace and empowering of the Holy Spirit to make complicated issues clear.
Each episode focuses on one theme. An entire series is tied together by individual episodes. One episode may take a great diversion only to be brought back to the main storyline in the last minute or two of a show. Each episode is tied together in the greater story but each episode focuses on one theme. Similarly, our preaching may have several points in the message but there should be one theme for that message.
Your text and message may be centered on the theme of “God’s grace that is greater than all our sin.” The structure to your sermon might elaborate as to how, and what, and why God’s grace is greater than all our sin. Work to bring your sermon points back to one theme. It is that one theme from the text that you want to resonate past lunch and into the following week.
I do not accomplish this every week. Some weeks are better than others. I do however feel more successful and satisfied with the sermon when I can say that I communicated the one theme from the text. I cannot sleep well the night before I preach—and I may be completely alone in this—unless I am able to clearly state, in thirty seconds or less, what the one theme from the text and sermon the next morning are. If I can state that when I lie down, then I can rest well. There have been times when I have gotten out of bed, gone to my study and did not come back to rest until I was able to articulate the one theme from the text and for the sermon. That one independent theme tied to the greater story makes a tremendous difference.
The phenomenon of binge watching has drastically changed the television industry. Entertainment executives are responding to their audience’s new approach to and acquisition of entertainment. These common grace observations from leaders in the entertainment industry can help us understand the way some in our congregation think. And therefore give us some insight into how we, by God’s grace and empowerment of God the Holy Spirit, might craft our messages in such a way that they are clear.
Pastors are not entertainers; nor should we be. But, we do have a message that must be communicated clearly. Knowing how our congregations thinks will aid in the great calling of preaching. Brothers, may we pray for each other that we may be faithful, bold and clear in our preaching ministries.
 Nardit Moasacho, “How Binge-Watching Has Changed the Way We Watch (And Produce) Television,” Viaccess-orca, March 10, 2017, http://www.viaccess-orca.com/blog/binge-watching-changed-way-watch-produce-television. “How Network TV Figured Out Binge-Watching,” Fortune Magazine, March 11, 2016, http://fortune.com/2016/03/11/netflix-changing-game-network-tv/.