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.
It has been fascinating to hear the diverse responses to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision last week. To hear the reaction of some in the media and politics, you’d think that the Court had pulled the plug on the rights of America’s women to use contraception.
In fact, the Court took a small but valuable step in the direction of protecting religious liberty in the U.S. In this narrow ruling, the Court said that a privately-held, family-run company that emphasizes Christian values has the right not to be forced to pay for drugs that can cause abortions. That’s it.
Did the Court rip away the right of contraception? No; in fact, the Hobby Lobby company pays for at least 16 different forms of contraceptives for its employees. It simply doesn’t want to pay for four other drugs that can be used to destroy existing life. While that may play into the “war on women” rhetoric of many media and political operatives, it seems a carefully-drawn and important distinction to those for whom the right to life is a sacred trust, rather than a political weapon.
This is far from the end of the battle for religious liberty in America, and future fights are likely to be much more significant and much more difficult. But for now, the Court has agreed that religious liberty extends beyond the four walls of the church – and that is an affirmation worth celebrating.