October 26, 2015 Tony Morgan

Rewind To 2007: If We Preach A Message And No One Hears It, Is It Just Noise?

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To celebrate a decade of TonyMorganLive.com, I am sharing some of our best posts from the last ten years. The most popular article of 2007 still reminds us that if our messages do not relate to what is actually going on in people’s lives, there is a good chance it will not be heard. We can yell even louder or we we can form communication strategies that connect with the busy people we are trying to reach.

The best post of 2007…

If we preach a message and no one hears it, is it just noise?

Seth Godin caught my attention earlier this week with a post referencing this Washington Post article. The article describes a unique performance arranged by the newspaper. They asked Joshua Bell, a Grammy award-winning violinist, to play his violin at a Washington D.C. metro stop for nearly 45 minutes. During that time over 1,000 people passed by, but almost no one stopped to hear him play.

Though Seth made the comparison with marketing, the similarities are even more striking to me with our efforts to share the Gospel message. Rather than masterpieces by Bach and Schubert that “have endured for centuries,” we share what many, including myself, believe to be the greatest story ever told. And, like many great performers, we assume that ordinary people will recognize the power of our message…especially since it’s inspired by God himself.

Here were a handful of parallels that jumped out to me as I was reading the article:

  • If America’s best classical musician can use one of the finest instruments ever crafted and play some of the greatest music ever written and not be heard, there’s a chance even the best communicators in ideal venues sharing the greatest message also will not be heard.
  • For some people, it doesn’t matter if it’s “one the most difficult violin pieces to master.” If the message doesn’t relate to their world, they probably won’t hear it…no matter how “deep” it is.
  • The violinist didn’t connect with his crowd. “He seems so apart from his audience–unseen, unheard, otherworldly–that you find yourself thinking that he’s not really there.” Similarly, it’s possible to preach a biblical message and not be heard.
  • “Context matters.” With a symphony, the violinist would likely receive an ovation. At a metro stop, the same violinist is ignored. Our message must also have context. That’s why we use stories and the arts to connect with people and make our message relevant to their lives.
  • Bell explained, “I’m surprised at the number of people who don’t pay attention at all, as if I’m invisible. Because you know what? I’m makin’ a lot of noise!” How true is that? How many times have we tried to explain something a little more clearly or yell just a little bit louder hoping someone would hear us?
  • The primary reason people didn’t stop to hear the violinist was because “they were busy” and “had other things on their mind.” Those are the exact same barriers that prevent people from hearing our message. We can either try to yell louder (and most likely be ignored), or we can try to more effectively connect with busy people who are consumed with the grinding details of their lives.
  • They didn’t stop to hear the violinist–“not because people didn’t have the capacity to understand beauty, but because it was irrelevant to them.” Sometimes I think we need to be less concerned about whether or not we’re teaching the right message and more concerned with whether or not we’re addressing people’s needs. Jesus modeled that for us.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is Romans 10. It’s always been a great reminder to me of my calling as a Christ-follower and as a minister. “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Stories like this, though, challenge me to look at this passage in a whole new light. Is it possible to preach the Gospel message and not be heard? If people don’t come to faith, is it just noise? If lives aren’t transformed, does the message even matter?

“Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him!” I’m not satisfied with that response. I want people to experience God’s forgiveness and love the way I experience it. That’s why I work so diligently to not only make sure we are preaching God’s Word, but that we’re offering it in a way that connects with the people we’re trying to reach.

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Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, theunstuckgroup.com. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.
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