You’ve seen them. They’ve taken over your Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds. They get forwarded to you on chat or through email. They’re called “listicles.” The unfortunately-named listicle is at heart a list that gets filled out with enough text to be published as an article. They’re not going anywhere.
Buzzfeed has popularized the form achieving an $850M valuation in the process. Scanning their site reveals tantalizing offerings such as, “31 Delicious Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do To Fennel” or “21 Of The Most Canadian Things You’ll Ever See.”
Listicles are clickbait designed to appeal to the curious or distracted browser wanting to drop in for a moment while they wait in line for a coffee or are otherwise indisposed. The average reader does not have the attention span to follow prose. Listicles cater to these passive readers looking for quick bullet points of information or quick shots of amusement. But the listicle is ephemeral. It has no true substance. It merely drives traffic. And on the web, eyeballs turn into advertising dollars (at least until the Adblockalypse consummates). Volume has triumphed over value.
As preachers strive to reach a distracted world with the truth of the gospel, some may look to the pervasive forms of the culture for guidance. But the Church is called to something higher. Adopting the forms of the culture is more than repackaging. It changes the message and often reinforces bad habits.
A sermon shouldn’t be a list of stuff you noticed about a text. Those things may indeed be edifying, but a sermon should develop a main theme that flows from Scripture. Tossing out “7 Ways Jesus Is a Better David” or “5 Things Paul Says will Grow Our Church” is insufficient, because listicle preaching stops short of proclamation in favor of observation. It prefers to bring the ingredients into the dining room rather than a fully prepared meal with complementary presentation. A faithful sermon should be an exposition that is compelling as a whole. A well-crafted sermon should move from point to point. At best, it should develop through the contours of the biblical text and move people. The transitions between points or sections should not merely be the next number.
It’s easy to read a text, peruse some commentaries, and listen to a few sermons from trusted sources to come up with a bunch of interesting points. Stringing those together into a list and slapping a catchy title on the top is not the calling of preachers. Ministers of the Word are dying men preaching to dying men. Pastors, please do not dumb down your sermons. Do not become lazy—stopping short of careful exposition and passionate proclamation. And Christians, do not succumb to lazy listening. Yearn for substance. Seek to be fed with proper nutrition lest you become spiritually anemic.