Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Narrowing of Taste & Its Impact on Preaching

Today while listening to the Sirius/XM Deep Tracks channel I heard “Sue Me, Sue You Blues” from George Harrison’s 1973 album Living in the Material World. I used to own that album (vinyl, naturally) and wish I still did.

When I plunked down the money for the LP I was mainly interested in hearing the single “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).” As I listened over and over to the disc, though, I came to like other songs on it even more, especially the title track and “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long.” The thing is, though, that I had to listen to the entire album to find the variety of music and the hidden treasures on the record.

That’s the way we used to listen to music. Oh, we’d listen to the hit singles on our favorite radio station (WQXI FM out of Atlanta for me) but we’d buy the albums and listen to all the songs on them—over and over.

Hearing that old song from that favorite old album of mine got me to thinking about how the way people listen to music has changed. Listening to Top 40 radio back in 1973, we’d listen to whatever they played and we came to like all kinds of styles. Listing the artists who had the Top 10 hits of 1973 will make my point: Tony Orlando & Dawn, Jim Croce, Roberta Flack, Marvin Gaye, Paul McCartney & Wings, Kris Kristofferson, Elton John, Billy Preston, Carly Simon, and Diana Ross.

We took what we got from Top 40 radio and we took what we got from the albums we purchased and we learned to like a lot of it.

Things are different now.

We can, with our MP3 players, compile a playlist of only songs that fit our particular taste.

We can, if we subscribe to satellite radio, listen to stations that play only the styles of music that we like (I most often hit the preset buttons for Classic Vinyl, Classic Rewind, and Deep Tracks).

We only have to listen to what we really like; we can shut ourselves off from what we don’t like.

Come to think of it, we can do the same kind of thing with our choice of information outlets. Back in the day, your TV choices were pretty much limited to Cronkite on CBS and Huntley & Brinkley on NBC; my memory is that both presentations were middle-of-the-road. Now, though, if you’re a traditionalist you watch CNN, if you’re more conservative you watch FOX, and if you’re more liberal you watch MSNBC. But we watch the outlet that supports our viewpoint and that confirms our pre-conceived notions. Few of us bother to sample the offerings of all the outlets.

I think that all of this has implications for how people hear our preaching.

Simply put, they like what they like. They’re accustomed to narrowing their listening choices to what suits their artistic or ideological tastes. Aren’t they likely to bring that same mindset to church with them?

What if you’re a preacher who tries to preach the whole album—hidden treasures, boring cuts, daring experiments, and all—but your church is filled with people who have trained themselves to listen only to their favorite hits? What if you’re an NPR preacher—you know, one who tries to go into depth on the important stories of the Bible—but your church is filled with people who have been conditioned to listen only for the sound bites that support what they already think?

The narrowing of taste on the part of our listeners makes preaching these days quite a challenge.