Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is a wonderful poem about the experiences of the "ancient mariner." Of the memorable lines there is this one:
“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”
Here the crew of the ship is stranded and without fresh water. They find themselves in the ironic position that they are dying of thirst while being surrounded by water.
This poem came into my head when I came across preacher Skye Jethani's post entitled "Is it time for another reformation?" in which he examines preaching through a economic supply/demand lens. It was an interesting little read and I hope you can take the time to read it in full here.
Jethani opens by reminding that massive changes in the church were preceded by a massive change in communication technology. For instance, Luther's ideas would not have taken off as he did if not for the printing press. Likewise, the church is seeing a massive change on the heels of the advent of the internet. Specifically Jethani points out, prior to the internet, most Bible teaching required you to go to a worshiping community. Thus the Church had the "supply" of Biblical teaching and there was a demand that was met when people attend a worshiping community.
Even if we assume that the demand for Biblical teaching has remanded constant, there is a glut of supply. Each week I listen to four different preachers through my smart phone, I read two daily email devotionals and am notified every three hours to prayer via my watch alarm. This does not count the physical books, in person interactions and other "analog" access to my spiritual practices. Jethani puts it this way:
This low demand and high supply means the market for Bible instruction has reduced the cost to virtually zero. That’s a good thing, right? Yes, unless you are a church that still expects people to pay the high cost demanded by the old model. Most institutional churches continue to make the preaching act the centerpiece of Sunday worship, and Sunday worship is the centerpiece of most church structures. An audit of virtually any Protestant church will reveal a massive percentage of the institution’s resources (space, funds, leadership) is devoted to the Sunday preaching event and its related activities and facilities. In other words, most churches have inherited a sixteenth century model that is increasingly out of step with twenty-first century realities.
Prior to asking very poignant questions, Jethani states:
Pastors carry a Reformation mindset that sees Bible teaching as a scarcity which makes their sermons valuable, while Millennials with a digital mindset recognize the abundance of Bible teaching making most pastor's sermons, and therefore Sunday attendance, unnecessary.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem concludes with the hearer waking up "sadder and wiser" for hearing the tale of the Ancient Mariner. It is possible for us to become sadder, but may we also be wiser.