Preachers - Spend some time with St. Snopes this week

Preachers ought to tell the truth.

I'm afraid that truth-telling may be an overlooked virtue when it comes to preaching. I'm not talking here about the obvious violators who claim to have healed people from AIDS and raised the dead without any verification. I'm not talking about those pastors who fabricate educational accomplishments or exploits in order to boost their reputation. Those problems are, sadly, real enough in some corners of the church.

What I'm getting at here is the tendency for honest and faithful preachers to tell stories from the pulpit by way of illustration that simply are not true. These are stories that could be verified by a quick check with Snopes. Anytime I use a story (and my church can tell you it ain't often) which sounds like it may be a bit too tailor-made for the preacher I am careful to point out that the story may well be apocryphal. I'm not bragging as though I possess an extra measure of virtue. I don't. I just remember thinking very often as a young person listening to sermons: "Oh come on!!" At that point the sermon was lost on me. I spent the rest of the time wondering if the particular string of events in the life of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or Josef Stalin could really be true.

A fellow by the name of Bob Smietana has written an important correction to preachers who tend to pass along a sermon illustration without checking to see if it is actually true. In addition to repeating false stories, Smietana points out that preachers tend to love bad statistics as well. He writes:

Things get even worse when a pastor starts quoting statistics.
I've heard most of these in church or seen them in the pages of Christian publications. You may have heard a few of them, too:
ƒ?›Church members get divorced at the same rate as anyone else.
ƒ?›The church in the U.S. is dying.
ƒ?›Most Christian young people are shacking up and having sex.
ƒ?›Half of ministers want to quit their jobs.
ƒ?›Youth groups are driving teenagers out of the church in droves.
ƒ?›A third of divorces in America are caused by Facebook.
None of these statistics is true.
People who go to church have lower divorce rates, churches in the U.S. aren't dying out, 80 percent of young people who read the Bible or go to church aren't shacking up, and Facebook isn't ruining a third of U.S. marriages.
And that stat about Christians who think youth groups are bad for teenagers comes from an online, unscientific survey by a Christian nonprofit that believes youth groups are unbiblical. So they created a survey that produced some statistics to prove their point.
So, preachers, before you finish the final draft of the sermon for this week spend a little time with St. Snopes.