Tonight history was made in British politics and UK television, when the leaders of the main parties - Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labour - went head to head in a US style live TV debate. Many people will have tuned in for the novelty factor, others to hopefully witness a public scrap, and still others to seek to get to the bottom of what the main parties policies actually are. For me, all three of these were a cause to watch part of the broadcast, but another feature struck me as it progressed - the lessons which it teaches about addressing a congregation on complex and emotive issues. The following points are just a sketch of my thoughts as I watched:
The format of ITV's production was spartan indeed. No applause was allowed from the audience on individual contributions, and the three leaders stood on a spare stage, elbow to elbow with no hope of editing or slick presentation. No visual aids were allowed, just words. If nothing else, a 90 minute word based programme goes against the spirit of 'dumbing down' which we are often told dominates public discourse in the 21st century. Perhaps we put ourselves under too much pressure at times about 'dressing up' simple words when we speak to our people? Words well chosen and fitly spoken can be very powerful indeed.
2. Pastoral Application
Throughout the debate Cameron, Clegg and Brown each presented their arguments, not merely in terms of manifesto and party line, but with illustration from normal life. Most of their examples were gleaned from the 'campaign trail' where they are speaking to people in their communities about the issues which most deeply affect them. Abstractions are not helpful, application is hugely beneficial. In the case of preaching this presses the importance of preaching which is grounded in Scripture, but which also consciously addresses the heart and life needs of those whom we address. The Puritans are exemplary on this front.
3. Big Theme Emphasis
Part of what made Nick Clegg's contribution so effective was his ability to bring the big themes of his message to the forefront on each point. Without monotony he pressed his big message with memorable lines which acted as a refrain for his message, and brought the big ideas of his party home with force. Again, this speaks powerfully about how we address our hearers - if pastoral application reaches their hearts, then surely big theme emphasis carries our exposition of Scripture to their heads with force.
Undoubtedly many more issues and ideas could be drawn from this groundbreaking television programme - these are my simple reflections, I'd love you to share yours.