The congregation squirms uneasily, but not so much from the preacher’s words as a tired tailbone. Including announcements, offering, prayers, music, and the ongoing blistering sermon, the Sunday morning service is approaching ninety minutes. Brother David has made his point at least six times and has started on round seven. Hungry stomachs are growling. Exhausted brains are begging, “Please shoot me – enough is enough.” It is time to stick a fork in the congregation, they are done!
Unless you have been chastised relentlessly by an ordained Southern fire thrower waxed in the glow of the Holy Spirit, you know nothing of long-winded preaching. If your eyeballs have not bobbed and surfed the tides of the second Great Flood in hour two of a Southern sermon, you know little of praying for deliverance. Unless you have the t-shirt, Saturated and Burned Out, you are not a survivor of a soul cleansing hell, fire, and brimstone tongue lashing. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church – I have the t-shirt!
Why does it take preachers so long, especially in the South, to say God loves you and if you can’t accept that, prepare for an eternity in a rotisserie oven? Why does the preacher feel compelled to make his point multiple times when once maybe twice should be enough? The answer is simple – once or twice is not enough! Southern DNA makes massive doses of overkill a necessity. No one – not the preacher or Jesus Christ can tell a blue-blood Southerner what to do and expect to get it done – at least not the first or second time.
Growing up in Mississippi, my family was in church every time the doors opened: Sunday School, Sunday morning service, Sunday evening worship, Monday evening Royal Ambassadors, Wednesday night Training Union, two weeks of summer Vacation Bible School, and two weeks of fall revival meetings. My pastor, a devout man, preached long fiery sermons with a vengeance against the evil he saw in the world or he inferred from the scriptures. Like his sermons, he was intense, unwavering in his crusade against Satan and his followers. His prayers, he called them mini-sermons, were rhythmic sing-song dances of thanksgiving laced with healthy doses of pleas for mercy culminating with skin-curling warnings of fire and damnation for anyone not walking the walk of Jesus Christ. In a church of maybe one-hundred members with regular attendance of sixty or seventy, people walked the walk, or at least, we did around Brother David.
Before cable and Internet, there was little to compete with church on Sunday. People literally had nothing better to do than go to church. So, it didn’t matter if Brother David raged from the pulpit for two hours or Deacon John’s prayer bounced here and there for twenty minutes before he asked for God’s mercy and healing and said “Amen.” It was the best show in town – take it or leave it, and if you lived at home with mama and daddy, there was no choice but to take it. The only negative was church ran long – really long – and lay waste to the best made plans for Sunday lunch. As a boy, I often witnessed parking lot grumblings and short straw lotteries to decide who would tell Brother David to buy a watch, but to my knowledge, no one ever said a word to him.
Brother David did not need a watch. He was determined to convert every soul in his congregation to Christianity, and to that end, a watch did little but get in his way. He understood there are only two ways to convince a Southerner to do something: you convince him it is his idea, or you scare him into doing it. Both take time – a lot of it! A Southerner is inherently born with the notion that everything is his idea, so convincing him an idea outside his own is his idea is extremely difficult. In his mind, he is the center of the universe, and the only worthwhile thoughts or ideas are his own, so why listen to anyone else? Therefore, most preachers opt for scary motivation. To bring their people to the Lord on their knees, they scare the living hell out of them.
In the South, preachers who dwell on death, graves, and things that go bump in the night usually have little trouble preaching to full houses. Southern boys and girls are as brave as they come but talk about something dead they didn’t shoot while hunting, especially if that something is them, and they get creeped out. A smart preacher uses this to his advantage. To keep his flock coming to church regularly and dropping a few bucks in the offering plate periodically, he cultivates fearful uneasy souls. The only drawback is such a process is time consuming, especially with laidback Southern temperaments.
For this reason, Brother David set the pews on fire. He ignited a flame of urgency under his people fueled by hell, fire, and brimstone. “The fires of hell are full of Christians who do not go to church and tithe regularly,” he scolded his congregation Sunday after Sunday. He brewed a pot of fear seasoned with doom and gloom. He pounded the podium and walked the pews warning of human barbecues while teasing his congregation with firefly bits of hope he promised would grow if they attended church regularly and tithed generously. He scared the hell out of his flock, and he did not care how much time it took to do so.
Brother David has long departed this world, and his brand of hard-ball preaching has given way to holy roller spectacles and preaching almost exclusively the love of God rather than offend or upset anyone with the rage of a jealous God. However, to this day, his practice of battering congregations into holy submission is alive and well in many churches across the South. Many pastors still tend to be long winded with little concern for rumbling stomachs, but is it necessary? Why can’t they say what they need to say, and be done with it? Why must they repeat themselves at least seven times before they give up the ghost and take a seat? The reason boils down to Southern DNA and the Rule of Seven.
There is a pinch of a boiled peanut shell in Southern DNA that makes good ole boys and girls a tad thickheaded, or maybe, decades of wearing tight fitting baseball caps twenty-four hours a day has resulted in hardening of the skull. Whichever it might be, a preacher best repeat himself often if he wants to get a point through dense Southerner heads. The more a Southerner hears something the better the chances it will sink in and the more likely he will believe it. Researchers in Atlanta, Georgia have found there is a direct correlation between Southerners reacting positively and badgering. They discovered if you tell a Southerner something once, he might not hear you; tell him twice and he might think you are talking to someone else; tell him three times and he will try to tune you out; tell him four times and he will think you are trying to cause trouble or mess with him; tell him five times and it agitates him; tell him six times and he becomes passively interested; but if you tell him seven times, the chances are good he will not only remember it but believe it as well. This process known as the Pester into Slow Submission Technique or PISS Technique is a strategy used by Southern women for countless decades to manipulate their men, and with the assistance of WMU (Woman Missionary Union) groups, early Southern preachers learned to use this same badgering or nagging technique to get through to their congregations.
In the Twentieth Century, the marketing world adopted the PISS Technique and called it the Rule of Seven, which is nothing more than a modern makeover of the old Southern recipe. The Rule of Seven states people, especially men, must hear something at least seven times before they remember it, accept it, or engage in it. It works great; however, if the preacher is not careful, a disgruntled congregation is capable of mutiny, especially if the Methodists and Catholics are regularly beating them to Mary’s Cafe or KFC for Sunday fried chicken.
The real danger though occurs when desperate preachers, experiencing a decline in attendance and tithing, change the rule to the Rule of Seven X 3. This well intentioned though controversial practice means sermons and prayers include three times the number of repetitive keywords and phrases than the standard Rule of Seven. According to the medical community, such an overload can be unhealthy for church-goers. Doctors specializing in Devout Hypertension Syndrome warn that such practice can result in compulsive absenteeism and static tithing as the result of Repetitive Sensory Overload (RSO).
There are people who will argue that within the fleeting time continuum of life none of this really matters, and maybe, they are right. A Southern prayer may be as long as a television sitcom, and a Southern sermon as long-winded as a two-day hurricane, but what if they are? Do Christians have more important things than church on Sunday? A prayer or sermon in the hands of a well-trained articulate Southern stump jumper can be an artistic marvel of rhetoric steeped in the juice of bread and butter pickles and sweet tea; isn’t that worth a tired tailbone or a table with a window at Cracker Barrel? But, I admit, at times I also grow weary and impatient. Sometimes, I wish there was an off switch under the front lip of the pew to push to let the preacher know the time has arrived to shut up and go home.
Saturated and Burned Out!
©Jack Linton, September 16, 2018