It may be well-intended. It may be well-researched. It may be well-executed. But, the sermon, as we know it, fails to deliver.
The weekly lecture isn’t just failing those who sit silently in the pews. The form itself is repelling much of today’s population, particularly men and younger generations. One of the most often mentioned reasons cited by the non-churchgoing majority is, “I don’t want to be lectured.” And the rising population of Dones–strong believers who have become done with the institutional church–also cite frustration with the one-way nature of Sunday morning messaging. What’s more, mounting academic studies show that the lecture method of teaching yields weak results.
People still crave–and need–spiritual nourishment, wisdom from the scriptures, and help applying God’s truths to their everyday lives. But how that’s being delivered on Sunday no longer works like it may have in the past.
Why is that? Rick Chromey, professor and Bible teacher, offers some blunt insights in his new book, Sermons Reimagined. He writes: “A primary purpose of the Protestant sermon for the past 500 years was indoctrination. If you had problems, put on your camouflage. Cloak your doubts with weapons of mass instruction.”
But Chromey contends it no longer works. “The recent technological shift–powered not just by television but the internet and cellphones–has completely changed the game. Information has been decentralized. Authority has been flattened.”
He says the current generation “embraces doubt, risk, transparency, and journey.” And those things are not well accommodated in a polished monolog from the pulpit. Today’s people are looking for safe communities where conversation–two-way communication–happens. Postmodern people today don’t “go to church, if they go, for a lecture or a motivational message. They go to experience God.” Experience requires participation.
Communication that connects
If preachers and teachers today wish to be more effective, they’ll need to relinquish some control. “We all want to be large and in charge,” Chromey writes. But it’s time to take a hint from John the Baptist: “He (Jesus) must become greater. I must become less” (John 3:30).
Chromey says, “It’s not about us. It’s not about what we know. It’s not about our profound words or penetrating insights or powerful applications.”
So, how would preachers and teachers become less? Chromey writes: “We release the conversation to the people. In a 40-minute sermon, there’s no reason the congregation couldn’t use half that time to connect, interact, share, debate, defend, explain, outline, persuade, and propose. That still leaves 20 minutes for you to communicate what you’ve learned on the passage.”
What Chromey describes actually works. It is not a free-for-all. It’s a guided conversation that involves everyone. The pastor/teacher/leader intersperses questions for people to discuss in pairs or trios. It works with a congregation of 40 or 4,000.
The long-form lecture/sermon perpetuates the widely held sense that church today equates to a passive, spectator endeavor. If we desire that people own and exercise their faith, they need to participate.
Very interesting. For nearly 35 years, I served as a staff pastor until some physical problems brought me to a place of limitation. Back in the 90’s through a variety of circumstances I discovered how our focus so needed to be inspiration, not indoctrination. In the process, we need to be answering the questions they really have instead of what we think they should be asking. We also need to inspire individuals with what they get to do because of who they are in Christ. There is so much more but let me just say any method that transforms lives, frees people from guilt and legalism, and releases them to minister to the needs of others is a good shift.
The author I mentioned, Rick Chromey, is offering a free webinar on preaching and communicating to a postmodern audience: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/443576339570530817
I wonder if people would be more receptive to the sermon if there were other opportunities for real dialogue and questioning. If the small groups an study groups offered and fostered those types of conversations. But most often, they have an agenda and the leader(s) often do not stray from it. But if people had those outlets, then maybe there would be more receptivity to the sermon, knowing they would have an opportunity to discuss it. I know of a couple of churches that had Sunday school classes that actually focused on the present or previous week’s sermon and one pastor would actually dialogue with people about what he was thinking of preaching and so, in part, his sermons were a product of the dialogue.
I knew of a church that on Sunday gave out a daily study guide/devotional for next weeks message. Then the following Sunday, in ‘Sunday School’, they discussed what God had revealed to them. The sermon and worship both reinforced the same point. And, all age groups studied the same lesson (age appropriate of course).
What they didn’t understand was the point you are making today. Having facilitated workshops for Group Publishing, I have seen the dynamics of LEADING the audience to discuss and share the message with each other. It’s not hard. In fact it is quite easy once you learn how. And the results are amazing!
I would imagine it’s a frightful thought for a preacher to think about ‘giving up control’ of the room but think about it…why would you think you are the only person in the room that God could inspire!
Great post. Aside from the practical side of this (that the sermon does fail to deliver), I think your last couple of lines really hit on a deeper concept (that it may be missing the point altogether). The first-century church was anything but passive, but we’ve turned following Jesus into a spectator sport—a package to be consumed. Our very language exposes our nominal expectations, that we should just “attend” church.
Did Jesus put nearly as much effort as we do into spewing facts and knowledge? On the contrary, he went out of his way to be vague and cryptic, to encourage us to get up, ask questions, and live a real life outside the walls of a sanctuary—to find out for ourselves what God has in store for us. Thanks for your writing.
I did what what has been suggested for many years while pastoring a ‘cell church.’ Unfortunately people eventually got bored with what they considered re-hashing the sermon, and cell life (small groups) just became another ‘program’ (the present pastor has continued with the same, with the same results). Imho no matter how much you try and re-work the sermon, it remains what it is. Today I am much more fulfilled in facilitating small organic house churches, where everyone is involved and able to share their bit in engaging seriously with the Scriptures. Just my opinion of course…
I think we have to remember it’s a two-sided issue. Pastors need to be open to trying something different, but so does the congregation. Sometimes you try to introduce something new, but because people are so entrenched in one way of doing things, they are resistant believing the way something’s always been done is the only way.
My church has been practicing this form of dialogue/sermon for the last ten years. It is extremely powerful and transformative. We are a community of about a hundred adults.
My church (about 100 adults) has been practicing the conversational sermon for the last ten years in hipster Portland. It is powerful and transformative. We try to end each morning after communion with the question “What do you hear God saying to you this morning?” This helps to remind us that the “word” is ultimately located in God. It is amazing to hear the responses, whether it’s vulnerability or pushback.
I’m sure much of this is true but, in many ways, the church is the poorer for it. Hope pastors don’t take this to extremes, however, or it will make for ignorant saints who propagate “truths” that do not fit with Biblical teaching. The “foolishness of preaching,” and the role of teacher, after all, are given importance in Scripture.
I think you are hitting on an important point. I believe we should be careful about creating false dichotomies and nearly vilifying that which Scripture mandates (namely preachers, teachers, preaching, teaching, etc.).
Dan, this isn’t vilifying preachers or teachers, or preaching or teaching. Quite the contrary. We’re suggesting some ways that preaching and teaching can be more effective, more powerful. We’re suggesting some ways that preachers and teachers can add some Jesus-style methods to improve their effectiveness. Jesus taught–using lots of open-ended questions, and dialog, and participation. By so doing he was not vilifying scripture. He was, however, criticized and disdained by the religious establishment for rocking the boat.
The dichotomy already exist – the clergy/laity relationship.
I used to like you, Thom, and thought you were doing good things to help us. But too much of anything gets tiresome, and I’ve gotten tired of you always telling me that everything about church and my ministry is wrong, wrong, bad, bad. Thom, is there anything the church is doing that you like? Can you lighten up a little bit and quit “lecturing” me about how bad I am? You’re doing to churches and pastors the very thing you say Millennials don’t like—being lectured to and judged.
I think the sermon provides a holy, God-centered space in time where we sit quietly, with devices turned off, and hear from God. The problem of the information age is too much information and too little reflection. The sermon provides reflection time, thought time. It’s the one ½ hour a week where it’s not about you and what you think. It’s about what God and what He thinks. The sermon is your source, your well to draw from, so that you have something meaningful, and deep, and helpful to bring to all the other interactions of your week. How does anyone have anything significant to “interact, share, debate, defend, explain, outline, persuade, and propose?” (to quote the post above). It’s because at some point they listened to sermons, or read something that made them think. The problem is not the sermon. The problem is how it’s presented and how it’s purpose is conceptualized.
Thanks, Tim, for your thoughts. I’m sorry you no longer like me. The objective of this blog, as stated on the home page, is to “challenge the status quo.” I realize that is uncomfortable for many, especially those who are quite content with the status quo.
You asked if there’s “anything the church is doing that you like?” Please take another look. For instance, read last week’s blog that celebrates a church that powerfully taught about God’s idea of marriage and then freely offered wedding ceremonies to congregants who needed to come into God’s will. I like that. And, today’s blog celebrates the effective work that Rick Chromey (and many others) are doing through sermons that include congregational participation. I like that.
You likened this blog to a lecture. A lecture is one-way communication. This blog exemplifies two-way communication. It invites you to participate. Not to sit silently and merely “take it.” Your comments and interaction are encouraged. And you, through your comment above, have participated. Thank you for being part of the dialog. I appreciate your differing points of view. This is the kind of thing the church needs more of.
Thank you for your thoughts on the essence of the sermon time. You wrote: “It’s about what God and what He thinks.” The disconnect, for many people, comes when a preacher seems to assume he is the only one in the room who knows what God thinks. You said, “The sermon is your source.” I’d rather think God is my source. And God can speak to me in a variety of ways—through scripture, through his people beside me in the pew, through media, through experiences, and through preachers at the microphone.
Thanks again for your thoughts, Tim. Stay faithful.
I still like you Thom, basically because you get IT. Unless we ministers challenge what we’ve “always done” and the status quo, people will continue to see the church as a non-essential, and even boring ideal. I used to say in student ministry, “It’s a sin to bore a kid.” Anymore I find that I have changed that to “It’s a sin to bore…” period!
When I was younger, we had a horse farm in Ohio and raised, trained, and showed American Quarter Horses. One day, one of our good halter horse sideswiped a steel “T” post on a gallop and laid open his side. It was so deep that the veterinarian said that only a couple membranes more and he’d be dead next to the post.
Anyway, being a halter horse, we were concerned that as the vet was stitching him up, he would have a very noticeable scar. And when I say scar, on a Chestnut horse (or any dark color for that matter) a scar shows as white hair. Our vet told us that if the stitches ripped open, which he expected them to do considering the location, we were to take meat tenderizer and put it in the wound twice daily. This would promote healing from the inside out.
Well the next day, the stitches did pull and we began our regimen of meat tenderizer…much to the horse’s dislike at first. And after doing this for a while we saw the wound close and heal over and when the hair grew back in the was only one little white hair to show for it. The old remedy had worked and we were back on the show circuit.
I bring this up because, as you’ve probably gathered by now, that we as the Church need to throw some salt/meat tenderizer in our wounds to heal from the inside out. Yes, there will be a small remnant showing of what we once were, but unless we take on the pain of the necessary things to heal us now, we may not show in the future. If we’ve always done things this way, maybe it’s time to ask the hard question, “Is this really working to share the Gospel, or is it more reflective of a day and age when people loved to be talked at rather than conversed with?
Have to agree with both of you. I am also tired of so many, not just you Thom, kicking at the church as though everything that is being done is wrong. There seems to be this over arching current or theme of that if a young generation likes a particular method everything else that is being done is wrong. What a narrow view of the church.
As to the sermon I agree that there needs to be a change but the implication that it is to be done away with is over reaching hyperbole . Justin Martyrs description of the early church service called for a time of exhortation about the Scripture that had been read. Different way of delivery but arguably the same as a modern day sermon. We need to meet the needs of our people and not just deliver words from Mount Sinai.
I won’t go as far as Tim, but I do appreciate his confession. I became a believer in 1992 and immersed myself in the Word and the life of the church. It didn’t take me long to figure out that something was wrong. Around 1994, I read Why Nobody Learns Much…and it was highly influential in shaping the foundations of my ecclesiology and future ministry. I’ve always appreciated your ministry and spent countless dollars on Group products. But similar to Tim, I all too frequently come away from your Facebook posts and your blog articles feeling accused and condemned, rather than encouraged or helped in my church ministry. To me, your articles feel more and more like you have a chip on your shoulder and resent pastors/pulpit ministers. It seems like the general tone is superior and condescending, and the content often struggles to get far beyond offering some kind of supportive evidence for the case that something is broken and that the worship service and its architects are to blame. I don’t want to feel this way, but that is how I feel. I’ve considered not following your blog and Facebook posts, but I really believe in you and your ministry. In other words, I still like you, but as a church leader, I wish I didn’t feel like pastors/preachers are perpetually in your crosshairs.
Excellent Thom…I still like you! We may not always agree, but we are able to always discuss things out 😉 !!!!
The problem here Tim, is that if we truly look at the sermon event – many pastors want you to take their word as “God speaking”. However I’ve always taught that the spirit of the prophet (speaker) is subject to the prophet (speaker). I always invited people to challenge whatever I preached from the pulpit, because I’m a fallible man. Many times I’ve seen things preached from the pulpit…in error, and they wouldn’t correct themselves before the people because it brings them to their level. I know pastors that state their members will never know more that he does. I always challenged people to know more than I do – so iron can sharpen iron.
The Word of God is my source. Yes, before I was a pastor – I always challenged what was taught if I knew or believed I knew differently – it was a learning opportunity. I have a son that has some friends, they visit a bible study (they are all military) – and they challenged the pastor in a bible study – The older people wanted them to stay quiet however – the pastor began to think. He couldn’t answer their questions then (they already had the answers) – he researched their answers and guess what, He told his congregants to allow these young men to speak because that’s the first time in years that he was prompted to really study. Iron sharpens Iron – that’s what Thom is getting at.
Tim, I must also add – you say How does anyone have anything significant to interact, share, debate, defend, explain, outline, persuade, and propose? I wouldn’t say its because of the sermons – I would say its because of mentors that allow people to search the scriptures for themselves, if necessary debate their point from the scriptures, defend from the scriptures, but more than often – come and reason together. If I went off of half of what I’ve heard in over 40 years …and didn’t question what I heard, I would be a parrot…going off of what my favorite pastor said.
Tim, I whole heartedly agree with you. The sermon has been the church’s mainstay for these many centuries. I believe it will be for as long as God sees fit to give us time to turn to Him
In the last 20 years, our workshops have evolved into this wonderful method; and I endorse its use across a broad spectrum of learning platforms. To those exploring it in a worship setting, I would offer two caveats: 1) It assumes an audience/ congregation that enthusiastically welcomes dialogue, but beware that placing a demand on guests may prove off-putting; and 2) it requires a “seasoned” presenter/ preacher, i.e., one with an exceptional grasp of the material so as to handle the breadth of comments and questions in a deferential manner. Neophyte presenters/ preachers are sorely tempted to return to lecturing or defending their position, rather than posing more questions, case scenarios, etc.
Hi 🙂 never been by before but someone shared your post in my Facebook feed. I’m a lifelong Christian who grew up as a Pastor’s kid and experienced the good and bad of church, Christian school, etc. I can’t be a “Done” and honestly, as much as I wonder if the modern western church resembles God’s original plan, I do believe that he is in and at work through the church. Therefore, I can’t and don’t want to leave. What I wanted to say about this post is that the final sentence is key: “If we desire that people own and exercise their faith, they need to participate.”
I’m assuming that “we” refers to people in Christian leadership. I’m also assuming that most people in Christian leadership want people to own and exercise their faith. However, it takes two to tango as the saying goes. The underlying question leadership asks is HOW do we help/facilitate/enable/motivate people to become owners, both of their faith and in their churches? If more everyday Christians asked themselves that, the burden might not fall so hard on the shoulders of pastors (and their staff). If more Christians DESIRED to take ownership of the vitality of their relationship with God and his church, if more of us chose to dive into studying the word or looked for ways to serve (not just at church in the programs, but in organic everyday life and community) and pursued a vibrant fellowship with God PERSONALLY, then our communities of faith might look different than they do. I realize that this is a difficult thing to ask, after all, we believers are at all ages and stages of maturity in our faith, we have baggage and even (especially PKs like me) have church hurt and issues with the conventions of institutional church. But, generally, what I see regularly is that people don’t want to take their own faith seriously even to participate and let the word of God and his spirit transform them, change their ideas. Generally, we like to let the work be someone else’s…and then we complain when it gets boring or offensive or repetitive or droning. And I’m not saying that that’s what you’re getting at – I’m saying that faith is both a personal and corporal thing, and that if I have problems with my church or the way they do things, am I really willing to lay that and myself before God and his word and be willing to let God show me where I’ve gone wrong/gotten lazy/given up, too? Am I really willing to be part of the body of Christ and let him be the head that leads? We need to take responsibility as individuals and then we can and will and will want to participate.
Excellent post Sis Santos…and I’m a “Done”! Maybe there are different classes of “dones”. I still fellowship with other believers, and speak at churches …however when allowed…I always have feedback, I like people to ask questions or have comments – even if they disagree with me.
There are many of us that associate with the entire body of Christ in our communities (instead of being associated with a particular sect, no schism in the Body)…we just don’t place a membership at a “church”. I love to participate and for others to participate…maybe that’s why I never (again) join what I’ve been born into. The question – will you accept me as part of the Body?
I have a couple thoughts, and I agree wholeheartedly with Jim Griffith. As I matured, I often used the methodology he describes in Sunday evening services, occasionally in Sunday AM, and all the time in Bible studies that I “taught.”
However, I see the problem with sermons as different. I have always attended church (since I was 18, 69 now, almost 70); once I resigned my last church, I began to go to a megachurch in the San Diego area. This particular church held Bible conferences each summer. I can count on the fingers of one hand (and I went to these conferences for 15+ years) that these “famous speakers” had anything original to say. Every conference was the same. I could count on “Jesus is in your boat” being one of them, and “the little boy who shared his lunch” being one of them. In addition, our pastor, who is justifiably famous, STILL preaches a lot that I learned in my seminary days. In fact, some of his sermons seem directly taken from my seminary notes. In fact, I could have preached that sermon if he told me his topic ahead of time.
So my view of this is different (and this is just me, now).
People are “Done” with sermons because there’s nothing really new in them, no real hearing from God, no real interaction with one’s own soul, no real connection with Scripture. We not only lecture people, the topics aren’t really what we need for our own souls, and certainly are not food for theirs.
Now even though this sounds like a “rant,” it’s not. It’s what we are taught to do if we are “expository preachers,” and we assume two things about our congregations:
1. They need to know the details of the Scriptures (they do, but not in the way the teaching often goes).
2. They need to always be told what to do, how they need to change, what to believe. Most sermons are “Be this way;” “Do this set of things;” “Believe this truth…” and many of them are designed to expose the inadequacies of the listeners. Who could possibly want a steady diet of just that?
Most of us (ministers) could do with a dose of the Psalms (and not just Psalm 1), and real interaction between us and the writers as they put down their life stories, reactions to what happens, and their problems.
I think most of us preachers also could do with an honest internal interaction with ourselves, and between ourselves and the Lord, so that we “become” a psalmist, thinking like one of them, consulting our souls and the Lord about our everyday problems, and so on. We obviously have to be discreet about this (people soo love to gossip about us), but when we get off the podium and place ourselves with the people, remembering that we are one of them, I think people don’t feel lectured. They feel like we are standing there with our arm around them, saying, “I’m WITH you, not above you. I’m dealing with such things, and so did the writers of Scripture.”
That’s really tough for a man (or woman, if you’re in that tradition) who has been taught that the pulpit is a separation between the pastor and the people, and you’re there to teach them. However, if we want to win the hearts and minds of the new generation, we have to do this–or something like it. We must change. Our listeners won’t, as history abundantly teaches us.
Since people are now voting to leave with their feet, I think we need to rediscover the heart and soul of our own faith, and then be honest, transparent, and “with” our people, not above them.
Laura commented on Facebook: “Excellent. I have shifted my thoughts and methods from straight teaching to a more participatory delivery. Various interactive platforms, such as Presentain.com allows the teacher/preacher to use power points to teach but also ask questions of listeners who can respond anonymously or ask questions using phone, laptops, tablets… Takes the shift off the presenter and encourages engagement from the listeners.”
Reblogged this on NW MEN'S COALITION and commented:
Hats off to Thom for making this bold statement. Why do we hold onto an outdated and highly ineffective mode of conveying truth. If we want guys to engage we need to find other ways.
This is not Thom’s opinion. This is fact. I have three university degrees and attended hundreds of lectures but they were only a launching point as they were always followed by tutorials where the lecture was discussed, dissected, criticised, augmented and disagreed about under the direction of a tutor who was studying for higher degrees.
Early on in the piece we were taught that we only retain 20% of what we listen to hence the tutorials. That is an educational FACT. That being the case, churches that insist on the lecture/sermon format is saying I don’t care that you will forget 80% of what I say.
If you care to follow the scriptures which many churches don’t you will find that Jesus did his teaching amongst the people, not in a closed building and he sent out the disciples to do what he did.
How about having your meeting in the local park. That will attract people to what is going on. How about sending people out to do what the preacher does. Oh, most of the time the preacher doesn’t do anything.
Even though I have been reading these blogs, this is my first “formal” response. My question is, what is this about a 40 minute sermon???? I have been serving churches for the last 30 years;, fulltime, as a supply pastor and now as a part time pastor and if I have a 20 minute sermon I feel I’ve gone to long! My usual sermon is 15 minutes long. Say it and sit down! That takes away from the lecture format or the repeating until you are hoarse problem. No one wants to come to church to hear a lecture, make it an interesting challenge of how their faith can be shared during the week. Use the worship time for just that, worship; songs, prayers, and fellowship. That is time well spent!
I really think our very interactive world is taking the steam out of church. I think I mentioned before. When I was young before the internet and cell phones with texting. We were all stuck by ourselves often around very few people for extended amounts of time. We would actually miss being with people. So church was something you would look forward to as a place to get out with others. Sermons were just a part of it and even if you never remembered the sermon past the front door, you enjoyed the fellowship with others.
NOW talk about being connected, I go to work with my phone with texting, the internet, a work phone at my desk, email, google talk, sametime messaging, meetings and people walking up to my desk for things. I’m dealing with customers, and suppliers from around the world, Japan, China, Mexico, Germany, here in many surrounding states. I honestly don’t have a problem with sermons as I’m not that highly social. As a socially exhausted person, the interactive church sounds good, would have been nice in my younger less technological years.
Now, part of the reason for not having the desire to go to church is I’m socially exhausted from being connected to everyone all the time. I really have no desire to interact with more people. My weekend, Saturday and/or Sunday is a well needed time of social rest to do housework stuff and be home alone.
Churches want you to both go to church and get connected in some group. Talk about social overload in today’s world. As an introvert and more of a listener than talker (except when I type) I’m not complaining about lecture style sermons. How about that?
“People still crave–and need–spiritual nourishment, wisdom from the scriptures, and help applying God’s truths to their everyday lives. But how that’s being delivered on Sunday no longer works like it may have in the past.” So true. If someone gets that off a video on the internet and it helps them apply God’s truth to their life, it is as healthy a Spiritual food as anything in Church. God’s truth is God’s truth. Truth coming from someone lecturing to people sitting in pews doesn’t make it anymore true. I think for many of the younger crowd, especially ones with post secondary education, who are critical thinkers, and learned in science, technology , medicine, psychology, etc., the skill set among most pastors today is just not there for them to able to communicate effectively and relevantly with this younger educated crowd. Far to often it’s Tony the pony trying to run with thoroughbreds.
Thom, I have been stirred and blessed by every article I have received from “Holy Soup!” Keep it up. We are listening and sharing your messages with others. I have been a pastor of three churches, a professor at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and an executive director of the Evangelistic Asso. of N.E. You are at the “cutting edge” with an inspired and challenging message. A present day prophet in the order of John the Baptist. We need to hear your message. I thank you profusely. In Christ, Howard R. Keeley
Intriquing. I have no idea how this actually looks in a setting above a smallish crowd (30-40). Any details would be appreciated.
Thanks, Jason. I have used these methods for 40 years, with small and large groups, including events with several thousand people.
I summarized how to do this in an earlier article: http://holysoup.com/2013/11/20/fear-not-double-your-teaching-results/
Where in the world do you find a 40 minute sermon? I thought that went out years ago. Most ministers I know think 20 minutes is very long now and stop at about 12-15. I still do 20 and do ask for group discussion or response on occasion. The feed back I get is that people prefer to just listen rather than talk about the scripture texts. They don’t like the break with the usual routine.
Terry Foland – That’s about my experience as well – people don’t want to participate and 12-15 minutes is considered long enough. But the people in the pews in our faith community are all over 50 – except for a couple of young women who attend church with their mom. The total number of active congregants is about 20-22. There are no millenials. They don’t come to church. But neither do any other boomers or busters or whatever you want to call them. Churches here in the northeast are on life support. Congregation size has atrophied. It isn’t uncommon for many mainline churches to be struggling to keep their doors openened and ministry engageed in. I’d be ecstatic to have a congregation that wanted to engage in discussion and reflection and would have no problem holding services in that manner but it would generate little if any response the way it’s described in this article. On the positive side, this congregation supports a 4 day a week soup kitchen as well as other ministries.
Susan Cain in her excellent TED talk, claims that a third to half of the population is introverts. Encouraging folks to sit in groups of two to three and “connect, interact, share, debate, defend, explain, outline, persuade, and propose” gets all of the extroverts excited but the introverts (like me) dread this!
Additionally, it seems strange to me that at the very moment when the popular culture has embraced the TED talk as a powerful medium for communication (which is a short lecture) the church thinks it needs to become more relevant by appealing to groupthink and participation.
Frankly, even when I was in seminary, most of the comments from fellow students (I presume extroverts) where irritating, off-point, and rarely helpful to the thoughtful, prepared, well-studied insights from the professor.
Finally, I saw Rob Bell live on the Everything is Spiritual speaking tour. At the event I attended, I was in my early thirties and easily one of the oldest folks in the room. Bell proceeded to write on a whiteboard and lecture for nearly an hour and a half to a room of GenXers and millenials. They were captivated the entire time. And we never broke into pairs or trios to cuss and discuss any of his content.
7 years ago my wife and I start a church and instead of a featured sermon, we allow people to share as they feel prompted by the Spirit. The results in people’s lives are amazing. We find that we attract more unchurched people than people from other churches. This format helps answer the 12 reasons people give 4 being unchurched at this link:
Steve, I love what you guys are doing in Nashville!
The main problem in my observation, which I will admit is limited, is that many preachers think we are still under the Mosaic Covenant of the Law. We are in fact under the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace relieves of all Self Condemnation which is the worst possible condemnation. Galations 3:10(NKJ):tells us “For as many as are under the works of the Law are under the curse”. So many want the Ten Commandments posted in schools and on buildings but the New Covenant says Gal. 10:13 (NKJ) Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law having become a curse for us. Gal. 5:18 (NKJ) “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the Law. Hebrews 8:12-13 (NKJ) says “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. In that He says a New Covenant, He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away”. It is this good news that Jesus has paid for our sins that people need to hear, not he condemnation of how we fall short in our actions.
Preaching is not foolish if it preaches the New Covenant. I think much of the church is still preaching the covenant of the Law. Jesus ministered under the Old Covenant but foreshadowed the new that would be possible once He had died for our sins.
Thom, I’ve really enjoyed your take on a lot of things but I’m not confident that your opinion is correct about “the sermon as we know it fails to deliver.”
Maybe if the “we” is only inclusive of 40-minute sermons, or maybe if they’ve been delivered by either a bunch of tired old Elders who are in the rocking-chair of guaranteed appointments or some social radicals who haven’t studied the Bible enough to preach the Gospel with grace AND truth; then maybe then you’re right.
How would you explain your theory in light of the 40,000 people who sit in the congregation in front of Joel Osteen every Sunday and the countless others who tune in to watch?
Truthfully, in my 25 years in the pulpit, I’ve never preached to 40,000 or 4,000 — and only a few times to 400. Instead, I usually pitch to under 100 at a time. I’m a 9-year Course of Study graduate and will never reach Elder’s orders and I don’t care. My ministry is following Elders who’ve screwed up and I’m there to get the churches back on track.
The congregations are usually troubled because they’ve lost faith in the system. I usually have a few congregants who haven’t ever read the Bible — because they can’t read. Sometimes I preach to ex-cons and sometimes they haven’t been caught yet. Some suffer from depression or from memories of being abused as children. Every congregation has held people with terminal illnesses. Usually one or two will learn the Lord’s Prayer within the first month I’m their pastor, simply because they’re hearing it for the first time. I learn all this stuff because they learn to trust me.
40 minutes, really? I get 20. I read the scripture, usually from the lectionary, and then I stand and deliver. They believe that if a preacher really believes what he says then he should be able to say it without notes. We don’t need notes to tell our wives “I love you,” do we? Well, they want to know they’re loved. I give them the biblical cultural setting and why it matters and why the message matters now. They get the humanity and the deity. They get the truth They get prayers for us all. Movement, eye contact, from the heart. 20 minutes.
Works for me. Why should we spend 20 more minutes yada-yada’ing? Let’s go and follow Jesus.
Bottom Line: Many methods may be effective in communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, none of it will bear lasting fruit without prayer. Man can attempt to create a “movement,” but only God can birth a lasting movement that reaps an eternal harvest. All the Great Awakenings in history came about because of prayer. Whatever attempts are made to relate to our culture must be bathed in prayer. In other words, although discussion groups may be good, prayer groups will produce the harvest.
I believe this cyber-oriented generation creates a challenge for the church. They are being taught to learn differently. That’s neither good nor bad. What I fear is that we often leave the older generations behind to try to bring in the younger. For example, we often will replace the older hymns with new “contemporary” songs. My parents are lost on that. Each generation has been taught to learn in their own way and most will not get all they need of they are only participating in the new way.
I tend to be a geek, but I go to church to hear the sermon. I like to listen to a good message. I don’t really want to interact a lot during that time. Contrast that with my call: I am a clergy with a urban calling. I work as a therapist, and group facilitator for people with mental illness and addicts. I listen to people interact all week. Perhaps that is why this style is unappealing to me.
Both of these reasons ate examples of the dangers of cookie cutter worship. There is room for change, but we must be multi-generational about it.
It can be done, Leslie, particularly if leaders take the time to explain the change and do it using sensitivity. But it also requires some flexibility on the part of the older generation. Maybe that’s something we need to model as well. In some instances, I have seen some octogenarians more open to change than their younger (senior) counterparts.
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. Ps. 115:1
How I would love to have a sermon/dialog on just this verse – maybe continued for many weeks.
I’ve been a teacher and practising christian for 18 years and in that time it has become apparent that people are not blank canvasses waiting to be drawn on, or whatever analogy you wish to use. As a result, just telling people what to think does not work unless they are mindless, which would need to be corrected asap. People have all sorts of preconceptions, misconceptions and sometimes unusual insights, so we have to take account of all these things when teaching them. It’s important to frame things so that wrong ideas are exposed and challenged and can then begin to be replaced with right ideas with the consent of the participant and not just forced into them. Otherwise our efforts are wasted as very little will actually be retained or make any difference to the person. It is much better to see someone coming to realise the truth, which is, after all, what repentance actually means anyway!
Super comment, Peter.
Well said Peter. I too am a trained teacher (retired). I remember talking for 90 minutes to a senior class and at the end one of the students asked me “Do you realise you have been talking for two whole periods?” Duly reprimanded. Didn’t do that again. I limited myself to 10-15 minutes.
If you have a church of 100, one sermon and silence during it, you are automatically shutting out everything that those 100 have to contribute to the life of the church. A sermon is as only as good as its outcomes, so silencing the outcomes is to say the least a waste of a sermon if you get my drift.
Apart from the fact that educational experts tell us that you don’t remember content past 20 minutes. So if you insist on a sermon, DON’T make it longer than 20 minutes. Better to use the time left for the congregation to discuss what has been said in small groups and report back.
I will cheerfully admit that I have not read every one of these comments, but I will tell you something I heard from a pastor to whom I was criticizing the whole obsession with lectures. He said that “faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the word of God.” So, in some people’s minds, there is something sacramental about the simple act of listening. Protestants have created a whole new sacrament.
Yes, and they have created the sacrament without any reference to what the scripture shows and teaches.