Dan Herford

Receive, juggle, pass

The Value of Sermons

Meetings of the church have typically placed the consumption of carefully prepared and rehearsed sermons at the center of the time together.   The preacher is the central figure in the time, and the sermon is presented and received as “the main meal” for the “feeding of the sheep”.   In many gatherings, the words that the speaker says from the podium are treated as “the word of the Lord” – unquestionable and authoritative.

Is that God’s thinking, that a preacher would stand as the unique mouthpiece of God?  For that matter, do sermons have any part in the Christian experience?

Those are two distinct questions.  To the first I would answer “No!”.  It is not God’s intention that there be a one-way filter between God and his people.  If everything we understand is what our favorite preacher or author has taught us, something is probably very broken.

But, to the second question I would answer “Yes”.  Sermons can be a great help to believers, if they have the right attitude.

I enjoy sermons, presentations, messages, and the like.  I enjoy when someone carefully expresses what they see in the scriptures, or shares information, encouragement or insight in an area.  In fact, I see what I write on this blog in the same way that I see sermons.  Shorter, generally, but the same kind of thing.

Sermons and the like are very good for communicating information to a large group at once, and for stirring the hearts and minds of a crowd.  But, the communication is usually one-way and therefore very limited.

There is typically little opportunity for interaction with the presenter, and there is often little encouragement for listeners to discuss what they hear, especially if they disagree or have critical questions.  In some venues, this approach might make sense and be effective, but in the church it is not just ineffective, it can be destructive.

First, sermons are ineffective because we don’t typically learn by sitting passively and listening.

We are not called to be imbibers of information or appreciators of speeches.  We are called to be apprentices – learner-doers.  What have you ever learned – apart from facts – by just reading or listening?  We learn by hearing, then doing, then hearing again as necessary, and doing again, and so on.  The once-a-week sermon is not the best way to accomplish the task of teaching us how to obey all that Jesus commanded.

Second, sermons can end up being destructive because they train the listeners to be passive and undiscerning.

If the congregants are not encouraged to question and challenge; if the congregants are trained to listen to information but not apply it with further interaction; and if the congregants are made to be intellectually dependent on a paid mouthpiece, then the church is stunted and weak and open to being led astray.

Again, sermons are not inherently bad, but for the sermon (or blog post, etc) to have maximum value, both the presenter and the receiver need the right attitude.

To the preacher, the blogger, and the podcaster, I encourage you to be as interactive as possible.  As possible!  Not necessarily with every person who wants to challenge or chat or whatever.  There are limits to what you can do.  But, cultivate a willingness to be questioned and challenged – to refine your knowledge in the process – and truth will be a more likely fruit.

To the listener, the reader, and the watcher, I encourage you to think, to question, to discuss.  The person you are listening to does not know it all.  They are not infallible.  You do them a disservice when you take everything they say unquestioningly.

Ultimately, recognize the limits of even the best sermon and look outside of the producer-consumer model altogether.  Look for smaller gatherings, where there is not a speaker and an audience, but a circle; where there is dialogue and discussion in relationship.  In that kind of environment truth can be distilled and applied, and can move more quickly from thought to action.

Thanks for listening to my sermon.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” – Jesus

 

 

 

10 Comments

  1. Good thoughts, Dan! I agree the sermon has value, but only in its proper place.

    • Dan

      March 12, 2015 at 10:49 am

      Thanks for the encouragement! Yes, right place in our thinking. I appreciate, by the way, the ‘sermons’ you put out on your blog.

  2. Hey Dan,

    Although I agree with much of your position I think you state it a bit too dogmatically. Although learning requires more than just listening and even receiving and internalizing a message, I’m not so sure a group of individuals going off on their own separate tangents in a meeting is any better. From my own experience I actually get more out of a well organized and delivered message than the ramblings of a room full of armchair theologians.
    Having said that, though, does not mean I value more highly the message of a formal preacher over that of any other Spirit filled believer. I guess I just esteem order a little more than you do.

    What we definitely agree on, is that the end of a sermon should never be the final word on the subject matter addressed, but only a beginning point in the learning/ growing process of discipleship.

    I’m curious what you took away from our discussion at the the breakfast meeting. I enjoyed just seeing how each brother was moved to share, and the unique contribution that each one brought. Also, looking forward to what comes out of these new relational connections!
    Thanks for making it or at least letting it happen!

  3. Dan

    March 8, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    Thanks for the feedback, Ben. For clarity, I’m not advocating disorder, or just getting together to throw opinions into a pool of ignorance.

    Actually, our get-together the other morning was a great example of the kind of Spirit-led interactions, including Freddy’s modeling of care toward the staff at the restaurant, that I think can be more profitable than just taking in information.

    As you know (and as I said in the post), I love information. I’ve taken in hours and hours and hours and hours of information. And, thankfully some of those sources of information have been interactive. I find much more value when I can have give and take.

    But, ultimately, information by itself doesn’t accomplish discipleship. And, a culture that doesn’t allow for questioning and critiquing is not healthy.

    I don’t think we’re really so far apart in how we see things, actually. I look forward to talking more, and interacting more! Grace to you brother!

    • Sorry if I put you on the defensive, Dan.
      I am pretty sure we are not far apart in our views either. As you could see from my esteem of the article I shared on FB, I am just at a place where a pursuit of biblically perfect models of church expression are not so important to me as loving interaction with anyone who is in the church (pursuing a life honoring and glorifying Jesus).
      The Structural models and language we choose to use in following Jesus do have consequences in achieving the stated goal, and this is why I also esteem your points of critique. But I think we often confuse correctness of doctrine, biblical formula with the stated goal. They are not one in the same.
      I believe what we need most is a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that allows us to respond to one another in real love (the laying down of our own lives and agendas to serve the actual needs of the weaker members around us.)
      True Christians have continued to be the salt and light of the world, and throughout the ages, because they/we have actually lived this kind of love.

  4. If church life was merely a theory, something proposed by man based on what they have experienced or what they think would work best based on their scholarly knowledge of how people learn, then being dogmatic about one way or another would be a problem. However church life is not based on mens ideas. It’s based on revelation from God. Church life will have little meaning unless we do it the way God asked for it. I say little meaning because God is full of grace. He allows some meaning to flow even though we ignore or outright reject what he has asked for. Many people are content with only a little meaning. They should not be.

    99.9% of churches will be dominated by delivering God’s truth by one man in one-way communication. However the Bible never says “preach the word” equals lecture the word. “Feed my sheep” does not mean lecture my sheep. Preaching and teaching is a ministry of every single believer per the great commission. It is not merely for those with the gift. The gift is to help all the rest do this ministry even without the gift. We don’t limit giving to only those gifted. Why limit preaching and teaching to only those gifted? Why would we only have confidence in someone who has a special degree? Does God funnel more spiritual goodies to them because of their degree? God has confidence in our clean hearts, not our expert degrees.

    Hebrews 10 tells us how and why all God’s people are made by Him to be preachers and teachers. It’s called “the new and living way”. It has 3 steps.
    1. Let us draw near with a clean heart…
    2. Let us hold fast our confession of faith…
    3. Let us consider how we can spur one another on to love and good works… and encourage one another.

    We all have access to Jesus. That access is designed to give truth that is to be shared in “one another” orientation. This is God’s design. It’s not subject to our preferences. There is no other design, at least not one that I can find.

    I was raised in lecture-the-word format. I knew of no other option even though I knew Hebrews 10 and “not forsaking the assembly as some are in the habit of doing”. This text was lectured to me over and over but the truth was not explained like it says. The preacher missed it. I missed it. I was shocked when I realized “the habit of meeting” is “spring one another” and “encouraging one another”. That is the blinding power of tradition. It’s written right there but few s don’t even see it. Lecturing registers nicely with our flesh. 99% of the saints prepare nothing to contribute from their heart. It makes sense then that being “filled with the Spirit” is demonstrated by “speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”. All 58 “one another” instructions and the “filling of the Spirit” are nullified during the lecture focused hour with not on single instruction calling for that.

    Paul said he could rejoice even when Christ is preached out of selfish ambition. That is a hard one to swallow when you see it done all the time. However Paul is not saying this to justify continuing a form of preaching that nullifies many instructions.

  5. God’s perfect will is unity among men to the point he can dwell both in the individual and among the church, without all the division. In order to attain this requires lowering oneself as God did, and serving others. If I am not willing to sacrifice one hour a week of listening to a pastor in order to serve God’s purpose of a united church-body, God would be grieved. Sacrifices are necessary and should be willingly offered, if required.
    I believe the discussion above though relates to a greater question, of whether the teacher is showing his flock the truest expression of love by “talking their ears off” regularly. That’s a good question, I will refrain from any more speculation.
    I will speculate that there may be a lack of fatherly love being modeled in america, and also in the church to the fullness or extent that it could be. Younger believers may feel an emotional disconnect between the speaker and themself due to this. If these congregants (nice word, dan) have not seen the heart of love modeled to them in a personal way, they may have no context for receiving it from a gentleman behind a podium or such. Just a thought!

    • Dan

      March 25, 2015 at 11:44 pm

      Josh, thank you for making the sacrifice of reading my crazy thoughts! And, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I like ’em! Except I wonder whether God’s purpose of a united church-body has anything to do with a one-hour sermon once a week…

      I hear you about a lack of fatherly love. Again, I don’t know whether any of that has any significance in the context of a sermon. Perhaps. But, it certainly has impact in relationships.

      For my part, I find more value, generally, in hanging out at a coffee shop for an hour with a friend – seeking to know and be known, encourage and be encouraged – than in listening to a sermon. I think that may be pretty close to God’s intents a lot of the time. What do you think?

      • Dan–I get the feeling you want honesty, not philosophy. I’ll try to oblige.

        Love is the big thing. Sermons? I find them generally prescriptive and not relational. God speaks to me in the language of intimacy rather than prescription and is more intimate than anybody else. I suppose format is flexible to some degree–maybe others mature a great deal off of sermons.
        I’ve heard relationships are built on ‘shared experiences’; Traditional church services do this. I imagine them as watered-down versions of intimacy, where real intimacy is sacrificed in favor of sharing shows of spirituality with 90% strangers. Just sayin’

        If the sermon isn’t revealing the heart of love, what it’s purpose then? It would seem empty and pointless, like a gong/cymbal Paul talks about. Showing the heart is more effective, harder and more rare than telling people about it.

        Relationship builds trust and I want to trust a speaker before receiving their sermon, that was all I meant. If I think father figures hurt me, I won’t receive from many pastors.

        Peace, Dan! there are my slightly scattered bedtime thoughts for you.

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