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