I recently had a conversation with an awesome, God-loving, Christian man in which he expressed something that seemingly is thought and felt by more and more Christians everyday. In the middle of an hour long conversation on church, he said, and I paraphrase, “You can find a million good sermons online. So, when a church gathers, preaching isn’t that important of an activity. Instead, we ought to be focused on prayer and worship.”
Due to their clear focus on Scriptural evidence, most of the blog posts I read on the topic of church are written by people who are part of a house church and advocate this model. One thing that seems to be firm and consistent in the writings of these bloggers is that sermons are not very valuable. Unlike the man above, the emphasis of these people isn’t on the tools available online, but instead on the importance of dialogue. A recent post in one of the blogs I read consistently, Church in a Circle, was called “10 reasons to stop sermons and use other learning tools.” While the author does say, “I’m not saying we have to do away with sermons altogether,” the rest of her words seem to suggest otherwise. She says, “A few years ago, we came across a learning tool which (in our opinion) does away with the need for sermons” (italics mine). She also says, “Here are 10 reasons we believe churches should stop using sermons…” (italics mind).1
A commenter on a blog post said the following: “I’ve got an idea: read my lips–NO MORE SERMONS! just stop preaching. We laypeople are now literate. We can read books on our own or take classes. We don’t need clergy teaching or preaching at us. The very idea of a sermon is offensive: a lecture where we can’t argue back or even ask questions. And so is the very idea of clergy as authorities or intellectual leaders–when in many congregations most laypeople are as educated or better educated. So shut up already. NO MORE SERMONS. Give us liturgy, sacraments and mystery, and stop the talk. You have nothing to say us.”2[bra_blockquote align=”]Would we be better suited to remove the sermon from our weekly gatherings, instead pointing our people to some online depository of sermons? Is it true that Creekside Bible Church “should stop using sermons.” Should I “shut up already” and make “no more sermons?”[/bra_blockquote]I took two semester long classes learning how to preach a sermon. I preach approximately 50 sermons a year. A quarter of my weekly work goes into sermon making. Almost half of our church’s weekly gathering is a sermon. Is this all wrong? Would we be better suited to remove the sermon from our weekly gatherings, instead pointing our people to some online depository of sermons? Is it true that Creekside Bible Church “should stop using sermons.” Should I “shut up already” and make “no more sermons?” To be honest, this would make my life easier and less stressful. But despite this, I think the answer to these questions is unequivocally “No!” In the rest of this post I will offer three proofs in defense of the sermon. These proofs also make it imperative that churches continue regular sermon giving in their gatherings.
When examining the goodness of something, it is always best to start with the Bible. In doing this on the topic of regular sermons, we could start in the Old Testament. One of the clearest examples of a modern sermon found in the Bible comes from the book of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 8:8, we read of the Levites, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.”3 Or, we could begin an examination of the merits of preaching regular sermons with narrative of Jesus’s life. The Gospels tell of Jesus preaching time and time again. In fact, much of what we know about Jesus thoughts on a variety of issues come from a single sermon – The Sermon on the Mount. However, since this discussion is focused primarily on its practice in the church, it seems better here to turn our attention to the moment that church began. On that day, the disciples were gathered in a house when suddenly they were filled with the Holy Spirit. A large crowd gathered near the disciples to find out about the commotion. In Acts 2:14 we read, “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd…” He goes on to deliver a sermon that God uses to lead 3,000 people to come to Christianity and the first church is formed. Of course this isn’t evidence that consistent sermon making is important, but we must note that the Holy Spirit didn’t lead Peter into a dialogue with the crowd; the Holy Spirit lead Peter to preach a sermon. Sermons continued to be a major part of church gatherings. We read in Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (At this point some may point to a difference between preaching and teaching. I concur that these two activities are different in nature. However, the context of this passage is Peter’s sermon mentioned above. Thus, it seems that what is referred to as “apostle’s teaching” in verse 42 must be similar to Peter’s address to the crowd in the previous 28 verses.
Throughout the book of Acts we find sermons delivered in which the deliverer explains who Jesus was, why Jesus died, and that people ought to repent and give their lives to him. It seems that through these sermons the Holy Spirit most often leads people to faith in Jesus. The Apostle Paul, of whom’s ministry a high percentage of the book of Acts focuses on, went from town to town preaching the good news of Jesus. Statements about his preaching are so common in the book that they are beyond referencing here. It suffices to offer two verses on preaching from the book of Acts.. While Paul was with other Christians for a worship gathering, we read in Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.” This verse offers evidence that preaching was a part of the early church gatherings and that the sermon contained more than just the Gospel message. Further strengthening the idea that sermons didn’t just contain the Gospel is Acts 20:20, which says, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.” Examining the narrative of the early church obviously points to the importance of the sermon.
While the value of the sermon is seen in the book of Acts, the greater evidence for its place in church is seen in passages of Scripture where it is commanded. In the book of 1 Timothy, a letter written to a pastor on how a church should operate, we read, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.”4 This is strengthened in Paul’s second letter to Timothy where he says, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”5 These statements don’t seem to be negotiable. Paul is telling this pastor that he should preach.[bra_blockquote align=’right’]…to throw out both the example of the early church and the direct biblical commands to a pastor of a church when it comes to regular preaching is to discredit the importance of the Bible.[/bra_blockquote]Whether someone thinks sermons to be effective in our modern culture is not the primary issue, but one I will cover in my next post as I examine the historical importance of sermons and the anecdotal evidence for their importance (I’ve run out of room here). For now, it is important to state clearly that to throw out both the example of the early church and the direct biblical commands to a pastor of a church when it comes to regular preaching is to discredit the importance of the Bible. If we take Christian Scripture seriously than we need to take the practice of regular sermons seriously. [bra_border_divider top=’20’ bottom=’20’]
3. All Scripture is NIV.
Hi Chad, thanks for linking to my article.
I appreciate and admire your commitment to Biblical teaching, and I believe God is using you and will continue to use your preaching to spread His message. Many church-goers need strong leadership and teaching, and I would disagree with anyone who said there was no place for sermons.
If you ever had the chance to see a group of people doing “Simply the Story”, I’m pretty sure you would be excited about it. I can tell you are committed to Scripture, and you would enjoy seeing God’s people memorise His Word, explore it together, and pass it on to their friends, family and neighbours. God is using many powerful tools around the world to spread His message.
Don’t give up on preaching!
Hi Kathleen. Thank you for reading and commenting. As I said in the post, I read your blog consistently. I appreciate the depth of your thoughts and passion to do church in a meaningful way! I am glad to link to your blog and hope people will read more than just the article mentioned here. I also appreciate your kind words.
I am glad that you think there is a place for sermons and want to make clear that I think dialogue is far more important than most modern churches give it credit for. At Creekside we actually have designed our small groups (called Connect Groups) to lead people into spiritual conversations. We created something that we call circle roles with the intent of helping every individual in a group examine Scripture in a way that helps them come to the meetings with something unique to share about a passage of Scripture (church in a circle). We genuinely believe that another monologue teaching time in these groups isn’t as advantageous as a an interaction between all group members.The hope is that these guided conversations will lead to a heightened comfort level about having spiritual conversations outside of the groups for the people in our church. It seems to be working.
I went to the website for “Simply the Story” and am very interested in it. I think that it could supplement our circle roles. However, I’m having trouble figuring out exactly what it is. If I contact you via email or twitter, can you give me more information? What is the best way to contact you?
Hi Chad, I am quite certain there are more things we agree on than disagree on. I can see you are ernest and committed to communicating God’s Word effectively, even using methods which are “out of the box” for many churches.
I agree that the “Simply the Story” website isn’t very clear about HOW to use the technique – this is intentional, as they prefer people to be properly trained. It does take some skill to come up with the right questions and to learn to deliver God’s Word in oral form, rather than reading it. I’ve written an article outlining the technique which you can have a look at here; http://www.churchinacircle.com/2012/11/23/tomorrows-church-part-9-digging-deeper-into-gods-story/
The most important thing to understand about this technique is that you MUST let the people do the work. The facilitator has to avoid trying to spoon-feed people with pre-prepared conclusions. Empower people to think for themselves, and give them lots of credit and “Wow” comments for their insight (check out this article for useful phrases; http://www.churchinacircle.com/resources/useful-phrases-for-facilitators/).
A couple of very similar techniques are “Discovery Bible Study Method” and “Echo the Story”. Google them to see if you can learn anything more. The best option is to actually see the technique at work with a skilled facilitator – it’s hard to imagine it just by reading about it.
Blessings in your journey and ministry,
I have no doubt that there is more we agree on than disagree on. I have read enough of your writing to see that you emphasize several things that are important to us at Creekside (i.e. unity and the importance of all in the church discipling each other – not just pastors discipling everyone else). I stumbled upon “10 reasons to stop sermons and use other learning tools” on another blog site. I was amazed at how negative many of the comments were. I hope that my critique didn’t come across as a dismissal of your ideas altogether!
I just read through your post on how “Simply the Story” works and think it could make a nice addition to our Connect Groups. Thank you for sharing! I’ll Google the other two techniques after I finish my sermon ;D
Thank you for sharing your heart on Church in a Circle. You are making an impact! God bless Kathleen!
practicality & relevance also help. I have been able to see the relevance of malachi to modern society, albeit we dare to call ourselves modern, yet it is not always to easy to do so.
Rob, I agree. Any sermon that is not relevant is…barely a sermon. This is one thing that makes dialogue so valuable – it is always relevant to those in the discussion.
That said, it is amazing how the Holy Spirit uses sermons to speak to individuals about very real and personal situations. Only through God can a 40 minute monologue be life changing for such a wide variety of people as you find in church.
What if, and believe me-what if; the band played the entire time and you spoke, more or less, the entire time. Better, while the band played, you got up and spoke for periods of time. Meanwhile, the parishioners were free to walk and talk to each other and share the Lord. But the whole time they are doing this, the band is playing worship songs and you are speaking. They can take the opportunity to ask of each other any prayer requests and as well seek clarification on the message being taught. A flyer would inform them of the general point of the message, but they could gain more by actually listening.
The music playing constantly provides a nice backdrop for this. It also makes the person feel more a part of the sermon, rather than a student simply being told what to do. Now I am sure not everyone may feel that way, but some might. And all it takes is some. Then pretty soon the tainted koolaid gets passed out.
Some times, and this may be deemed reverse psychology, but sometimes giving people the chance to phase out, to leave, to ignore, actually causes them to focus and pay more attention.
This is an idea that has been thumping around in areas of my brain for awhile.
Thanks for commenting Rob. I like the creativity in your idea. I see one pragmatic and one theological problem with it though.
Pragmatically, it seems that while some would be drawn into the sermon through the background music and relaxed feel, a higher percentage would be distracted. You and me are probably similar in that background noise (whether music or conversation) helps me focus. I do better work in a coffee shop than in the quietness of my home. However, many are not like us in this regard.
Theologically, it seems that order and unity within a church’s gathering are essential. In 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 Paul speaks about orderly church gatherings. He ends by saying that everything should be done in a “fitting and orderly way.” Of course we must leave room for the Holy Spirit to move, but random side conversations might fall outside of what Paul is commanding of churches.
With those two points out there, I do think that the music and sermon combination could be done in an orderly and God honoring way that is obedient to Scripture. We have done a service where I taught for a while, then we had a song, then I taught for a while, then we had a song… I believe God moved through it.
By the way, people can currently leave whenever they want. The door isn’t locked 😉 Thanks for the thoughts Rob. Keep them coming!
I think part of the reason for the dislike of sermons stems from our society as a whole turning more and more post-modern. The belief that there is no universal truth, what’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me. So when someone stands up in front of them and preaches the truth at them, they recoil. So getting rid of the sermon becomes a “popular” thing to do.
But just because something is not popular with society doesn’t mean we just chuck it out the window. Especially when there are multiple scriptures commanding pastor’s to preach. Which is the point you made at the end of your post.
Also as a random side note- I am sure glad that you are devoted to regularly preaching because I know my walk with the Lord is greatly benefited from listening to your sermons online!
Juliann, I agree. I think that the proclamation of right and wrong to a generation that holds tightly to a belief in relative morality is always going to be an unpopular endeavor. However, God still works through the sermon. Perhaps we should be surprised by this given culture, but maybe not considering Scripture and history. Preaching has always been apart of God’s movement on earth, something I will cover in my next post.
I’m glad God uses my sermons – even online! Thank you for listening with a heart that desires to learn and live more fully for God!