Do We Need All This Preaching?
Casting A Bold Vision For How We Could Be Doing Church Better
Showing up to church isn’t an easy thing for me. And I know I’m not alone. Reports are all over the Internet about why people are leaving the church, or leaving Christianity, specifically.
Let me offer something that I haven’t heard talked about in any of these reports. And if I could be so bold, cast a vision for how we might do church better.
But first, I haven’t left Christianity, even if my thoughts on what it means to be a Christian have evolved over the years. I’m constantly growing and learning. I love being a person of faith, and seeking to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ is a lifelong mission I’m continually choosing to undertake.
And I still desire to be in community with other people. Throughout my life, church has been one of the main sources of community and connection for me—especially being involved with music and drama teams.
But church is hard. It’s lonely for single people. The music can drone on and on or be emotionally manipulative. The sermons can be boring. Actual connection is hard to find a lot of time.
I had an idea…and full disclosure, it came to me while I was sitting in a pew, listening to a sermon.
Do we actually need sermons in church services?
How engaging could these times together be for the people attending, rather than just passive listening…or snoozing, in some cases! What if we used that time to uncover cool ways to be Jesus to our world? Sermon time could be used to form groups that would strategize ways to live out our faith in super practical ways. (And let’s be honest, wouldn’t pastors love to not have to prepare a sermon?)
Have we ever considered THIS might be why people aren’t wanting to go to church… they just don’t want to be preached at! There’s gotta be a better way to engage and inspire people’s gifts to impact the world!
I’ve been fortunate to have private conversations with many pastors as I traveled the country doing concerts. I’ve heard time and again how challenging it is to put so much work into crafting a meaningful sermon, knowing people are just waiting to go to lunch, or just want to have their ears tickled with something they already believe. There’s not much room for pastors to challenge or provoke people to change—that’s the kind of stuff that will get you kicked out of your church. Unfortunately, I’ve seen that happen more than once.
I asked one of my awesome pastor friends, James (he’s at Servant’s Community Church in Grand Rapids, MI), if he had any thoughts on this issue, and fortunately, he did. I find his thoughts very compelling:
I think sermons are not that effective as teaching tools. Just thinking of learning styles, a lecture-model of teaching does very little to engage. I try to break up any sermon with engagement opportunities and questions to tickle the brain a little bit. I try to take the posture of, "We all have knowledge and ability to glean learning... How can we do that together?"
If one wants to move away from sermon-centered services but retain a sense of normalcy/predictability (which I would argue is actually a good thing), they'll need to get creative about the mode of their sermons.
A question to ask might be, "how can I help this community unpack the goodness found in this text?" Or "what might engaging with the Divine look like this week for the people I am with?"
What do you think?
I can only imagine the huge breath of air many pastors would take if they didn’t have to spend hours and hours of their work week preparing their weekend monologue. And the empowerment people in the pews would feel, perhaps for the first time, if they are asked to come together to uncover practical and life-giving ways to serve others.
Asking people to engage with music that may or not be their style of choice, and then sit calmly and attentively to the message, is asking a lot. But if churches began to see that people come to the services to connect and engage, and started focusing on those elements, instead of just sermonizing, I believe that’s when we’d start seeing actual revival take place all over the world.
I love this so much, Mark! And I recently attended a Lutheran church who seemed to be heading in that direction. The "sermon" only lasted about 8 mins. The rest of the time together was spent in worship, some liturgy, some special music ( a beautiful flute solo accomp by piano), prayer time, and communion. At one point the pastor gave space for people to just walk around and visit for a few minutes with each other. I was so confused that I thought the service was over - and when I bumped into him during that mingling time, I said, "Thank you for the service. It was so nice!" and he laughed and said, "oh, it's not over yet!" HA! I had already put on my coat to leave! #embarassed -- Anyway, I just appreciated the different approach of the service -- and also that the church has a pot-luck luncheon with each other after every Sunday service for more community time. It's not a large church - maybe 100 people. But I sensed a community there that I haven't felt in a long time at other churches. It is also an affirming church, which I loved. Keep on dreaming, friend. The church needs to hear voices like yours!!
Dear people of God be encouraged through one another. There are so many churches… we choose where we attend and who we build community with. Praying and asking the Holy Spirit to guide us to a place that is Alive in Jesus, where anointed worship (which is critical) moves your heart and spirit, where the Pastor teaches the word, renewing your mind and spirit weekly. Community is necessary and encouraged. The breath of God, and the fruit of the spirit is alive. These churches do exist. Seek… and I pray you find.
Sometimes I just want to stay.