Saturday, September 24, 2011

Expendables - Sermons

Having laid out an initial framework for thinking about how we "do church," I'd like to explore further the kind of changes that can or should be made and the kind of "sacred cows" that many churches keep, refusing to let go, even though they want to do things differently.

All of this depends on what our true goal is. In my opinion, the goal is for God's people to live in love, faith and hope through the Spirit of Jesus Christ. That goal could be embellished some, but that is at the core, since these are the core lasting qualities of God's goodness in the world. So, previously I likened the walls of a structure to the method of how we do things. The support beams and the weight-bearing studs are the essential elements. We don't necessarily need all the walls in place for the structure to stand, but we can do anything without the essential elements. These elements must only be gleaned from our goal, not just from personal tastes, what we enjoy better, or what makes a better show. These factors might influence the method, but they should never influence the essential elements, and if they do, then we have a problem.

Therefore, we have to answer the question: what are the essential elements?

Well in order for anyone to do anything, they have to at some point learn to do it. Thus I will start with an element every church seems to cherish: Teaching. This element might better be called "Learning," since that is what is really at stake, but it could also be called "Discipleship." After all, the real question isn't whether or not there is teaching going on, but whether or not people are learning anything. So, I think we can agree that Learning is essential. Without Learning, we tend to stay much the same people we used to be, and that is counterproductive to living in love and faith and hope.

The problem with Learning is that the church has morphed the essential into the classic "Sunday morning Sermon." It is important that we don't confuse the essentials with the methods. There are many different ways of learning and many different kinds of things to learn, some action-oriented, others thought and feeling-oriented. A "sermon," or in other words, a "lecture," is only one way of teaching someone. But in fact it is not really the best way of teaching anyone, it is simply the easiest for the teacher. Very little interaction and accountability, very little personal investment is involved on the part of the audience to a sermon. In this case, much of the church has invested loads of energy into what I would call a "sacred cow." They've turned the sermon, the lecture, into the primary activity of the church, into one of the most revered elements of the "sunday morning show." If you don't think people regard this as sacred, try suggesting that we do without a sermon on a sunday morning. If it is a special event, that might be fine, but too many people consider it one of the most important parts of church. They've confused it with the crucial support beam of learning, they've misplaced the load-bearing studs of discipleship, and set up what might really be a rather inconvenient and ineffective wall inside their structure.

In many ways actual learning, actual discipleship and changing of a life, becomes secondary to the method. For many people, I think this is just a lack of insight: it's just a default position. Sermons on Sunday morning are what we know. To many of us, that's simply what church is. When they talk about doing things differently, they think of changing the Sermon somehow, to make it more interesting, more exciting, to get people to like it more, and yes, many people want to get the sermon back to actually making disciples. But not very many people will think of it as expendable, just like many homeowners often don't think of any of their walls as expendable. If you don't have strong remodeling experience, you might want something different, but not even realize that big changes are possible. You might be very unsatisfied and even conclude that the only solution is to sell your house and trade it for another.

Many people don't realize that most methods have been handed down to us by human beings. The essentials are God's area: discipleship, connection, unity, growth, service, humility, joy. We can't confuse the methods that have been handed down to us with the essential elements of the Kingdom of God. We need a firm foundation, and some steady pillars, and many people don't recognize the difference between these and the methods and systems in place throughout the church.


jeannine said...

thought provoking. :)

CassieU said...

I love that you are sharing your thoughts. It's great to see your passions on paper.