Simple Church

The Last Holdout

In my observation, one of the last "holdouts" that God is dealing with as He changes the shape and forms of today's Church is the sermon. It's the "Alamo." It's "Custer's last Stand," or even worse, the "Ark of Sacredness." When it comes to the things we are willing to adjust, alter, or change, the sacred sermon, the holy homily, is the last to go. Given the reality that the average pastor is  judged, praised, crucified, or deified for his weekend oratory, it is no wonder that he spends most of his waking hours (and sometimes not-so-waking hours) preparing, polishing, and practicing this Protestant performance ethic.

Unfortunately, it is also the thing that can represent so much of a
pastor’s personal identity, the part he plays in the whole scheme of
the church. Today’s sermon stands as the centerpiece of the average
evangelical gathering. And he is called "pastor" in today’s
ecclesiastical system, based upon the perception of his peers, his
colleagues, and even his constituents because of his ability or lack
thereof to "preach" or "teach" or "sermonize." Thus, the common
interpretation of that famous list of gifts in Ephesians 4 of apostles,
prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers, could just as well read,
"apostles, prophets, evangelists, and sermonizers." Yet the word
"sermon" does not even appear in Scripture.

We can give up the worship leading to others (if they can sing). We can
give up the prayers, the prophecies, and even the "sacred"
announcements. Maybe even the "all-sacred" offering can be led or
officiated by someone else. Maybe, just maybe (depending on your
liturgical bent), even the administering of communion or the Lord’s
Supper can be given to another (as long as he is a qualified elder and
the husband of "one" wife.) But no one, under any circumstances, simply
no way (unless we are on vacation when the proverbial itinerant guest
speaker comes in, or some missionary on furlough) is someone going top
take our sermon away. Well, yes…maybe the Holy Spirit, but that is
only a time or two a year…but absolutely no one else.

Of course, there is a place, and a strong biblical place, for
proclamation and teaching, a deliberate call for the equipping of the
saints, and for living in truth. It’s how we do it that has become all
too traditionalized and ritualized. What’s behind the fact that pastors
are the only ones who can consistently preach or teach? And not just
the content of the sermon, but the mode, the way, the means through
which the message is given, need to be thought through. If we know that
our target audience has changed and evolved, and demand more, there
must be a shift. In addition, there really is no biblical support for
the "talking head" model of a "one man teaches all."

For God’s sake, and the people’s sake, let’s reevaluate our delivery
systems to give this truth that we carry and cherish, a better and a
richer chance of finding root. Today’s listener, in the classic lecture
hall of biblical learning (regardless of how gifted the speaker is)
needs help. If not, then listening is simply all that might be
accomplished. And that will be left with something to be desired.

(Taken from Permission Granted by  G. Cooke and G. Goodell 2006)

2 replies on “The Last Holdout”

Jeff this is my first time here and I like it. Your articles that have been sent to me via e-mail have been very inspirational so I apreciate them all being laid out here.
As far as preaching goes, I am a preacher- and by all accounts a pretty good one. But I have discovered some things by doing house church. One is that a lecturn really does not do any more than hold my Bible. It is expendable. I was at a Korean “house church” recently and they had a lecturn. I thought it was quite humorous for us all to be sitting in a circle on the floor and the speaker to be standing up like that. In my own experience the proclaiming of the Word of God is of paramount importance in any church and the home church included. But I agree with you that we have made the sermon the main thing in mainline churches and by emphasising the form instead of the substance many have lost what God was trying to give us.
I have found that sitting on the floor in our house church and opening the Word in a semi-discussion format preserves what is best about what God is trying to do in me and through me. There is such a thing as what the old preachers used to call unction that was really divine. Times where the Holy Spirit was really teaching and everyone and myself included just listened to what was coming out of my mouth and was inspired, and moved, and encouraged. These times do not have to be rare. But more importantly they can not be manufactured by announcing in the bulliten that the Pastor will now shout at you for 30 minutes.
Well, I could go on and on as your post really has got me to thinking. I guess I will add one more thing for those who insist on the sermon. An old pastor I knew said that you should never have a short sermon. He said, “Sermonettes make for Christianettes.” My response was if we don’t have ‘Christianettes now what DO you call them?’ Clearly the sermon as the only discipleship method that the vast majority of Christians get is a failure. We need to recover the proclamation of the Word in a participatory context that everyone can learn and grow from.

This is also my first visit to your site and I’m pleased to find some fellow travellers here. Having moved our church out of the Sunday event to house church nearly two years back I remember going through the preaching transition myself (I’ve detailed the agony on my blog under ‘Dead Man Walking”). As a prison chaplain I do get to preach occasionally and I must say I love preaching and there is definately a place for it. However I’m convinced that there is more fruit in the interactive style that we now use and the HS is as powerfully present. And the crucifixion of my flesh has not done me any harm either.
Phil Walters – Queensland Australia

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