Reimagining the Worship Gathering: The Sermon (Part One)

My wife is an educator so we’ve often discussed how obscene it can be that the Sunday sermon is aimed at one particular learning style (auditory/audial) and largely neglects the rest. And it takes up the majority of our Sunday service times. That’s why I wanted to stand up and cheer when I came across the post “Flipping the 40-Minute Sermon” by Karen E. Yates. I want to share what I felt like was the heart of her post in hopes that you will read the rest:

“Although the message from the pulpit can seem like the “main act,” going to church is about relating to one another in Christian community. Spread so thin from our jobs, college schedules, parenting responsibilities, meetings, volunteer opportunities, community activism, social media, and extracurricular activities galore, we in the Western church hardly have time for each other. Many Christians are lonely; many people are lonely. We come to church eager for friendship, to connect with God and with one another, because he made us for relationship.

Yet, the format of most Sunday church services rarely affords more interaction outside a handshake or “nice to meet you.” We sit shoulder to shoulder for 20 minutes of music, 5 minutes of announcements, 40 minutes of lecture, and 10 minutes of music to close. The greatest opportunity for community happens in the courtyard after service or on the slow trot to the car. Deepening relationships at church usually requires more time (which few of us have)–an additional Bible study, a prayer group, a mid-week community group to get “plugged in.” Meanwhile, the most interactive learning on Sunday morning consists of asking, What did you think of the sermon?”…Would we allow that the church is not the church because of our pastor’s sermons, but because of the interaction of the congregation, the formation of community around the Word of God?…

Incorporating more opportunities to interact with one another during the Sunday service both addresses our need for community and our need to engage more deeply with the pastor’s instruction. How would it be if, instead of a Sunday morning 40-minute lecture, the pastor chopped his teaching into four shortened podcasts or You Tube videos for the congregation to listen to during the week. What if we actually asked questions about the topic or discussed the teaching with others? What if the pastor directed us with prompts, texts to read, and specific questions about what we learned mid-week? What if each “sermon” was collected into a downloadable eBook that we could share with friends, available for reference on our e-readers, and accessible for discussion during the Sunday morning church service?”

In a second post, I want to discuss more in depth one aspect Yates highlights, community participation, and one that she implicitly points towards, how we view the sermon’s purpose.

What do you think about her practical ideas? Do you agree/disagree that the sermon largely neglects most learning styles? 

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7 thoughts on “Reimagining the Worship Gathering: The Sermon (Part One)

  1. Bos…I’ve been thinking about this problem since college (at least)…and honestly I think that one of the greatest challenges to a change in “format” has been the fact that “pastor” is a vocation and not simply a spiritual gifting. How different would things be if a pastor didn’t feel like he was preaching for his salary? Gotta run…I’m off to preach ; ) brent

    • I think you are definitely on to something; from a historical-theological standpoint I’d say that it has to do with the Reformation only claiming that the priesthood of believers was bibical and not enacting it. The Reformed/Lutheran/Anglican churches of that time and many times today still operate with the mentality that the pastor/minister/priest is the dispenser of religious goods and/or the meditator between them and God. To truly believe that all believers are part of the priesthood would revolutionize the way we think about preaching and the pastorate.

  2. Oy… I tried suggesting to folks in SS the other day that teaching, learning, studying scripture, etc., should take on a more communal picture… and BOY, did the fertilizer ever hit the ventilation device. You would have thought that I would have asked them to give up their left arm! “We need a teacher!” “I came to learn!” “We can’t have just anyone giving their opinion!” etc…


    Folks have lost their imagination, really…

    • It is tough to get those who are wed to one particular paradigm of church to shift their thinking to something that is radically different, especially if they are of the generations who were adults well before the advent of the technological era. Len Sweet talks a lot about how computers/social media etc have created a participatory culture, so it is much easier to “sell” a reimagined vision to the younger generations. I had some experience with the same issue you bring up, but I’ll leave that for an offline conversation!

      Do you think these people would be open to one small place in the service for interaction of some type? What do other leaders in your church think about participation?

      • That’s kinda of the SS class I was running? But still, it feels, at times, that they do more sitting and sponging than engaging, ya know?

        It’s rather odd, honestly…Anabaptism, in its roots, encouraged believers to all engage the scriptures and, communally, learn from each other with, potentially, a few teachers to help guide things (of course, when your teachers keep getting killed, that’s a little hard). But in our Anabaptist-rooted denominations (MCUSA, etc), we are back to the magesterial “We only can be taught by professionals”… something just feels… backwards… you know?

    • I came across this quote form the Swiss Brethren this morning and thought of this conversation and what you said below:

      “When some one comes to church and constantly hears only one person speaking, and all the listeners are silent, neither speaking nor prophesying, who can or will regard or confess the same to be a spiritual congregation, or confess according to 1 Cor. 14 that God is dwelling and operating in them through his Holy Spirit with his gifts, impelling them one after the other in the above mentioned order of speaking and prophesying?” (“Some Swiss Brethren” in Anabaptism in Outline)

      I don’t quote this in a judgmental way all, but simply interesting to see how differently the first Anabaptists thought about gatherings then we do today.

      • Not judgmental at all… it is a sign, really, that the traditionally Anabaptist denominations have, essentially, adopted a lot of the same eccleiastical practices as those whom they criticized in the 16th century… good for a time, perhaps… but no longer tenable.

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