Why do we sit and listen to people preaching? I listened to hour-long lectures at university and elsewhere, doodling and making copious notes (which I still have somewhere), but as a teacher I find students can’t listen for much longer than a few minutes…okay then that’s just me. And as a Christian, I must have listened to getting on for a thousand sermons now – bearing in mind that in the early years in my church we didn’t actually ‘have’ sermons, but something called Body Ministry every Sunday. Perhaps this emerged originally from Ray Stedman’s teaching and book entitled ‘Body Life’. If you have moved in renewal or house-church circles you might be more used to that phrase than ‘body ministry’ in your church experience.
At the risk of being a little controversial, although it is often the accepted format, I think that too many times the sermon is tired and receives a conventional response. I wonder if God ever gets bored with our preaches? He is endlessly creative, and we should be as well. You may have guessed it, I have just read a stimulating ‘chapter’ on preaching that suggests other possible ways of doing things.
Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not desirable; I am reading many revivalists (especially the older ones) who say that preaching is one of the God-ordained means to proclaim Jesus to the world. But I do like being experimental in my Christianity. That is, why not eliminate one thing from church, and see how much it changes church? Not necessarily forever! Not even for long, perhaps. Matt Redman and Pilavachi famously did this as the story behind the song ‘When the Music Fades’, but with worship.
With this in mind, have a peek at what Jonny Baker has to say on preaching:
Something has got to change. Maybe it’s time to think the unthinkable. For too long we have behaved like the ‘well adjusted’ courtiers in the famous story of the Emperor’s New Clothes saying nothing, propping up the status quo, smiling politely with our vested interests in tact (whether as preachers or as listeners), or simply too embarrassed to say anything. Allow me to be the antisocial brat (as Marshall Mcluhan puts it in his retelling of the story) – the Emperor ‘ain’t got nothin’ on!’
Preaching is invariably dull. It is boring. People are sick of three point sermons beginning with P. People aren’t listening. People don’t want to be preached at. They don’t want to be told what to think. Like so many other areas of church life we’re stuck in a time warp. It isn’t working. Maybe it’s time for a rethink.
He goes on to suggest some great ways of doing things differently, and refers to practical things that his expression of church, Grace, have tried. Including ‘Nuggets’, a pub group ‘Bible study’, and many more:
Mike Riddell suggests that ‘The purpose of the sermon is to unleash the power of scripture in a way that leads to personal and corporate encounter with God.’ (p119 God’s Home Page). I like that. I’d add that it should open up the possibility of transformation which maybe is implicit in his definition. One other goal of preaching/teaching is education – enabling people to learn. There are actually stacks of ways we can do those things that don’t involve preaching.
In particular he calls on using the prophets and apostles as well as the pastoral and teaching gifts to stir up the church, and for us to use our creativity; which we all have. Now to respond to my preach (er, sorry I mean blogpost) why not come down the front and get some prayer? Alternatively, go and read his ‘chapter’ on preaching – and find out why I have used these pictures in my post – or just comment below whether you think we should ditch preaching or not!