Discipleship Doesn’t Happen Through Speeches, Or Why Sermons Are So 1677

As I’ve casually mentioned ’round here, I’m not a big fan of the sermon portion of church services. To be really specific I don’t prefer highly organized and structured church services, but in particular I think the sermon is something the church could afford to minimize if not simply lose.

I’ve never set out to do a formal series here, but I’ll give this a try. So once a week til the dead horse has been thoroughly beaten (I’ll be the judge of that, but let me know if it’s getting old), I’ll post another reason why we should think more critically if the sermon should be apart of “church.”

If you listen to enough sermons on the radio, you begin to wonder if the purpose of the sermon is to warn the believers of all kinds of sins, dangers and heresies. But as I reflect upon what a pastor’s role is, it’s to be discipling believers and orienting them to the way of Jesus.

"If you'll just reference this here pie chart you'll notice disciples spend 40% of their time...."

I think we’ve reduced it to teach them, as if this were a classroom, on how to be a Christian. But to me discipleship is far more personal than that. It’s not meant to be explained in outline format. Discipleship just happens.

I think the church could benefit from relying less on speeches and more on people showing one another how to love and forgive. It’s not very well suited to a powerpoint presentation nor is it to be demonstrated like the proper use of a high-powered blender – it’s something you simply see in how a person goes about their day.

What do you think of the sermon’s role in the church? Do you agree that the sermon limits how discipleship is shown?Β 

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25 Responses to Discipleship Doesn’t Happen Through Speeches, Or Why Sermons Are So 1677

  1. Since I am “the one who delivers the sermon on Sunday” i.e. the pastor, I feel it is important. But i also know that discipleship cannot be taught in 30 minutes or whatever time frame is used. Discipleship is better caught than taught. True, I use the sermon time to teach. But I also realize that teaching takes place all the time. I don’t think you can throw the baby out with the bathwater. But I do look forward to reading the rest of this series, unless you feel the horse is dead and buried. πŸ™‚

  2. JamesBrett says:

    i’m not a big fan of sermons, charlie. and so i’m really interested in this little series of yours. i’ll stay tuned. i’ve currently not got a lot of time — packing to come back to the states for the first time after 2 1/2 years away — so i can’t say all i want. but i’ll briefly offer that (possibly) my main reason for being anti-sermons is not actually about the sermon so much as about the one guy preaching it every week.

    if we’re all gifted in different areas — and all for building up of the body of Christ — it seems odd that we depend on this one guy to do over half (as far as time goes, maybe more if we measure other ways) of the building up of the church. surely every group of disciples has at least a handful of guys gifted with the ability to teach (/pastor) from the pulpit? are we refusing others the opportunity to use their Spirit-given gifts?

    and not only do we depend a great deal on this one guy to edify and build us up to maturity, but we often do it (because we’re limited on time, which could be another issue) to the neglect of any of the rest of us doing anything at all to build the body. if we want to help one another mature, we’re left with the five minutes before and after “services.”

    • David says:

      Amen. 1 Cor chapters 12, 13 and 14 layout what a service should be like. Acts 2 is pretty good vignette of what the sermon is was designed for.

    • thanks for not listing reason that’ll be found in future posts πŸ™‚ Definitely a solid couple of points. It is a bit odd that all of the work is put on one man (almost always a man) and done so impersonally. It’s even more interesting that we say those select few who can teach have gone through seminary (and possibly don’t even have that gift – they just “earned” it in school!) So we hire 20somethings to teach just because a piece of paper says so.

  3. The primary disconnect for most people I’ve ever been exposed to is the presumption that the “sermon” is given by someone who is “called” to “preach the Gospel”. Therefore, removing the sermon – or minimizing it – is blatant heresy because we are commanded to preach the Gospel.

    Pastors and “preachers” (remember, this is regarded as a calling from which God never repents) are special people in the church culture I’m familiar with. So special that people will follow them from church to church because they feel they are a true man of God and that is more important than being involved in a particular church. The “church” is just the place where the people who like a certain preacher gather to hear him preach. If they stop liking him, they find another preacher that they like and start attending “his” church. This is standard procedure here in Western North Carolina. “I like to hear him preach” is virtually the highest compliment a Christian can pay to a man who has “confessed his call to preach”. “Preaching” is a holy word, and only those especially chosen by God can do it. Around here, the word is never applied to any other thing. It may be the most respected word of all. I’ve never heard ANYBODY say “Preacherdamnit!” but they do that to God’s name regularly. If the “preacher” comes to your house, you hide your liquor, Playboy, and turn off MTV, because he’s a holy man and you don’t want to offend him. Never mind that God, who is the one that really matters, knows that you stole $10,000 and sixty marijuana plants from your best friend, who regularly sleeps with your wife… Just make sure you don’t offend the preacher, because if the preacher likes you, all is well.

    In other words, preachers are basically accorded as Old Testament prophets – especially called and anointed and not to be challenged. “Do what the preacher says and you’ll be fine!”

    So, yeah, when you boil it down to THAT, it’s pretty important to let the preacher preach, and never complain about how long he may take at it.

    I don’t say any of this sarcastically. Critically, yes. I do respect the call of God on a man to be an evangelist, a teacher, a pastor, an elder, etc. I’m personally confused about the “call to preach”. I see it as something that years of tradition has made up. I think we’re all called to preach the Gospel on whatever platform that God gives us. I do not believe that “preaching the Gospel” is a Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night specialty. Nothing wrong with doing it at those times, but much of church as I have seen it is focused on that defintion.

    My dad attended a “Gospel Fellowship” church for several years that does not have “a pastor”. There are elders, and they alternate / rotate the teaching, along with special speakers. To be honest, I thought it quite weird when he was there (my much more fundamentalist days…) but I have become more and more convinced that it’s a good model.

    But that still doesn’t eliminate the sermon πŸ™‚

    • you’re killing it lately man! I would easily question that call to preach – especially when you say it that we are all called to preach, but using a particular platform or channel or medium. That doesn’t mean obviously we are all called to give sermons. I think that the call to preach for many people means a call to rant – a call to publicly judge, a call to dissect and make declaration and set people straight.

      I’ve seen people follow the preacher around too, so fascinating that the preacher supersedes the community and fellowship of the church. I really like the Gospel Fellowship “model” you mentioned – seems to make a lot more sense to me and is also is quite frankly more sustainable for the preacher.

  4. David says:

    Interesting take – so I guess we need to decide what a sermon is, and why the suck for the most part. Without writing a blog, there is a huge difference between preaching the Gospel, teaching, training, equipping, preaching and discipleship. The “sermon” was originally meant to be the preaching of the Gospel – basically all of it: Repentance, salvation, justification, baptism in the Hoy Spirit, water baptism, Christian fellowship, prayer, continued learning (teaching), and communion. (Acts 2:1-42) That is the Gospel.

    There are venues for teaching (which is to put on the mind of Christ), training, equipping (in ministry and spiritual gifts) and preaching (which is to the heart). But those are not discipleship!

    Discipleship is in a really sad state in most churches. Some think is it mentoring (cloning), others think it is cramming Christian principals down the throats of the sheep but it is not really that either. It is a committed form of loving that MODELS hearing and obeying God. Jesus taught the disciples yes, but he also trained them to do the stuff! He was on the hillside with 5000 men and their families where he thanked God for a few fish and some bread. Then he handed it to the disciples who distributed the food! He rebuked them when they got all cultural on him (woman at the well) and he sent them out to heal the sick and cast out demons. That is discipleship. You can’t get that in a sermon.

    • such a huge point at the end that I don’t even have planned for my series – that there is plenty of truth that simply doesn’t fit in a sermon. It’s a thing to be experienced, and not described. We can try to describe, but we gotta know it’s tough to quantify. I’ve secretly wanted to always write a Christian book, and I knew I’d have to have one of the last chapters simply say hey words are limited I can’t induce or make you experience this thing. You gotta leave this book for that.”

      Love your wisdom and perspective David. It’s rarely where my mind is, and I need that redirection.

  5. Chris says:

    Hey Charlie,

    Imagine asking this same question exactly as you’ve phrased it to Jesus right after his sermon on the mount. “You know Jesus, I think you’ve got it wrong here. How ’bout canning the chatter and just get out there and press the flesh more. And please don’t ever say anything about things like God’s righteousness, anger, judgment, wrath or those other nasty bits. That will make us very unpopular. Just tell everybody about peace, love, and happiness. That’s the way to discipleship.”

    Does it start to become just a little obvious that perhaps there may be a category error here? The sermon, it seems to me is not about discipleship, but rather it is (or should be) about teaching. Perhaps, as Bernard and others have pointed out the sermon has become something it wasn’t intended to be. It seems as though in some streams of Christianity the sermon has become either a rah-rah pep talk to rally the troops, or a form of entertainment to keep people engaged and in their seats (or pews). But at it’s best (as with Jesus) I think the sermon is meant to impart old truths combined with new insights as to who God is, what He expects of us, how we relate to Him, and how we relate to each other.
    I’ll grant that I’d much rather hear that from a good, dynamic speaker than a boring, stuttering, bumbling one (which could be a mistake on my part), but the sermon (as Jesus clearly demonstrates) is a very important facet, or means to becoming familiar with God’s word and growing as a follower of Christ.

    • certainly I’m not advocating no more sermons ever – that’d be silly. Wouldn’t take too long to poke the hole in that logic – as you did by simply mentioning the sermon on the mount. However I’d argue (or rather, I am arguing) that Jesus seemed to prefer being with his disciples over addressing the masses/preaching those sermons. I think it’s because he was actually able to teach them that way – in fact when Jesus spoke in public they often came away confused! The sermon can undeniably be a way of imparting deep truth – I simply think we’ve become overly reliant on it at the expense of Christians simply being with one another in fellowship.

  6. Rick says:

    I think we need to turn how we do church completely inside out. At 44, I’m finally realizing that the church system I’ve grown up with hardly resembles what is laid out for us in the Bible. We do church this way because of tradition and social expectations. I wonder what would happen if we completely lost the big buildings, the worship bands, the sermons…the whole shebang…and just started over. I wonder.

    • I think if we lost those things we’d be…lost. We’d feel like we’re not “doing” church. I think many disgruntled people start churches trying to be revolutionary but end up getting stuck in the church routine – they end up doing worship and a sermon like everyone else. It’s hipper for a while, but after 3 years that’s dead. That said I’m still a big supporter of small communities, and not just Wednesday Bible study at someone’s house but just a group of people who know each other and church each other – as in disciple one another and support one another. To me that’s more powerful than a semi-professional worship band and challenging sermon.

      • Rick says:

        They end up doing worship and a sermon like everyone else because they fall back into what they know best. We do that when we’re growing and things get a little uncomfortable. That’s just human behavior.

        I guess what has been bugging me about traditional churches the last few years is that, for so many of them, the very people we need to reach don’t feel like they have a place there. I’m really not a theologian of any kind, but it seems that if we’re called to bring as many people to Christ as possible, we need to get out from behind those big walls.

      • I agree we do that structure of worship and sermon because it’s easy. It’s our routine. And it likely become a routine because it was helpful. But I think we’ve become WAY stuck in it – so much so that we can’t see beyond it.

        I agree the very people we want to reach are turned off by the traditional structure. The worship songs probably seem weird (as does the entire concept of worshipping something – it likely seems very primitive), and the sermon rarely applies to them outside of seeker-friendly churches. I can see how it’d be nice to hide in the service the first few times – but less structure would provide what they really need – someone to talk to.

  7. Su says:

    I’m not much of a sermon gal (although when I said so on my blog, I got some serious flack over on Facebook. It was pretty entertaining), for a couple of reasons. 1. I own a Bible and can read it. I feel like the minister is wasting my time if he’s just giving the highlights of a section. And if there are people who are neglecting personal Bible study because they’ll hear it on Sunday, then I think the minister/leadership of the congregation are doing the congregants a great disservice by not insisting that they learn to feed themselves. Obviously, for non-literate populations or congregations with a lot of new Christians, it’s a different story– but in that case, there are other needs to be addressed, and new Christians learning to study the Bible themselves will be one of those needs. 2. I feel sympathy for the minister who is expected to accomplish miracles of oratory week after week. And not to keep harping on #1, but the minister is still growing and learning as well (or should be!) and it’s to be expected that he will get things wrong from time to time. And when he does, woe betide him in far too many places. It’s way too much of an expectation to put on a pair of human shoulders.

    • so much truth Su. That’s odd you got so much flack for it – I didn’t think many people actually enjoy sermons. I don’t like lectures unless they’re fabulously engaging, and most college professors are better than pastors – who have a pretty clear agenda of getting people to do more of something. Your right too that many use the sermon as a substitute – and I’ve already started my next post in this series that addresses that one (stop working ahead!!! :p)

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  10. cherie says:

    My husband and I have been discussing this very topic a lot lately. I find that Christians really do the pastor a disservice by expecting him/her to bear the burden of putting on a “performance” every Sunday. However, I suspect some pastors enjoy the power they hold over the congregation. Sermons are a lot like lectures in school, however, in school students have time to ask questions and discuss the topic among themselves, not usually the case in church. I personally like the Quaker model, where there is universal priesthood and there is no sermon in unprogrammed meetings. Instead, everyone has an opportunity to speak.

    • It is definitely an unfair expectation, and unfortunately many pastors try to live up to anyway – which only further perpetuates the picture-perfect pastor who is the American Dream embodied. I agree they also like the power, which to me is ironic considering how Jesus responded to power (shying away from it, rather than embracing it). Great point about the schools – you could argue you can ask the pastor after the service but if you attend a church over 150 people it’s not likely you’ll get a solid answer, and even then its just between you and the pastor – the rest of the congregation misses out.

  11. theoldadam says:

    Since faith comes by hearing, I think the sermon is a key point in the worship.

    As long as it is a sermon where the Word is done to the people and not a talk about the Word, or the gospel.

    I need to be kept in faith, and the sermon is one of the ways God does this.

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  14. Brett Tipton says:

    I’ve been teaching college over a decade and have come to some conclusions about teaching. First, we could loosely boil down teaching to three main methods: 1) monologue, where the teacher talks to the students. 2) Dialogue where teacher and students discuss things. 3) Hands-on, where the student learns through doing usually under the guidance of the teacher. The first teaching methods is by far (and I mean by a huge margin) the weakest approach, yet that is what a sermon usually entails. It’s pretty clear the Great Commission commands us to teach. So, why are we using the weakest method available? It makes little sense.

    Jesus would be considered the model teacher. Most of his “sermons” were actually lessons that he gave while in dialogue with other people. He also sent out his disciples to learn hands-on. So, the Biblical model of teaching (you could use the word preach, proclaim or whatever) is heavily oriented towards dialogue and hands-on.

    Monologue approaches also tend to disconnect certain people–those who are people of action or those with active minds. So, congregations tend to attract passive people. Nothing necessary wrong with the people in church, but we need some sons of thunder (name given to James and John) to lead and get things done. Jesus choose men of action, not men who would just sit and passively listen. His disciples would cause a huge ruckus in a modern congregation.

    The most important component I’ve found to teaching and learning is the internal motivation of the learner. However, when I consider the body of Christ the learning method most evident are monologue approaches. Why? The best answer is that these styles were originally borrowed from the Catholic mass, but today live on strongly in our education system. And, our education system is the model upon which Bible colleges and seminaries are built upon. What I’ve found about our education system is it’s really designed for poor students and poor teachers. It’s based on externally motivating people through a system of rewards and punishments (grades, policies and procedures). It is the academic version of legalism.

    True teaching is being squashed for standardized, homogenized approaches. The system is built on the assumption that learning is input-oriented (a sit and listen approach) as opposed to output-oriented (go and do approach). We need to switch to an output-orientation, which assumes people are internally motivated. And, that involves moving away from monologue approaches towards dialogue and hands-on approaches. We need to see that changes comes from the inside-out as opposed to us pouring it into some passive vessels. We are meant to work out our faith in fear and trembling (book of James) as opposed to being passive, sit-in-the-pews students who receive good marks from the teacher.

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