I’m continuing my weekly series (is there some irony there?) about sermons. Let me say from the start that this particular critique isn’t necessarily a direct fault of the sermon. If anything, it actually says more about the theology we are subconsciously teaching…
As a child I fought going to church hard. I’d play asleep in my bed when it’d be impossible in light of my mother’s shaking. I’d complain about the uncomfortable clothes they put on me. On a few occasions I tried to convince them that I was going to do church from home by doing a personal Bible study. I’d also try to drag my parents into a bigger debate as to why we go at all.
The answer I received to the whiny question of “why do we have to go to church?” was always “God has done so much for you it’s the least you can do to go to church for an hour.” It’s almost the same reason why we go to funerals – to pay our respect, as if we owe them. And so we went to church – to pay our respect to God. So we could say we did, and so we could say we’re done.
The sermon fulfills some imaginary obligation in many minds that they’ve done their service to God for the week, that they’re off the hook. I think attending a service, more specifically hearing a sermon, does something to us psychologically. It fulfills a commitment we’ve created, and in this way I think hearing a sermon (largely a passive act) can take away from Christians acting upon their faith.
As I’ve said this is less a problem with sermons and more a troubling symptom within the church. Imagine Christians gathering and not relying on a sermon (and therefore a crutch excusing them from acting out their faith) and instead focused more on fellowship, discipleship and servanthood. I see the potential for tremendous growth that sermons have a limited ability to provide.
The larger critique here is that the modern idea of a church services encourage passive participation. The most participating we do is singing and laughing at the pastor’s cute pop culture reference. Undeniably it is possible to involve the greater church congregation in the service, however it takes much effort to do so, and is nearly impossible in churches of any substantial size. Instead the service and the sermon are designed by a few (the church leadership team) intended for the masses. And so therefore we consume, and then we go home.
What would we do to fulfill that imaginary obligation to God if we didn’t sit through a sermon each week? How do we make church a more active experience (as opposed to being a passive one)? Is it ironic to do a weekly series on why sermons are bad?