I have been reading through The Shaping of Things to Come, and they say a few words about the institution of the sermon, and how it hardly fits our cultural context anymore (quick: what was last week’s sermon on? See?). They write:
We’re not signaling the end of the spoken word to communicate, but preachers will need to have a long hard look at how they speak if they expect to be heard. Except for the preaching of outstanding communicators (and they have to be very good)), sermons have little or no impact. And let’s not forget that preaching as we know it is only a tool and somewhat overused one at that, one that comes more from Christendom’s love of the philosophical art of rhetoric than it does from the Bible. Furthermore, it addicts the congregation to the communicator… We shape our tools and then they shape us. We invented the sermon (actually we borrowed the technique from Greek and Roman philosophers), and then it reinvented us. We have become totally reliant on it! If you are a minister in the evangelical heart of the U.S., see what happens if you decide not to preach in church next Sunday.
I can attest to the difficulty of breaking away from preaching as a 30-minute-monologue (if I can keep it to 30 minutes). It’s easy to default back to it, because it’s what we know. It’s a lot more difficult to dream up new ways to communicate the message to a over-stimulated, listless culture.
Over the past several years we have had numerous services where we decided, in the middle of the worship service, to forgo the sermon and do some other things instead (continue worshiping, take communion, start ministry, prophetic activations, etc). And the cultural resistance was definitely a factor afterward. Some people absolutely loved it. Others could give it or take it. Then there were others who felt "ripped off." They didn’t get their money’s worth, so to speak. They came to "hear God’s Word expounded" and didn’t get it.
I suppose it’s another one of those tension points of taking an established church in an new direction, of questioning some of the most hallowed bastions of Christendom. By and large, we have tended to default back to the 30-minute sermon, but I suppose in some ways it’s because we really don’t know what to do next.
Which is okay, I think. We’re established, but we’re emerging. These are things we thought we knew by heart, but they’re suddenly foreign. We’re changing, but we don’t know what into. Something is being birthed, and until it’s born, we tend to just do what we know to do. Put the worship set together, prepare the sermon. But we keep dreaming and experimenting, failing and succeeding (we think), and in the back of our minds there is an idea forming. And ideas are powerful things, you know. Ideas can ruin a continent. Ideas can destroy a generation. Ideas can change the world.