I’ve been wondering for a few months now why the modern Western church feels compelled to have a message every Sunday. In many churches, this is seen as the main event, the main reason we meet. We look for a church based on the quality of the preacher.
But is this biblical? Of course, the New Testament nowhere lays out guidelines for what you do at church services. I’d love to study the history a bit more, because my hunch is that modern church services take their cues mostly from "revival" meetings (the kind Billy Sunday and others used to do: music to attract a crowd, then the dynamic evangelist would bring them to Jesus).
One of the strongest areas of fivefold gifting for me is in the area of teaching, so I understand the importance of teaching, knowledge, understanding the gospel, etc. But I am unsure if a church service is the best place for it to happen.
If we were to throw our coat to the other side of the creek, perhaps our services would be filled with reports from the field, so to speak. Everyone understands and practices their mission in the marketplace, their spheres of direct influence. We gather together (Sunday morning is a fine time, so are other times) to share stories, encourage one another, share struggles, pray for one another, worship together, remind each other what we’re doing together: partnering with God in his eternal kingdom task of bringing heaven to earth…
It will take very strong leadership to bring something like that about, because even if the leadership decides this would be best, they’re still battling against pre-conceived notions of what a church service is. If there’s no sermon, most people will probably feel like they didn’t get their "money’s worth." It will take strong, patient leaders to help people change their tastes, because quite frankly, to move in this direction puts a whole lot more of the impetus on the average church-goer. It won’t be so easy to sit back and spectate. Participation will require work, and some people are probably going to say "no thanks" and go to the other church down the street that is more entertaining, where the sermons are better, the children’s program is better, the music is more contemporary, etc.
Where does that leave preaching? I’m not sure, really. Maybe we’d discover its place if we tried removing it from the center of our meetings.
My Dad forwarded me your blog, you may know him, Dennis Howe. I come out of a liturgical church setting and believe that there is a place for preaching within the liturgy. But in our context the liturgy is the focus. In our theology it is believed that the liturgy is the work of the people “for the life of the world”. Without going into too much detail the liturgy is a procession to the Eucharist (communion) in which “the world” is lifted up in Eucharist in the Eucharist. This phrasing may seem a bit confusing but the definition of Eucharist is thanksgiving. In the liturgy through our prayers we gather up the world, praying general prayers that cover all aspects of our lives and individual prayers that the faithful put forth to be included. The historical and theological belief is that in the Eucharist we are in the heavenlies, in the presence of God, lifting up all things to God in prayer and thanksgiving. In our practice the church calendar is divided up into seasons and the scripture readings are rotated so that by the end of certain cycles the entire bible has been read. We have old testament, new testament & the Gospel reading. The sermon is based on the Gospel reading each Sunday. This gives us the opportunity to not only meditate on the gospels but to talk about how the teaching of Christ play out in our individual lives and in the world that we live in. Just some thoughts on the things that you are contemplating, my Dad will tell you that I always have to put in my two cents.
Benjamin Sternke says
Thanks for the very helpful comments, Christina! I’m not sure how much other stuff you’ve read on my blog, but I have a whole series of posts on liturgical worship, and am currently in the process of starting a liturgical service for our church.
Your comments about how the liturgy is the work of the people for the life of the world were very helpful. One of the reasons I’m attracted to liturgical services is that they aren’t focused on the “consumer” needs of the congregants, but in fact have a missional focus built right into them, which is something I think I will post on soon. Thanks again.