This probably makes me a bad Christian, but I don’t believe in sermons. I’ve been hearing them all my life. I’ve heard good ones, bad ones, long ones, and . . . less long ones. But I’m just not convinced they really have any place as a mainstay of the Sunday worship service.
Teaching is important. It is, it really is. But in its present form, I don’t see how it qualifies as worship. I know, I know, it looks nice. Spend 40 minutes or so talking about God, that’s worshipful, right? Well . . . let’s look at what I classify as the three kinds of sermons.
The Topical Sermon
This is the one where the preacher has a message he wants to tell about X subject, and then searches through the Bible for verses that support his ideas on said topic. The pastor will tell you this is worship because he’s exhorting his congregation to live worshipful lives. But topical preaching isn’t worship. Not really. It’s the pastor saying, “God is so great. His Word supports all my theories.” Kinda seems to elevate the pastor over God. The whole “I’ve got something to say, and I’m gonna use God to help me say it” thing is not my idea of worship.
Personal Showcase Sermon
This is the one a lot of televangelist types like to use, but even the most small-time preacher can fall into the trap. In the personal showcase sermon, a preacher basically talks about himself–his life, his funny anecdotes, his kids, his tales of faith and valor and all things holy. Sometimes he’ll even reference his spectacular sins, the ones he committed before he was converted in a shaft of sparkling gold light. He’ll usually mention God in there, too, but in the casual “God and I are buddies, and we hope you can learn from us and one day join us here on the Mount of Transfiguration . . . but I’m not holding my breath” kind of way. Uh . . . not worship.
Bible scholars like this one a lot, but I’m not a fan, even though the idea sounds nice. The biblical text is rich with meaning, so the expository preacher will spend upwards of an hour unpacking all the deep layers of context and meaning and applications found in just a few verses. It’s meant to be a testament to their heartfelt love for the Word of God and the infinite truth found therein. That’s worship, right? That’s helpful teaching, right? Ahem . . . no and no. With few exceptions, pastors that preach from a passage of Scripture tend to lose the forest for the trees. The typical expositional sermon starts with the pastor reading the passage in its entirety. Usually takes about a minute. They then spend the next 45 minutes trying to redefine everyone’s understanding of what was just read. I’m sorry, but if I spend a grand total of 90 seconds reading a Bible verse out loud and 45 minutes expositing my observations, interpretations, and applications of what I believe the text means, doesn’t it seem like just a bit too much of the focus is placed on my words? The underlying message is, “God, I love your Word. And I’m sure that if you had the time, you would have explained yourself a little more clearly. But don’t worry. I’ll take it from here.”
In my falsely humble opinion, the sermon is the undoing of the modern Christian mind. Rather than encouraging people to read and study the Bible under the influence of the Holy Spirit, pastors are unwittingly training their listeners to stop thinking for themselves. Regardless of the method, I think most sermons wind up being the reproduction of a preacher’s personal Bible study. The study was helpful for the pastor, but it can be harmful for the person who now thinks “There’s no need to study the passage because it’s just been done for me!” On top of that, the big-picture messages of the Bible get lost in the details. The simple truths get lost in complex extractions. The calls to humility get lost in our pride. The prophecies become obscured by small-minded agendas.
So what do I recommend pastors do? Cut your sermon time in half. Double the time you spend reading the Word of God aloud, free of commentary. Give your congregation a little credit. Trust the Holy Spirit.
. . . he said, longwindedly.