Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ego and The Modern Preacher

So, I'm a part of starting a new church. Hope you've picked that up by now. Anyways, the beginning stages of The Mission have afforded me the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of traditions currently employed by most churches. This is fun because you don't get to tackle "sacred cows" as easily in older, more established churches. One of these issues is service schedule. When did we come up with the (music - announcements - sermon - music) service schedule that is almost universal in Western Evangelical churches? Are we that uncreative that we can't figure out how to "do" church services differently? We might have to deal with this one at a later date.

But, my beef today has to do with the sermon. There's no denying that the pulpit has become the most important piece of furniture in the church. Well, I've got a problem with that. It is my belief that the use of "the sermon" is dying. The model of a person standing and delivering a one-sided monologue of information that lasts well into early Monday morning is, and has been, well on its way to grave. There are only a couple of things keeping the plug from being pulled on this tired act: tradition and egos. Preachers in today's American evangelical churches are often, not always, control freaks. Leaders are often control freaks. Since leadership, in the corporate form, has become the hallmark characteristic for today's preachers, I surmise that egos and the desire to control are what's holding us hostage to a model, the teacher/learner model, that has been academically and practically proven as the least effective at getting people to apply what they are learning.

I don't want to be that guy that puts people to sleep. You know, the Apostle Paul actually preached a guy to death one time. Then he raised him back to life. I don't want to be put in that situation. I want to teach and learn with people. I don't want to stand up and talk all the time.

So, I need some interaction and comments from you folks. It's painfully obvious that I can't even write a short blog, much less gain control of my rambling while teaching. Let me asks some questions so you can help me find the answers. After all, it's been proven that when you include your subjects in problem solving they will retain and apply much more than just consuming information. So, this is a win/win for both of us. You get to share you opinions, and I get to try and learn more about being a good pastor.

1. Why do those in ministry balk at the idea that the sermon is not the most effective way to teach?
2. Where did we come up with the "3 Point" sermon anyways?
3. What's the alternative?
4. Is there a New Testament model for sermons?
5. If you can't say it in 20 minutes, can you really get your point across in 45?

Have any more questions? Am I wrong about this whole thing? Talk to me.


  1. If you preached a guy to death and then raised him back, Judi and I would sell our house and move to Dayton.


Counter a question with a question: if sermons are so bad, why did Peter and Paul use them so frequently?

    I will say, though, that the intricacies of a classic 3-point sermon are wasted on me. I've preached a couple of them and hated it (and so did my hearers, I'm sure) and I zone out when I start hearing them from a pastor.

    Major sermons I can think of in the book of Acts are Peter in 2, Stephen in 7, and Paul in 17. Off the top of my head (haven't actually checked this to make sure) it seems them are more narrative than expository, and all of them have a direct call to action at the end.

    Part of the difficulty is that we misuse the words "preach" and "teach." There is no preaching to believers in the NT, only teaching. To "preach" is to proclaim the Gospel to those outside it. So whether you're preaching or teaching depends on what your Sunday gatherings are for.

    If the goal on Sunday is to teach and prepare Christians to live missional lives, then that frees you up from having to be boxed in by a traditional sermon format.

    Just some miscellaneous thoughts in no particular order from somebody who's not a particularly amazing preacher (or perhaps teacher).

  2. How wild. What should I find in my feedreader this morning but Ed Stetzer (the dude who literally wrote the book on missional church) writing about preaching.

    First, read the article. Then, subscribe to his feed!


  3. Micah, Thanks for posting. I agree with the whole preaching/teaching differences. Preaching has become more of an art of communicating with an emphasis on content. While teaching is more result oriented.

    Not ready to buy the comments about the major speeches in the N.T., especially those delivered by Peter, Paul, and Stephen, as being synonymous with modern day "sermons". I agree that they were powerful discourses but none were in a church setting. In fact, we have very little specific information regarding what happened during gatherings. Just basic statements about prayer and teaching of the Word, communion, and some form of worship is about all we can surmise from biblical records. Again, my beef is with "sermons" as we know them today.

    Also, I tend to lean a little more towards Hirsch, Frost, and Cole as missional minds than I do towards Stetzer. I've spent a good chunk of change on Stetzer books and have never found them to be more than a repackaged Southern Baptist model. I will say that he is "cutting edge" for Lifeway and the SBC. Thanks for the comments.

  4. Yeah, sorry if I'm not communicating. I'm not saying that those three orations are the equivalent of the modern 3-point sermon. I'm saying the modern 3-point sermon has no ancient equivalent. That doesn't make it bad... there's no ancient equivalent to a lot of stuff that I'm a fan of (of which I'm a fan?). Although, like I said, I'm not particularly a fan of the 3-point expository sermon.

    We do have written recordings of the teaching that the early church would recieve when they gathered, though: the Epistles. We tend to think of them as written documents, but the reality is that for most of the church, these were ORAL documents. They were read out loud, absorbed out loud, responded to out loud. Nobody in the ancient world could even read without saying the words out loud as they read them.

    As for Stetzer, if you've read his books you're a better man than I. I've started a couple, glazed over, and put them back on the shelf. I like his blog, though. I'm a big fan of all three of the guys you mentioned, at least in theory.

    It's ironic, though... last year I tried to convince some friends in Dayton (Dan and Rachel) that if they were going to try starting a new church, that Cole's approach might be a good one to consider. I'm glad they've fallen in with you... seems like they're in good hands.

  5. 1 Cor 14:26 lays out the model for when Christians gather ~ called "the church" or in the Greek the Ekklesia. The church is not a building, or a set time to meet, or a set program, it is a living organism composed of believers that God in His wisdom has knit together. We do not "go" to church, we are the church.

    The spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Cor 12, Rom 12, Eph 4 and 1 Pet 4 are all to function in the gathering for the building up of the body. If one man/woman stands at the front and does all the speaking, even if they are gifted with a speaking gift, where are the other memebers of the body functioning with their gifts?

    Each one should be allowed to function for the benefit of all. That is a very difficult thing to do in the traditional model of the church handed down through the centuries. In a gathering of 15 - 30 people, those that have speaking gifts can speak, those who have serving gifts can serve and so on. Not that we don't all function in various capacities outside of gifts from time to time, but when we function in our gifts for the building up of the body, Jesus is glorified.

    Much more can be said here, but one warning in gathering in this manner, guard against becomming inward focused. In other words, "us 4 and no more" type of attitude. The purpose of building up the saints is to go out into the world and share the love of Jesus with others in practical and spiritual ways.

    Thanks for sharing Brian.

  6. I have long contended that preaching is for the street and teaching for the church. Preaching is a dynamic deliverence to get the attention and keep it of the unbeliever outside of church. Not the most common or popular these days. But the believer should not need to be entertained but taught and then go out and teach.

  7. Why shouldn't the believer be entertained? MW defines it as "to keep, hold, or maintain in the mind." Surely we'd want to keep, hold, or maintain in the mind when we talk about Jesus?

  8. At the church plant Tim and I are at in Nashville, our pastor talks about the "private ministry of the Word" a lot, and how often, pastors close their Bibles for the week after Sunday's sermons rather than using it on a regular basis to address individual needs in the church. I think it takes a pastor well versed and well studied to be able to do this effectively, but Tim and I have seen the positive results of the "private ministry of the Word" in big ways in our lives and marriage. I think Sunday sermons are good, but not enough.