the weblog of Alan Knox

Sermons sound like a great idea, but what are people getting from them?

Posted by on Feb 22, 2012 in blog links | 52 comments

Sermons sound like a great idea, but what are people getting from them?

When it comes to sermons, people (especially preachers) tend to apply alot of “God-language” to them. But, in reality, all of the language about the centrality of Scripture or the work of the Holy Spirit through both preparation and delivery are not specific to sermons or lectures. The same is true of other types of speaking/teaching.

But, there is one thing that surveys and tests have consistently shown: people learn and understand less from lecture (sermon) than from other forms of teaching.

For example, Scot McKnight at “Jesus Creed” published excerpts from one such report in his post “Professors: What about lectures?” Here is the final paragraph (but make sure you read all of the excerpts):

When Mazur speaks to audiences on pedagogy, he asks his listeners to think about something they are really good at—perhaps some skill they are proud of, especially one that advanced their career. “Now, think of how you became good at it,” he says next. Audience members, supplied with wireless clickers, can choose from several alternatives: trial and error, apprenticeship, lectures, family and friends, practicing. Data from thousands of subjects make “two things stand out,” Mazur says. “The first is that there is a huge spike at practicing—around 60 percent of the people select ‘practicing.’” The other thing is that for many audiences, which often number in the hundreds, “there is absolutely zero percent for lectures. Nobody cites lectures.”

If our goal is to help people follow Jesus as his disciples, that means helping them do the things that Jesus commanded… not just know what he commanded, but do what he commanded. (Matthew 28:19-20)

If this research is true and if people rarely learn to do through lecture, why do we continue to put so much focus on lecture in the church (the sermon)? (By the way, before you answer, “Because Scripture says, ‘Preach the word…’,” make sure to look into what the authors of Scripture meant by the term “preach.”)


52 Comments

  1. 2-22-2012

    Two primary reasons. One, it is simply tradition. “Going to church” means sitting through a sermon and without the sermon there is little reason for many people to show up. Two, it fosters the ability to passively and anonymoulsy be part of a religious occassion without having to be engaged or participate at all. You can claim to have “gone to church” and never have to wonder why you went in the first place because you listened more or less attentively to the sermon.

  2. 2-22-2012

    In my opinion, the impact of a sermon has more to say about the heart of the people rather than the format. God has used many in my life to bring change in me. Of course, what began with me hearing a message had to be continued with the life of being encouraged by other believers, but that does not change the fact that the sermon had much to do with it. One of the key truths in the life of a believer and the church is obedience. But, knowing God’s will is a prerequisite to obeying God’s will. I still think one of the best avenues to come to know God’s will is the sermon. This is why I listen to podcasts on a regular basis. This does not substitute studying God’s word in a small group or by one’s self, but adds to it. In my opinion, the reason there is not much change in people with the sermon has more to say about what they are not doing alone and the rest of the week than it does about the format of listening to a 45 minute sermon. Again, that is just my opinion.

  3. 2-22-2012

    Arthur,

    Interesting thoughts… you may be right. I’m guessing that different people have different reasons for keeping the sermon.

    Ron,

    The things that you mentioned are not specific to lectures/sermons. The same happens with discussion/dialog, plus you have the added benefit of being able to start working through things right then with the help of other brothers and sisters in Christ. There’s no reason to hope for another chance to talk with someone about the topic/passage.

    You might be surprised at the number of people who get nothing out of a lecture (sermon), even people who have been studying on their own and with others during the rest of the week.

    -Alan

  4. 2-22-2012

    Alan, are you suggesting we abandon the sermon?

  5. 2-22-2012

    The model the Master Teacher gave us is, live in close community, and learning by doing life and ministry together.

  6. 2-22-2012

    You said “not just know what he commanded, but do what he commanded.” I would say that this is too kind. Most times when I walk away from a sermon I don’t know what he commanded or how to do it. I know that the preacher is “engaging” and funny and has great stories about his kids. Usually I haven’t learned much else.

  7. 2-22-2012

    Scott,

    I’m suggesting that there are better ways to teach, encourage, disciple, etc. one another other than sermons (lectures). Not only are these methods better practically, but we see them used in Scripture among the church.

    Tony,

    I agree. I’d love to hear more about how you and the believers in your life live in close community and learn by doing life and ministry together.

    Dan,

    Some people do learn information from sermons (lectures). Many people do not learn through lectures. Of course, those who are giving the sermons (lectures) have typically learned to learn from lectures in school.

    -Alan

  8. 2-22-2012

    From most of the ones I hear, they are getting a hefty dose of individualism.

  9. 2-22-2012

    Alan,

    I couldn’t count the number of sermons I’ve heard, as well as preached.

    There has only been the occasional one, including my own (at which I now shudder), to which I would exclaim a loud “Amen”. There have been a few which deserved a prize for content, or for the oratorical and rhetorical skills of the preacher.One such I heard at a conference in New Jersey,USA.It skilfully crushed the congregation with its demands

    Very few lifted up a wonderful Savior,and the results of His finished work, nor glorified Him as the One Head of the Church. Most belabored the sin the congregation bore, and how they needed to work harder at being more holy,and heed the authority and headship of the leaders.

    The Holy Spirit is not dependent on, either traditional church practice, or the informal gatherings of His people, but long experience, and the evidence of the lives of those professing Him as Lord and Savior, indicates to me that the latter is far more amenable to His freedom from the constraints man places on Him.

    I’m reminded of an old saying,”Man proposes, but God disposes!”

  10. 2-22-2012

    Alan,

    As long as you keep comparing sermons to lectures, than yes, I agree with your point. But a sermon is far from a lecture. A sermon is a exulting proclamation of His Word. Just as God spoke creation into existence, so God, still proclaims (heralds) Himself through a sermon. I love D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ definition of preaching. “Preaching is theology coming from a man who is on fire” Now, a lecture is theology explained. Yet, a sermon requires theology coming through a man (i.e. lived out etc) by means of the Holy Spirit. A sermon is alive and active. It’s the Word of God proclaimed, bringing life (Isa. 55:11; Pro. 18:21; Rom. 10:17 for instance)

    Also, a sermon is not designed to disciple. It’s not its purpose. I don’t think it is often to encourage either.

    The worst thing a preacher can do is to bore you with the Bible. I would actually say it’s a sin ;-)

    In Him,
    Marc

  11. 2-22-2012

    Swanny,

    What do you mean by individualism?

    Aussie John,

    I’ve heard a few memorable sermons also, but like you, they are a small fraction of the sermons that I’ve heard.

    Marc,

    Yes, a sermon is a type of lecture. Everything you said about a sermon (i.e., “proclamation of His Word”) can also be said of other methods of teaching. The difference is that people tend to remember and practice more that is presented through other methods.

    The purpose of preaching/proclamation in Scripture is to present the good news of Jesus Christ to unbelievers. I’m talking about the context of believers, not unbelievers.

    -Alan

  12. 2-22-2012

    I believe the reason most congregations continue to sit under the sermon is because of tradition. It is easier to sit under a sermon, than to participate. Just like watching a football game; it’s enjoyable but no risk or demand is made on you.

    It probably started out with good intentions,but now it has become a golden calf to the church. Good intentions are there but pride seems to inject it’s self into the equation. Much of it is about self-preservation.

    If you don’t have a sermon, then you don’t have a preacher, who doesn’t have a job. Then you don’t have “church.” I don’t train my children with sermons. I didn’t train student pilot’s with sermons. It is all about demonstration and participation in people’s lives.

    I don’t mind listening to a “sermon” or “teaching” on the radio while driving, but I have better things to do on Sunday mornings than to listen to someone monologue a three point, hermeneuticaly correct lecture on the bible. The problem with sermon’s is that they are viewed as the end all to end all. You haven’t had church if you haven’t had the sermon.

    Our anthrocentric, sermoncentric church services are a poor excuse for the demonstration of the gathering of the body of Christ.

  13. 2-23-2012

    Alan,

    A sermon is not a lecture.
    The purpose of preaching is not solely for unbelievers (Rom. 1:15, for instance)
    Are you really saying that believers don’t need to hear the gospel?

    Marc

  14. 2-23-2012

    I don’t mind a good sermon, but week after week, year after year, from the same few leaders… huge waste of time and energy… and in the end ultimately destructive as fosters clergy laity divide, keeping the ‘sheep’ in their place.
    Its hard to distinguish between momentary inspiration and emotional response vs something that actually leads to transformation in daily life, at least its hard initially, over time we start to see how endless sermons are having very little effect. Particularly in the modern era where we are saturated with knowledge and a ‘powerful’ or insightful sermon is only one click away.
    Anyways they will remain central as long as people want to remain passive and get their intellectual or emotional fix… plus as long as it pays the rent and keeps the show going. Don’t get me wrong I see value in sermons, just they should be the exception not the norm, well I’d actually lump the whole sunday service under that category generally speaking… mileage may vary.

  15. 2-23-2012

    Jack,

    I can tell you from experience that it is much easier to prepare for, give, and listen to a sermon than it is to struggle together as a church with a passage or topic. And, I can also tell you from experience the difference in the people’s reactions to both…

    Marc,

    A lecture is a presentation by a single person to an audience. A sermon falls within that definition.

    In Romans 1, Paul uses the term “you” in two different ways: 1) specifically for those reading the letter, and 2) all of those living in Rome. You can see him using it in both ways several times in that passage. So, he is not necessarily talking about evangelizing the Roman Christians.

    The gospel is interwoven in everything we talk about and do, whether it is a lecture or a discussion, because it defines who we are. Even when we are having a dialog or discussion, the gospel is part of that conversation. It is not necessary to have one person preach a sermon for it to be gospel centered.

    Eli,

    You said, “Its hard to distinguish between momentary inspiration and emotional response vs something that actually leads to transformation in daily life.” That’s true in many cases. However, if you are truly involved in each other’s lives, then you will notice the transformation. Like you, I’m not opposed to the occasional lecture/sermon.

    -Alan

  16. 2-23-2012

    Alan,

    You just lost yourself a reader/subscriber of your blog.

    Marc

  17. 2-23-2012

    Your post, after being linked to by a friend on Facebook, inspired a whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Mazur’s question is rigged. Having a person name something they are really good at would lead one to answer with an action. You don’t learn actions in a lecture. A lecture would not be the best place to teach someone how to file records in an office, program a computer, or fix a car. But if the question was to name a belief, where you learned it, and how it influences your life, then you would encounter the power of the lecture. And that belief might cause one to file records as quickly as possible because they value honest pay for honest work. Another belief might cause a programmer to try some experimental code because she values creativity. And belief can cause a car mechanic to be excellent in what he does because he values the importance of doing things right. Beliefs operate on a different level than practical applications. If being a follower of Christ was only practical applications, then we should get rid of the sermon. But it’s so much more.

    You can read more at http://regansravings.blogspot.com/2012/02/are-sermons-worthwhile.html

  18. 2-23-2012

    Marc,

    I’m sorry that you feel that way. You’re always welcomed to disagree with me here.

    Regan,

    The “rig” sounds like the same “rig” that Jesus used in the Great Commission: “teaching them to observe all that I commanded.” Yes, we must teach people WHAT Jesus commanded, but that can be done through lecture, dialog, discussion, many different ways in fact, some more effective than others. However, we cannot teach people to observe through a lecture. We often don’t even know what people are having trouble observing if we’re lecturing and not talking with them.

    Even if being a follower of Christ was all about beliefs, sermons and lectures would still not be the best way to communicate those beliefs.

    -Alan

  19. 2-23-2012

    I wrote about this a few years back:

    http://ceruleansanctum.com/2007/10/the-question-no-one-wants-to-ask.html

    Oddly, when I later suggested we rest the sermon for a little more than half a year and instead simply read through Scripture in its place, I got complaints on that too:

    http://ceruleansanctum.com/2011/06/five-steps-to-transform-your-church-in-seven-months-guaranteed.html

    The idea that we MUST add something to the words of the Bible itself, and this coming from folks who normally revere the word, is strange!

    The whole sermon mindset is so embedded, some people will call you a heretic if you question its efficacy. I can see that pretty much happened to you here also, Alan.

  20. 2-23-2012

    I wanted to point out a couple of things…

    1) Alan didn’t say we should do away with sermons.

    2)Instead, he asked: “If this research is true and if people rarely learn to do through lecture, why do we continue to put so much focus on lecture in the church (the sermon)?”

    3) Seems like some have assumed #1 (or its opposite actually) and haven’t answered #2.

    And I have a couple of questions…

    Peter wrote in 1Peter 4, that “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”

    This is the scripture that came to my mind when I read Marc’s post about “on fire”. I think I understand what he is saying – the one gifted to speak or the prophet (one who reveals that which he is given) speaking, bringing the doctrine or revelation given to them to the assembly (1Cor 14:26). “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3)

    I guess my question for you all is, how do you know you are hearing “the oracles of God” or if you are just hearing a lecture? I’m fairly certain we call them both sermons or preaching in our culture if they happen in a large group setting.

    The verse prior to that one referenced in 1 Peter 4 says this:

    “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

    All gifted, all ministers. I think Alan’s question is why we put so much focus on one gift and the minister(s) of that gift when the church assembles and call it all good.

    My answer is because we do greatly err.

  21. 2-23-2012

    @ Eric:

    Given that most churches eschew any kind of charismatic word gifts (prophesy, tongues, word of knowledge, word of wisdom), they’ve effectively reduced Peter’s admonition to little more than a platitude, substituting man-made traditions for biblical reality.

    If you cut the charismata, what kind of genuine “unction” remains? Will God burn hotly in a sermon given by men who no longer believe Him for what His full unction can deliver? I can’t see how He will; the Bible is pretty clear that those who limit some of God limit all of God. If so, the sermon in a church that does not believe in most of what unction truly is (or opposes it outrightly) can’t ever rise above “rules made by men.”

    I would contend that this is what we have in most churches today: a lecture based on human knowledge but lacking in the best of godly wisdom, which can only be discerned in the Spirit.

  22. 2-23-2012

    Alan,

    My point was not that I have heard many good sermons, but that, and I quote, “Very few (sermons) lifted up a wonderful Savior,and the results of His finished work, nor glorified Him as the One Head of the Church. Most belabored the sin the congregation bore, and how they needed to work harder at being more holy,and heed the authority and headship of the leaders.”

  23. 2-23-2012

    Dan,

    That’s a good post. I’m surprised that you had so much push back on your suggestion that we read Scripture. Well, maybe I’m not surprised… it does show where the real focus is.

    Eric,

    Yes. If God can speak through one person, why can he not speak through many? According to Scripture, he can and he does. But, if we are only allowing one person to speak, perhaps we are missing something from God…

    Aussie John,

    Yes, again, I’m sorry if I seemed to be disagreeing with you. I was just picking up on one point. One of the things that I appreciate about several people speaking when we gather together is that if we move away from Jesus Christ, someone always brings us back. But, if only one person is allowed to speak, and that person moves away from Jesus Christ… well, we’re in trouble.

    -Alan

  24. 2-23-2012

    A couple more questions (Alan, I apologize, this is really off track and maybe better as another post altogether)…

    If I have heard “more than just a lecture” from a man (maybe many times), and we are in a functioning, participatory assembly exercising many gifts, do I automatically ascribe to what he speaks in the future as “the oracles of God” or must I continue to apply 1 Thess. 5:12-13, 20-21 and 1 Cor. 14:29-32?

    If not, when then do those scriptures apply and then stop applying? And if we who are gifted in that way, stop applying, does the Body atrophy?

  25. 2-23-2012

    Eric,

    Another interesting point is that Scripture continually exhorts us to interact with one another (teach one another, exhort one another, admonish one another, etc.). And, today, this kind of interaction is not allowed when the church gathers together. That’s problematic for me.

    Of course, that point really has nothing to do with the sermon, unless our focus on the sermon means that we only allow one person to speak.

    -Alan

  26. 2-25-2012

    I wonder how you reconcile your thoughts with the fact that some of what we now would call scriptures — some of the most profound passages — were Jesus preaching sermons to up to 5,000 people. You might call this the ultimate mega-church service (even included a fish and bread lunch). No possible way to discuss, disciple, life-on-life… just sit and listen. If we were to follow Jesus’ example, he seemed to think sermons weren’t too bad.

  27. 2-25-2012

    Nathan,

    I don’t think it’s necessary to reconcile the differences, because the contexts were completely different. Jesus was primarily speaking to unbelievers; I’m talking about speaking with the church. Jesus was the only one connected to the Holy Spirit; in the church we are all indwelled by the Spirit. Jesus knows all truth, knows all about the people present, and can perfectly present what needs to be said at the time; we are not like this.

    Also, while there are a few passages that present long monologues from Jesus, most of his long speeches are actually dialogs with questions/answers from others. Plus, he seems to have used a completely different method when speaking with his disciples.

    -Alan

  28. 2-26-2012

    Totally with you, Alan. Maybe we should indeed abandon the sermon… Just speaking from my own experience, it’s not talks or books that change my life and help me become more like Jesus – it’s the Godly example of people who are doing better than me in a particular aspect of life. Sharing life together, challenging one another, learning from one another; those are things that change me.

  29. 2-27-2012

    Kevin,

    I like the way you expressed that: “[I]t’s the Godly example of people who are doing better than me in a particular aspect of life. Sharing life together, challenging one another, learning from one another; those are things that change me.”

    -Alan

  30. 2-29-2012

    Alan-

    It’s interesting that your context for “speaking with the church” would not include speaking to the non-believer. Perhaps that is the problem… our church gatherings are filled with ONLY Christians. Paul, Peter and Steven all utilized the medium of the sermon to share the gospel in mixed crowds.

    As a speaker, pastor and student of the art of communication, I know that the speech is one of the least effective methods of life change, but it is very effective in moving a large group of people towards a different life orientation.

  31. 2-29-2012

    Nathan,

    I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say. The context for this post is speaking with the church, not with unbelievers. The church – by definition – are already believers. I agree that we should all be proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers wherever and however we can, just like we see Paul, Peter, Steven, and others doing in Scripture. I think we can also learn from their examples when they speak with other believers.

    -Alan

  32. 5-30-2012

    As usual, Alan, you’re taking the words out of my mouth. In fact, I was thinking about this very thing on my way home from work (a church) today. Last week, we held our staff planning retreat. At that retreat, we discussed the fact that most of what we do in the church building – by itself – doesn’t change people much. The problem is that we stop at that. We don’t know what to do differently.

    I do have a nagging question in my head regarding sermons. There are sermons in the Bible, as some of the commenters have pointed out. However – I think – most of them are directed at non-believers. But then the question that comes up is this: What does Biblical “teaching” look like? Teaching is one of the gifts mentioned in the Bible numerous times. Jesus taught regularly in the temple. The last week of His earthly life before the Cross, He taught daily in the temple. The church in Acts gathered daily at the temple (but for what exactly we’re not sure).

    So…there’s my unanswered question: What does BIblical teaching look like, if not “sermons”? What was Jesus doing when He taught in the temple (the gathering place of believers) if He wasn’t giving sermons?

    I know there’s an answer. I just don’t know what it is. The evidence is clear, however: Sermons don’t do much for us.

  33. 6-1-2012

    Chris,

    There are a few examples in Scripture of what happened when the church gathered together. From what I can tell, it didn’t look much like “worship services” today.

    -Alan

  34. 8-29-2012

    I haven’t read the whole thread of comments but just in case no one else has taken Tony Roland’s comment on, when he
    says:
    “The model the Master Teacher gave us is, live in close community, and learning by doing life and ministry together.”

    Really! Is that really what we know, or all that we know about what and how Jesus discipled his men? I don’t think so. It is certainly part, a very, very important part and I have written about this in many places but it it not the whole story. Honestly, why does everyone who sees a problem in the church, and discipleship and the lack of disciple-making, is clearly a problem, why do we always have to swing the pendulum to an equal but opposite imbalance?

    There was a very intentional and intense “with me” character to Jesus’ (and Paul’s) disciple-making process. Absolutely, no question. Jesus called who he wanted that they might be WITH HIM, that he might send them out to preach (Mark 3:12-14). Indisputable. I agree. He suffered with them; he lived with them; he and they had no place to lay their heads; in their uprising, their down sitting, walking-along-the-path-lifestyle he was no doubt doing and living out the kingdom in the midst of them. And they no doubt learned much by observing and living with the Savior.

    Discipleship that isn’t fleshed out like this is shallow and mostly ineffective. Agreed. It is a good point to make. But part of that process of forming them while living with them was them observing and hearing A LOT of preaching.

    Preaching by itself, doesn’t make disciples. It is not an either/or, or even a better this/than that. It is a BOTH/AND. I’m not saying that preaching pastors shouldn’t do more, indeed, I think they are doing too many trivial things to really maximize their time with men and making disciples, life on life. Many do rely on preaching too much. But it (preaching) was a major part of Jesus’s own discipleship methodology, ALONG WITH, life on life, grinding it out in the trenches of the dirt and squalor and pain and joys of life.

  35. 8-29-2012

    Marty,

    I appreciate you taking the time to comment on this post. I agree that preaching is a very important part of the discipleship process. But, from what I can tell, in the New Testament, preaching was a method used to introduced people to the gospel. It was not a method used to help them grow in their faith once they were following Jesus. If you know of examples in the New Testament where preaching is mentioned in conjunction with the church gathering together, please point them out.

    -Alan

  36. 8-29-2012

    Hi Alan,

    I’m enjoying the discussions you generate.

    I thought I’d share a post I did awhile back in case your interested.

    I did a few classes at University on the topic and research of how adults learn best and posted a blog on one aspect of it, especially as it pertains to the practice of sermons for “equipping the saints”. I think you may find it interesting as it pertains to your blog post. I intend to write more on the subject as it was my most read post ever, and I think there is a lot of interest in the subject. The posts to your blog confirms this.

    The post I did was from May of 2011 called Why Are We So Ineffective in Making Disciples.

    http://www.thoughtsfromabackseatdriver.blogspot.com/2011/05/why-are-we-so-ineffective-in-making.html

  37. 8-30-2012

    Katie,

    Thanks for the comment and for linking to your article. I’ve heard similar statistics, and I’ve seen similar results in my own life.

    -Alan

  38. 11-13-2012

    I have been a Believer for over 30 years and spent hours in institutional church listening to hours of preaching, teaching and sermons. I could count on one hand those I can remember, and even then it would only be the general concept of the sermon, not much I could cite specifically.
    I wish I could have all those hours back….

  39. 11-14-2012

    We are active members of our small community church where relationships are most important and our preaching is mostly pretty boring. Our pastors have never been to seminary; men of character, but virtually no training on how to preach or even how to run a church.
    Lately, I’ve been “double-dipping”, by going to the “Mega-church” down the street to hear “good preaching.” And, you know what? IT IS!!! I’m inspired and motivated to love my Savior more, to love others and to do good works…from the sermon!
    So, at the moment, I’m experiencing the best of both worlds. Our small church with my best friends and the mega church for inspiration and, an occasional, kick in the pants.

  40. 11-17-2012

    Jeanne,

    I think that most believers would say something similar.

    MamaT,

    I’m glad that you’ve found a way that works for you. I’m of the opinion that the sermons should not be necessary, but if they’re helping you, then good.

    -Alan

  41. 1-9-2013

    This topic is very similar to one of my literature reviews which I presented for my trend research in our transformational learning class. I would like to respond to this interesting survey results, “But, there is one thing that surveys and tests have consistently shown: People learn and understand less from lecture (sermon) than from other forms of teaching.” In the context of teaching, pure lecture method of teaching works with some group of learners and not for others. It would be helpful for the teacher to understand the learning styles, multiple intelligences, and learning needs of his or her audience. If the teacher is not aware of the learning styles of his or her audience it is always safe to use a mix method – combine lecture with story-telling, group dynamics, peer interaction, and individual investigation. Likewise, in the context of preaching it would also be wise for the preacher to use various and creative styles in the delivery of the sermon. It is more so that his or her audience is more diverse – people in the congregation come from different walks of life, different age groups, different cultural backgrounds etc. Preaching a sermon at church is content-based at the same time transformational in nature so lecture-type method cannot be avoided. However, as I have said it is wise to be creative and use varied styles in delivering a sermon in order to accommodate the needs of the listeners.

    I hope this makes sense.

    Violly

  42. 1-9-2013

    Violly,

    Thanks for the comment. While in school (from elementary school to graduate school), I noticed that the students who excelled were not always the smartest (or most mature spiritually in seminary). The ones who excelled were the ones who could best understand lectures and best memorize information. I think the education system in America (and other places, from what I can tell) is recognizing this problem. I hope the church recognizes it as well. Then, when we turn back to Scripture, we’ll see that God never intended for us to rely on lectures from one person regardless of our spiritual or educated that person might be.

    -Alan

  43. 3-15-2013

    The sermon, in my understanding,it is someone talking, usually the same person talking to the same people benched and listening to talker, one a week in a scheduled time and place, usually for dollar amount agreed upon by the authority of a selected few in the audience. To me, it is not the talking that matters, but the stage, the speaker’s stand, and the feeling of duty of the audience that is fulfilled by the hired talker, sort of like some deed that is hired out, and the employers observe the duty carried on their behalf and it considers the giving and receiving that Scripture reads. I really don’t get it, as far as reality is concerned, unless it meet comes down human control of God and of humans. It is an illusion of the expressions of Christ through Himself in us, sort of like a replacement for ministering to one another, with the preaching to the unbelievers of Christ. To me, that is what that sermon thing normally is most of the time, in the religion places that are often called churches. But, that is not my experience in Life, so I can only say, what it is to me, in my comprehension of the ritual.

  44. 3-15-2013

    Kat,

    I think I agree. There were a few things you said that I didn’t exactly follow. I believe that God can and does use “preachers” and “sermons.” I do not think the sermon is the way God intends to work through his people (together), though.

    -Alan

  45. 3-15-2013

    Sorry about my typing, I didn’t get all my words typed in there right, it is hard to type with this brace, I had shots in the tendon. Anyway, I think you got the just of it. I am not very familiar with the traditions and/or religious ways. It’s not my experience in Christ.

  46. 3-16-2013

    On Friday 15th of March 2013, I’ve found the feed of this post on my FB and read it with all of the comments. There are both agreement and disagreement, that is very normal in any kind of subject of discussion. In my opinion, the sermon is needed for some people, but also not needed for others depending on the state of their faith.

    The sermon is needed because through it the preacher shows people the way to Christ, but once people have got Christ they should start listening to Christ themselves. The sermon may occasionally be required for some mass gathering of followers for some specific exercises or events to build and strengthen the faith of the church (people).

    Let me take the following examples:

    1- The preacher points his finger (sermon) to the light (Christ), he would expect the followers to look at the light and go towards it. It is not his finger that people should follow.
    2- A person has a broken leg by an accident, that person needs to use crutches for moving around. But once the healing is complete that person should put aside the crutches and walk freely. In the same way, the leaders/elders of the church are required to provide guidance to followers who may need their assistance for the healing of their souls, after their healing is complete they should be allowed to walk freely to follow Christ.

    I am a follower of a “GIGA-church” and the pastors of the church have been delivering some billions of sermon. After several hundred years, the statistics show the following:

    • Divorce rate in the US and Australia is 46%, for the UK is 43% (http://www.separation.ca/pdfs/divorcefacts.pdf).
    • There are said to be up to 1.7 billion Christians in the world. This includes those who are registered in some European countries as members of the state Church, on an opt-out basis – in other words, in some countries you are registered as a Christian unless you take the trouble to inform the state otherwise. Not all Christians are practising Christians in the sense of regular church attendance, and in some countries fewer than 5 per cent of the estimated Christian population actually attend church regularly.( http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_practicing_Christians_are_there_in_the_world)

    If the sermon is a great tool for maintaining the faith, then WHY do we have the above dramatic statistics?

    How much can we remember after listening to a talk? Immediately after we hear someone speak, we remember about half of what they have said. A few hours later we remember only about 10 to 20 percent (http://www.sacredlistening.com/tlc_listening101.htm).

    I have been listening to sermons for many many years, but to say the truth, they are only buzzing of bees around my ears. It is Christ that I am following, not the preachers. Having said that, I am always sitting in the pew every Sunday, just because I am serving the followers of my local congregation in some special services that no one want to do.

    The church is the growing field where God sows His seeds. God’s enemy also has sown his own seeds, but God told us not to pull out the weeds and to leave them until the harvest day (Mat 13:30). I don’t expect to be in a perfect church because Christ is the vine and I am one of the branches. The sap of life that I receive is from Christ not from the church leaders/elders/pastors/priest etc. The true life that I can find is in Christ and it can only be true when I have close relationship with Christ, not with the preachers and their sermons.

    Joh 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

    Today is Saturday, 16th of March 2013, I read the book God Calling; to my surprise the message is very much relevant to Alan’s topic. It is as follows:

    “Reflect Me
    My children, I am here beside you. Draw near in spirit to Me. Shut out the distractions of the world. I am your Life, the very breath of your soul. Learn what it is to shut yourself in the secret place of your being, which is My secret place too.
    True it is, I wait in many a heart, but so few retire into that inner place of the being to commune with Me. Wherever the soul is, I am. Man has rarely understood this. I am actually at the center of every man’s being, but, distracted with the things of the sense-life, he finds Me not.
    Do you realize that I am telling you truths, revealing them, not repeating oft-told facts. Meditate on all I say. Ponder it. Not to draw your own conclusions, but to absorb Mine.
    All down the ages, men have been too eager to say what they thought about My truth, and so doing, they have grievously erred. Hear Me. Talk to Me. Reflect Me. Do not say what you think about me. My words need none of man’s explanation. I can explain to each heart.
    Make Me real, and leave Me to do My own work. To lead a soul to Me is one thing, to seek to stay with it to interpret mars the first great act. So would it be with human intercourse. How much more then, when it is a question of the soul, and Me, its Maker, and only real Spirit that understands it.
    “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” – Isaiah 30:15″

    To strengthen his disciples Jesus told them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while” (Mar 6:31). He didn’t give them a sermon, did he?

    How did God reveal himself to Moses? Exo 3:1-2 _ “Meanwhile, Moses continued tending the sheep that belonged to his father-in-law Jethro, … the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flaming fire from the center of a bush…”

    How did God come to Elijah? 1Ki 19:12 _ “After the earthquake there came fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper.”

    How did God call Samuel? 1Sa 3:3-10 _”… so Eli told Samuel, “Go lie down, and then if he calls you, answer, ‘Speak, LORD, because your servant is listening.’” Then Samuel went and lay down…”

    While walking from my office to home, I used to look at a range of tall eucalyptus trees. One day God opened my eyes to see the world as He sees it. Since then I do not ask WHY anymore. The world is just beautiful like those trees but it is not perfect. If we inspect the trees we can find bugs and all kinds of defect. It is in the same way we should see the world, the church and every person. There are defects but God loves the world and the peoples that He has created. The proof is the incarnation of His Only Son to be man and to bring man back to his divinity.

    It is too often that we are eager to take action in life and believe that we can fix problems or make things better via our actions. But the results may be very different sometime; for example the “Stolen Generation in Australia”, the government now has made an official apology to the people who were taken away from their native parents after more than 50 years.

    In faith matter, our words must reflect our life, else the sermon is just a speech for nothing (1Co 13:1). The good impression that we can have on other people is when our own life is the expression of love in everything. Christians are called to live true to their faith and support one another in sincere love (Mat 19:19) that is the core ingredient for building up the Body of Christ (the Church).

    In case of missionaries, the first thing they bring to foreign people is food and medical aid with their caring hearts. It is not the sermon that the destitute people need.

    Having said all of the above, again I don’t mean the sermon is not needed. There are always people who need listening to sermons of preachers but they are not the most effective and essential tool for growing faith.

    Sermon can be useful only in case the leaders of churches want to make themselves more important than Christ. In that case we should know the reason for Jesus to say, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23) to the people who has preached, prophesised and performed miracles and great signs in His Name.

    I want to conclude with the following verse:
    Luk 17:21 (ISV) People won’t be saying, ‘Look! Here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ because now the kingdom of God is among you.”
    Or,
    Luk 17:21 (KJV) Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

    May the Lord bless you all. May His Light always guide your path.

  47. 3-21-2013

    Duc,

    That’s a great comment. To me, you started with the key point: “The sermon is needed because through it the preacher shows people the way to Christ, but once people have got Christ they should start listening to Christ themselves.”

    Preaching the gospel (proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ) in Scripture is for those who do not know Christ and is the responsibility of all of Jesus’ followers. For those who are following Jesus, we then have the responsibility to teach, admonish, encourage, and listen to one another. This is quite different from the modern sermon.

    -Alan

  48. 5-8-2013

    The emphasis on education, it seems to me, to stem from Martin Luther removing the Mass from a central place in the Sunday service (and rightly so, I think) and replacing it with teaching, as well as the renaissance elevation of education as the cure for all Society’s ills. Lecture is just the easiest / least intimidating / least demanding form of educating. Other form require inspection of the teacher’s life.

  49. 5-8-2013

    Gordon,

    Yes, I think that education (at least, a certain type of formal education) affected the Magisterial Reformers. There were others (at the same time) who noticed this effect, and went a different direction – sometimes too far in the other direction, probably.

    -Alan

  50. 6-14-2013

    Alan! I have been following you for a short time, but am eating up this content. Thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for your boldness. I am still coming out of a lay leadership role in Mars Hill Church, and it has been difficult to say the least. I feel called to plant a church that is shepherded by a consensus of equal elders. where there is a gathering of the saints, but this is not an attractional event that consumes 1000′s of man hours and dollar; Leading the community in service to each other because of Christ. Too long we have seen churches ruled by money and fear. Let it END NOW! Thank you brother!

  51. 6-14-2013

    Alan,

    Paul’s preaching in Acts 20 is a pretty good example of New Testament preaching. There are a great many gifted Bible teachers today who preach in an expository way, and the Holy Spirit uses the proclamation of the God’s word to save sinners. If everyone in our churches was truly saved, your argument might hold some water. However, our churches are a mix of true followers of Jesus, and those who are not actually saved or living out of an identity that is rooted in Jesus. 2 Timothy 4:2 calls us to preach the word. Your argument here flies in the face of the examples we see in scripture of preaching, and the command in Timothy that we do so. While the idea you present may seem popular to some, it is dangerous and devisive, and I would encourage you to point people to the character of who God is rather than throw stones at people’s methods.

  52. 6-15-2013

    Shawn,

    I’d love to hear more about your journey and your plans. Would you email me at alan[at]alanknox[dot]net?

    Tobias,

    I believe that preaching as described in Scripture is extremely important, but I also believe that it has little to do with what is called preaching today. In Scripture, preaching was proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to those who were not his followers. In Scripture, different methods of teaching (not preaching/sermons/lectures) were used primarily. For example, consider your example of Acts 20. Read through Paul’s speech. How long did it take? What Scripture did he exposit? How does that compare to your comments about sermons and preaching?

    The church is not composed of a mix of saved and unsaved. One of the reasons that believers remain immature today is that preaching/sermons/lecture (one person speaking) remains the primary method of teaching, which is contrary to what we find in Scripture. My view and my argument has nothing to do with what is popular today.

    -Alan

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