I spent some time talking about how worship services don’t equal church and about worship/praise music in previous posts (see part 4). I will now take a brief look at sermons/preaching and wrap this series up.
There tend to be a couple of different types of sermons. The primary types I’ve observed I’d categorize into either motivational speech or college lecture. The former tends to be a teaching on a general biblical principal with a primary message of what you should or shouldn’t be doing (which could include evangelical messages). The latter may well be an exposition of a particular bible passage. These can be quite informative but also tend to have a lesser amount of practical value (though this isn’t always the case).
In his book DiscipleShift, Jim Putman describes a problem many evangelical churches have created. In an attempt to be “attractional” to non-believers, they are preaching simple, accessible, “motivational speech” type sermons. The hope is that once people become connected to the church, they’ll some how become more mature (though exactly how this happens is less clear). But Putman says, “The more mature believers will not be satisfied with just milk every week and will eventually funnel out. Not only are they not learning as much as they desire, but they are not being intentionally used in the lives of the less mature.”1
I came up with a saying which describes this problem: you only stay in elementary school for so long. There are all kinds of levels of sermons available. And some are deep enough that almost anyone can learn something from them. Yet we should be learning to feed ourselves (though listening to some sermons may be a part of this). To my point, a while back I heard a sermon in which I could name the books the pastor took his ideas from as they were all books I had read recently. Sermons can be a place to learn information, but sources of good teaching are hardly limited to the worship services at your local church.
In a recent blog, David Murrow contrasts the context in which churches existed a century and half or more compared to today. At that time, church was one of the few environments many had to get a break from work, socialize, hear music, and receive information. However these things are certainly not exclusive to church today. I take in a lot of teaching but none of it is from sermons in worship services. Because I’ve found other sources which better instruct me where I’m at on my spiritual journey.
Putman touched on another big issue: participation. Many people—perhaps men especially—want to be actively involved in doing something. But with most worship services, all we’re allowed to do is sing. Or perhaps we can usher or pass around the plate. But these activities are hardly inspiring to most. Many people are ready to act and even lead in much more significant ways. However, as Mike Breen has said, many churches simply want volunteers to run the programs they’ve created even though they talk about desiring “leaders”.
Don says, “So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through.” Translation: it’s boring. Why? We’re not being taught in a tangible way, and we’re not involved. So we either suffer through it or we leave. Circling back to where I began, we’re not necessarily ditching the church nor backsliding. We simply may be leaving the service in order to learn in other ways and then go practice what we’re learning.
Here are a few other blogs on this same subject:
- Donald Miller: Why I Don’t Go to Church Very Often, A Follow Up Blog
- Emily Maynard: Four Reasons I’m Glad I Left Church
- Frank Viola: Why I Left Church
- Kathy Escobar: Leaving Church to Save Our Souls
(Additionally, I added a link on the first part of this series to a blog I wrote nearer the time I stopped going to worship services.)
1. (DiscipleShift, p. 117).