Why Do We Listen to a Sermon at Church Each Sunday?

The Bible offers little support for a minister to preach a sermon to us at church

Why Do We Listen to a Sermon at Church Each Sunday?Many changes occurred in church practices because of the Protestant Reformation some 500 years ago. One of those changes adjusted the emphasis of the Sunday service. The reformers had concern over the focus of Sunday gatherings being on the altar and the celebration of the Eucharist. They intentionally shifted the focus away from that and to the sermon. I understand why they did it, but I think they were wrong.

When Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19, NIV), he provided the basis for us to celebrate communion. This gives biblical support for us to periodically observe the Lord’s Supper as part of our gatherings, be it on Sundays or at other times.

However, I don’t see any biblical command to have a paid minister preach a sermon to a local congregation each Sunday. In fact, I see little biblical support for this. Here’s what I do see in the Bible:

Preach to Those Outside the Church: Jesus told his followers to go around and tell others about him. He said to “preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15, NIV). Here’s a direct command from Jesus to preach, but the setting isn’t inside the church walls, it’s outside the confines of the church, in the real world. Although this gives a command to preach, we miss the point. The teaching Jesus talks about isn’t to those who are already on his team, it’s to those who aren’t.

Teach New Converts: In Acts we see the apostles holding regular classes to teach about what it means to follow Jesus (Acts 2:42). Since back then almost everyone was new to the faith, think of this as a new members class. Note that this is an example of what the church did, not a command to do it. This teaching is optional, but if we do it the focus is likely on new converts.

Give Updates: Another example in the New Testament of people speaking to local congregations is when traveling missionaries or church delegations visited local churches. They spoke to the people to update them on what was happening elsewhere and to share stories of God at work. The purpose of these talks seems to be to offer status reports and provide encouragement. Again we see this as an example of what the early church did, but there’s no command for us to do likewise.

In these three scenarios we see people speaking either in the church or outside it. But nowhere do we see a command for clergy to preach to a local congregation in church each Sunday. So why, then, do we have a weekly sermon?The people in the church should minister to one another, not have paid clergy preach them a sermon. Click To Tweet

What should we do differently?

Paul answers this in his letter to the church in Corinth. He says when we gather together each person should be ready to share a song, teaching, revelation, tongue, or interpretation. The purpose of this is to build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Paul’s instruction, his command, is that the people in the church should minister to one another, not have paid clergy preach them a sermon. With such little biblical support to have a professional minister deliver a sermon on Sunday mornings, maybe it’s time for us to abandon the practice. Instead let us begin ministering to one another as the Bible instructs.

Are You a Sunday Morning Spectator or Performer?

Church services have become an event, with consumers who come to watch a show

Are You a Sunday Morning Spectator or Performer?Today’s churches contain two types of people. And each of us fits in one category or the other. We are either performers or spectators.

If this seems callous, consider that we live in an entertainment-centered society. We watch TV, go to movies, and attend performances. We go to the game, attend a concert, and watch videos online.

What do these have in common? Each example has performers to entertain us in one way or the other. The masses are spectators, mere consumers of the event. Though we may participate in a way, our involvement is limited to clapping, cheering, or fist-bumping the spectator next to us.

Church is no different. We are spectators there for entertainment, be it emotionally or intellectually, by the performers. The masses consume the church service. Yes, we may sing along with a couple songs (though many people stand mute during the singing), mumble out a heartfelt “amen” upon occasion, or shake hands with our seatmate during the compulsory greeting time. But the service structure restricts our involvement.

We’re there for the sermon, that is, the lecture, and for the worship set, that is, the concert. And when it’s over we often critique the performance.

Performers: The performers at a church service are the people who stand in front of us, often on a stage. The elevation allows the spectators a better view.

The star of the show is the minister, who gives the lecture and may also serve as the event’s MC. The opening act is the worship team, consisting of singers and musicians.

If this description offends you, consider that most churches don’t select a senior minister or teaching pastor until after they have auditioned and delivered a stirring oratory. People with spiritual insight but no speaking ability have no place in the modern church. And usually the worship team members must try out before they can sing or play. People with musical passion but not enough skill are turned away and relegated to spectator status.

Yes, we expect our performers to excel in presentation, and if they falter, they are replaced. After all, we don’t want a lack of excellence to mar the performance and drive away the spectators who have a plethora of other Sunday morning performances to select from. Remember, we live in a consumeristic society.

Spectators: The majority of people at church services are spectators. We sit and passively watch the performance. Though we can view the elevated stage to witness the event, we may best see the back of the head of the person sitting in front of us.

We come. We watch. We leave.

Maybe we leave happy over a satisfactory performance, but maybe we leave unfulfilled, as empty as when we arrived. We wanted community but got a show.

We are church service spectators, watching a performance and consuming carefully presented spiritual content. At best we experience an event that may sustain us until we repeat it next week.We are church service spectators, watching a performance and consuming spiritual content. Click To Tweet

Instead Participate: The solution is to break down the wall between performer and spectator. Church shouldn’t focus on providing a performance but on offering community by letting everyone participate equally in the service.

We should all be able to share with others during our church services. Or at least have the opportunity to share. Paul tells us how. “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation,” (1 Corinthians 14:26, NIV).

When we start doing this in our church services, we will eliminate both the performers and the spectators, turning us all into full-fledged participants. Then we will build a true community of Jesus followers.

It will change everything.

[This is from the June issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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3 Ways to Worship God

Worship means different things to different people, but what’s important is that we do it

3 Ways to Worship GodSome churches call their Sunday meeting a worship service. This has always troubled me. Yes, I knew that singing to God was a form of worship, or at least it should be. And I understood the part about “worshiping God with our tithes and offerings,” even though I didn’t see God getting too much of what we dropped into the offering plate. But the sermon?

How could listening to a lecture, often a boring one, be a form of worshiping God? In truth, aside from a few songs and the collection, the bulk of most church services are either education or entertainment. Is that worship? I don’t think so. I hope not.

Here are three ways we can worship God. (And like a good three-point sermon, they all begin with the same letter.)

Singing: As I said, singing to God is a way to worship him. More broadly, music is a path to worship. That means we can sing or listen to music. Music can also involve movement, rather it be clapping our hands, raising our arms in praise, or dance (from rhythmic swaying to getting down like David, 2 Samuel 6:14).

Yes, singing can have a physical component. It can also involve senses. Sight: seeing others sing and dance (or watching a light show). Hearing: listening to those around us sing and hearing the instruments. Smell: incense or a smoke machine. Touch: holding hands with fellow worshipers as we sing. Taste: singing while we take communion. (For the record, I’ve experienced each of these sensory elements in worship at various church services, though not often.)

Unfortunately, I’m musically and rhythmically challenged, so I struggle to worship God through music and movement. But give me a strong beat with catchy lyrics behind it, and I can engage in song as a means of worship.

Serving: Helping others, both with our time and through our money, is a tangible form of worship. I enjoy the action of doing something for others, offering it as an act of service to them and as a form of worship to God.

Similarly I like being able to give money to causes I’m passionate about or to people in need as the Holy Spirit directs me. Both are ways to serve and both offer a path for worship. I relish the opportunity to worship God through these forms of service. Psalm 46:10 says to “be still and know that I am God.” This is a form of worship. Click To Tweet

Silence: In our multitasking, always-on society, the hush of stillness is an anachronism to most, one that causes many people to squirm. Few people can tolerate silence for more than a few seconds.

Yet in our silence—along with its partner, solitude—we can quiet our racing minds and still our thumping hearts in order to connect with God. Psalm 46:10 says to “be still and know that I am God.” Yet, setting time aside to be still presents challenges. For most of us, meeting with God in silence doesn’t just happen; we must be intentional.

In my times of silence I connect more fully with God in worship, get deeper glimpses into his heart, and am best able to hear his gentle words of encouragement, correction, and mostly love. So good!

Just as I make it my practice to attend church, I have a parallel practice of giving to my community each week. I also (usually) block out one day out of seven to fast, and part of that time includes worshiping God through silence. All three are forms of worship, though for me, helping others is more practical and resting in God’s presence is more meaningful.

God has uniquely made us and gives us different ways to worship him. When it comes to worship, one size does not fit all. Find the one that fits you.

[This is from the February issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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Church Community is Key: Seek Connection At All Costs

If the church service you attend doesn’t provide meaningful connection, then you need to fix it or find a different church

Church Community is Key: Seek Connection At All CostsDespite being the most connected generation, Millennials are also reportedly the loneliest. It seems their massive number of online friends and followers offer them only superficial relationships that lack meaningful interaction. They crave connections with others that touches them at a significant level, but social media falls short in accomplishing this deep heartfelt need.

That’s why “hanging out with friends” seems to be their favorite, most desired activity.

I think that’s what church is all about. Or at least that’s what it should be all about.

The early church spent time together. We need to reclaim this, not just for the Millennials, but for our own wellbeing, too.

But hanging out doesn’t mean passive pew sitting, staring at the back of people’s heads for an hour. True community can’t occur when listening to the Sunday lecture that we call a sermon. Meaningful connection with each other doesn’t happen during the concert-like atmosphere we label as worship, where a couple of skilled musicians attempt to lead a largely unresponsive throng in singing. And don’t get me started on the disingenuous greeting time wedged into the middle of a service: it is too long for the socially challenged and too short for meaningful interaction.Meaningful church community doesn’t take place during the service; it occurs after the amen. Click To Tweet

This opportunity for true, meaningful community does not take place during the church service; it occurs after the benediction. When the final “amen” is uttered the clock-watchers flee, and a few people hang out to talk. Every church has a few of these folks. Though they may be the social butterflies, they may also be the ones who understand why we are supposed to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). They seek profound community.

Although this time of hanging out could reside on the surface, talking about safe (and meaningless) topics, such as the weather, the game, or the Sunday dinner menu, the wise people focus on discussions that matter. We listen to each other on the heart level. We minister to and serve one another, we pray and are prayed for, and we encourage and are encouraged. When we do this, we prepare ourselves and our church community for the week ahead so that we can go out into our greater community and be Jesus to them.

True church community is the key to make this happen. Don’t let the official church service get in the way.

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Sunday is a Great Day For Some Recreation

Having a regular Sabbath provides an opportunity to rest and recharge

Sunday is a Great Day For Some RecreationThe dictionary defines recreation as a time of refreshment for our mind or body through the use of an activity that amuses or stimulates; an activity that provides refreshment. More simply, recreation is to play. After working hard for the workweek, people seek recreation on the weekend, and with Saturday often packed with more work, that leaves Sunday as the only day left for recreation. Many people pack Sunday full of recreation, so much that they return to work on Monday exhausted. Doesn’t that defeat the goal of recreation?

Or consider recreation another way. Synonyms for recreation include regeneration, rebirth, restoration, and leisure. Does that provide a bit more insight into what our Sunday recreation might look like?

What if we insert a hyphen into the word to get re-creation? Then we can see our Sundays as a day to re-create ourselves. We do this by resting, refocusing, and recharging.

Yet none of these things happen when I go to church on Sunday. In fact, I view my chance for much needed Sunday recreation as what happens after I go to church. I delay my weekly recreation until after I fulfill my weekly obligation to attend a worship service. Thankfully our practices have changed from two Sunday services down to one, leaving only one requirement to interrupt my recreation.God gave us Sunday to benefit us, not to shackle us. Click To Tweet

I can envision Jesus shaking his head in dismay, wondering if I’ve forgotten his words: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” Mark 2:27, NIV.

Indeed I have forgotten, or at least I need frequent reminders.

We need to stop pursuing our Sunday church attendance with legalistic furor and start re-envisioning our worship services as a time of holy recreation. God does not expect us to serve the Sabbath but for the Sabbath to serve us.

Now we just need to figure out how to do that.

May today be a day of holy recreation for you.

Do you think Sunday is a time for holy recreation? How can you change your Sunday so that it better fits Jesus’s teaching?

Do We Need to Listen to a Lecture Each Sunday at Church?

Can you have a church service without hearing a preacher speak? Will you try?

Do We Need to Listen to a Lecture Each Sunday at Church?My wife and I recently visited a church. Though we didn’t know it before we walked in, their service would be different that week. There was no sermon. They used the normal sermon time to talk about the missionaries their church supported. They explained each missionary’s focus and updated us on their status. They shared the joys and concerns of their missionaries. People on the mission’s committee prayed. Then the service ended. The lead pastor didn’t say a word.

Several people apologized for there being no sermon and invited us back to hear their minister speak.

I shook my head. “Don’t apologize. This was better than a sermon.”

But they didn’t get it.

From my perspective it was a profound, meaningful service. We need more like this.

As I understand it, the Reformation removed the communion table (The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist) as the focus of the Sunday service and replaced it with the sermon. I get why they did it, but it was a mistake – a grave one.

Frankly I see more biblical support for celebrating communion every Sunday than I do for giving a lecture (that is, delivering a sermon) as part of our Sunday meetings. Though the New Testament does talk about giving messages to local congregations, I think it is always a traveling missionary who speaks on his way through town. I don’t recall an instance in the New Testament where a local pastor (an elder) gives a talk every Sunday. And I can’t remember any commands to preach a sermon to the believers during each weekly meeting.Most people expect to listen to a sermon each Sunday as they sit in their pew. They are wrong. Click To Tweet

Yet we view sermons today with the conviction that it must happen. We select ministers for their public speaking ability. And we expect to listen to a lecture each Sunday as we sit passively in our pews. Most people feel cheated if they go to church and don’t hear a sermon. (Never mind that few can remember it by the time they reach home.)

This fixation on the sermon is wrong.

Though instruction has its place, teaching doesn’t facilitate community. It doesn’t allow us to minister to one another (as we should), and it doesn’t serve the world around us (as we ought). While listening to an overly educated person detail the minutia of scripture every week may have intellectual appeal, it does little in a practical sense to deepen our community and advance our faith in action.

Let us dare to envision a church service without a sermon. Let us reimagine our weekly gatherings as a place to foster spiritual community and promote the love of Jesus to those outside the church.

It starts when we kill the sermon. Will you dare to do it?

How would you react if you went to church and there was no sermon? Can you think of a New Testament passage that talks about a local minister preaching a sermon every week?

Church is a Verb – or at Least it Should Be

Stop thinking of church as a place you attend but as actions to pursue

Church is a Verb – or at Least it Should BeYes, I know that linguistically church is not a verb. A verb indicates action; it shows movement. Church falls in the noun category, specifically a place. Places don’t move. They have no action. They don’t do anything.

Most places, in and of themselves, are boring. It’s what we do there that makes it interesting – or not. Likewise when we attend church, it’s what we do there that makes it interesting – or not. So when we sit passively in our pews, sans action, church becomes a rather uninteresting place. The operative word is boring.

As a kid I often complained that church was boring, but I thought I would one day move past that – when I grew up. I guess I never grew up because I still think church is boring. So church, at least the church service, becomes something I strive to endure.

It’s not that I don’t like God. I do. It’s the church service I don’t care for – or at least what we’ve wrongly turned church into.

To fix this we need to start thinking and acting as if church is a verb:

Go to Church: Going to church is an action, but sitting down once we get there prepares us for inaction. Something’s wrong. I go to church to spend time engaged with others, not staring at the back of their heads or expecting a select few to entertain me from the stage. I want to interact with other followers of Jesus: talking, listening, praying, and caring.

This is true community. When I go to church I seek meaningful community. If not I might as well stay home, where I can at least access better sermons and music online.

We go to church to be part of an active community.

Do Church: A popular sentiment among many forward-thinking believers is “doing church.” I get that. They desire to move past passive sitting and replace it with active engagement. Though we can sometimes do this, at least a bit, when we sing to God, it’s quite challenging to accomplish during the lecture part of the service. Instead of passive inaction when we attend church, we need to do things. We need activity to chase away the boring and make church worthwhile.

We do church to interact with other followers of Jesus.

Be Church: The third church action is being, as in to be the face and hands of Jesus to others. Jesus said he didn’t come to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28). We should do the same. We help, we reach out, and we love – just as Jesus modeled for us to do.

When we become the church we serve others, just like Jesus We need to start thinking and acting as if church is a verb. Click To Tweet

While “go to church” and “do church” have an inward focus, “be church” has an outward emphasis. It suggests giving to others outside of our community. We give our money to the world around us; we use our time to help the people near us. This is how we best model what Jesus did – and we don’t even need to attend a church service to do it.

Church is a verb.

Why do you attend church? What changes should you make? 

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What is Your Greatest Accomplishment?

What is Your Greatest Accomplishment?At church a few weeks ago we were asked a question, “What is your greatest accomplishment?” We were supposed to write it down on a piece of paper.

As a writer you would think I would be good at such things, but since I do all my writing in solitude, with as few distractions as possible, I have great trouble coming up with anything to write when in a public setting. Focus alludes me, and any words that do tumble forth seem woefully inadequate.

As I ponder this question, other people quickly scribble down their answers. Gee this is hard to decide. I have many notable accomplishments, but none seem truly great. As I try to determine which of my good-but-not-really-great accomplishments rise above the others, I start thinking outside the box. I sometimes do this, often to the dismay of others.

My greatest accomplishment is still to come. That is true; I am optimistic about the future. I have no doubt that God has amazing things in store for me. In complete confidence I know my future will surpass my past. How cool is that? Should I write that down? If they read our answers will people think I’m snarky or even arrogant? Then I remember the setting. This is church after all. I should think of a spiritual answer.

Then truth hits me. It is clear and pure, without false modesty or feigned piety. I have accomplished nothing; Jesus has done it all. Still I hesitate to write. I try to figure out why they are asking this. While still in the middle of this exercise, I’m trying to anticipate the endgame. I don’t want to call attention to myself; I don’t function well in the spotlight. Frozen in indecision, my hand won’t move.

Our leader tells us to bring our accomplishments forward. She holds up a trashcan, presumably the only handy receptacle. Others spring forward to offer their greatest accomplishments. I hesitate. I want to participate as instructed, not be the maverick who doesn’t follow instructions. Reluctantly I circle back to the beginning. What is my best accomplishment to date? Nothing comes to me; my mind goes back to God. He deserves all the credit.

Our leader issues the last call and scans the room. One person scrambles to write down an answer. He dashes to the front and throws his paper in the trash. I sit in rigid stillness and say nothing. The window of opportunity has closed, and I’m okay with that.How does God view your accomplishments? Click To Tweet

Confident that everyone has now participated, she holds up the trashcan. “All of our accomplishments are garbage to God.”

How would you have answered this question? Does God view our accomplishments as garbage?

Can You Be Evangelical and Charismatic?

My wife and I recently visited a church near our home. Their website said they were a charismatic church. This would make them a refreshing anomaly in an area filled with mainline churches and a sprinkling of evangelical ones. I anticipated what we would find.

Can You Be Evangelical and Charismatic?However, when we arrived, I was dismayed to read their bulletin, which proclaimed them as an evangelical church. Which was right, their online presence or their printed material? Were they charismatic or evangelical? Soon I would find out.

As the service unfolded, they were clearly evangelical. Though their worship was a bit more exuberant than typical for fundamental churches, there were no indications of the Holy Spirit’s presence or of the supernatural. Despite what their website claimed, their bulletin was correct. By their actions and their worship, they were, without a doubt, an evangelical congregation.

Having anticipated a charismatic experience, I was disappointed. Still I enjoyed my time there and lobbied for a return trip, but my wife felt that once was enough.

My wife was unaware of the inconsistency between their website and bulletin. When I shared my frustration over the mixed message, she shook her head in confusion. “Can’t they be both evangelical and charismatic?”

“Of course they can,” I answered, “but few churches are. They tend to be one or the other but not both.” (A third option is mainline/liberal.) She disagreed with me, but I’m having trouble thinking of an example. However, assuming they embrace the good parts of both perspectives, I’d love to find such a place. I’d feel right at home.

What do you think? Can a church be evangelical and charismatic? Can a person be both?

Why Does Today’s Church Follow an Old Testament Model?

I think we’re doing church wrong. At first I assumed it was just me, but today’s church is stuck in a rut, an Old Testament rut.

When God gave Moses the Law, he established some key expectations for worship.

First, he set specific parameters for the tabernacle, which later became the temple. It housed various articles and activities of worship. With little exception, the people had to go to the temple to worship God. They understood the temple as God’s dwelling place here on earth.

But the people wouldn’t connect with God directly; they were afraid of him. They wanted an intermediary, someone to reveal the Almighty to them and to represent them to him. To address this, God established the priesthood. These priests would serve God in his temple and be his representatives to his people.

Of course, this religious structure required financial support to maintain, so God instituted a temple tax, the tithe, an obligation to pay 10 percent to provide for the needs of the building and to support the staff.

Today, we still follow this Old Testament model: we have a church building where we go to worship God, hire a minister who represents God to us, and take a collection to support this hungry and growing infrastructure.

Why Does Today’s Church Follow an Old Testament Model?This is not what Jesus had in mind. In one single action, he did away with the building, the staff, and the offering. We should do the same.

When Jesus overcame death, the veil in the temple ripped apart, exposing the inner sanctum of the most holy place and symbolically allowing everyone direct access to God. No longer was God distant and removed; he became approachable by everyone. God ceased living in the temple and began living in us. Our bodies became the temple of God. No longer is a physical building needed; we became his temple.

No longer did priests need to serve as a liaison between the creator and the created. Instead, all who follow Jesus became his priests. The laity, serving as priests to each other, should minister to one another, not hire someone else to do it for them. No longer is there a need for paid staff to be the link between God and his people. We can now all approach God directly, hearing from him and acting on his behalf. The Holy Spirit that Jesus sent to us sees to that – if we are but willing to listen, hear, and obey what he says.

Finally is that pesky temple tax, which we call a tithe. A church’s building and staff take up 90 to 100 percent of a typical church’s budget. But once we remove the facility and the paid staff, there is no longer a need to give 10 percent. Nowhere in the New Testament are we commanded to tithe, not to God, not to the local church – as many ministers insist – and not for ministry. The only time New Testament writers talk about tithing is in reference to Old Testament practices, which Jesus fulfilled.

Instead of tithing to church, we see a principle where everything we have belongs to God. We are to be good stewards of his blessings, in turn using them to bless others. We must use our resources to help those in need and advance God’s kingdom, not to support and perpetuate a religious institution.

So why do we persist in following the Old Testament model of going to church each Sunday to seek God, being served by a minister, and tithing when Jesus died to give us something new, something much better? Jesus turned us into his temple, promoted us to priests, and changed the 10 percent temple tax into a principle of generosity.

Yes, it’s easy to do what we have always done; it’s comfortable to cling to the status quo, but Jesus offers us so much more – and he yearns for us to take hold of it. There is a new way to worship God, to worship him in spirit and in truth – and it doesn’t involve attending church each Sunday.

So stop following the Old Testament model of church: going to a building to meet God, revering the clergy, and tithing out of guilt or obligation. Instead, be God’s temple, act like priests, and share generously. This is the new model that Jesus gave us.

What surprises you most in this post? What can you do to better follow Jesus’ model of church?