Visiting Churches

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

Can You Have a Church Service Without Hearing a Preacher Speak?

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.

The church 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.

52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

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.

I can’t remember any commands to preach a sermon to the believers during each weekly meeting.

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?

My wife and I visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This is our story. Get your copy of 52 Churches today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

4 replies on “Do We Need to Listen to a Lecture Each Sunday at Church?”

Do we NEED to listen? I doubt some do listen, but day dream during the message. But I WANT to listen and learn more. Sometimes we watch several sermons on TV (Dr. Charles Stanley whom we have visited in Atlanta) before we go to church.
Oh, yes, I can learn alone from my Bible, but it is interesting to hear others’ take on things. That’s why I follow your blog, BTW. But when one studies with other “on fire believers, there is a fellowship shared that feels right and good and complete. We are Believers together in unity for Christ even though in possible diversity of everything else. We are blessed to support several churches that do this for us.
I appreciate the effort that goes into the sermon and sometimes they are fun and informative and different than I expected. Yes, I’ve slept through a few, but usually don’t return for more. I have found most pastors to be thoughtful and prepared to teach, That’s their job and they have to gear it to all levels of knowledge and age. My favorite sermon is when they stick to a book of the Bible and go right through it each week. That enriches my spirit life and encourages me to study more,

What you are describing here– Sunday worship without a preacher– sounds a lot like a Friends Meeting (unprogrammed Quaker worship). I think the Quaker tradition may have much to offer post-modern Christians. Just my thoughts. Great blog post!

K.Rae, thanks so much for your comment.

What I have read about Friends / Quaker worship and practices draws me. I hope to someday experience it.

(Also, thanks for subscribing to my newsletter. The March issue goes out tomorrow!)

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