Can Preaching Lead to Christianity as Merely Information

Posted by Jared Siebert on March 14, 2013
Free Methodist Church in Canada, The Christian Life

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Stuart Murray Williams, via a webinar broadcast from Winnipeg, talk about creating a Multi-Voiced Church.  Stuart shared a lot of great incites on deepening body life.

Something that wasn’t exactly the main point of his talk has stuck with me over the past few weeks.  Stuart suggested that there is a problem in our current practice of weekly preaching; especially if we as preachers want our people to respond in a life altering way to our preaching.  The challenge for most hearers of our sermons is that the things that we want them to consider, change, or rethink usually take longer than 7 days to consider, change, or rethink.  And yet, like clock work, we are up there 7 days later offering other new things to consider, change, or rethink.  Just as our congregation starts to respond we are moving on to something else.  The problem is further compounded by good preaching which is even more compelling and suggests even deeper changes.  Stuart suggests that we consider only preaching once a month to compensate.  The other 3 weeks of the month would be spent allowing the congregation time and space to publicly reflect, respond, and flesh out what was suggested during the sermon.

A radical suggestion?  Perhaps.  It would certainly do a lot to free pastors of the hours they invest each week putting together a sermon.  I know pastors that feel compelled to spend 15 to 20 hours per week preparing a sermon.  What other pastoral capacities could be unleashed if we spent less time on preparing and preaching?  But would that option be attractive to pastors?  Would some of us want the job if our weekly sermon were reduced to monthly?  Would congregations even want us to do this?

What are some less radical options?  Well, I suppose you could preach on the same passage for a month or more so that people have time to soak in it.  Alternatively, you could spend more time planning out your preaching theme so that your sermons formed one larger thought rather lots of new thoughts

All of this was interesting of course but this wasn’t the stuff that has really stuck with me.

As I mentioned in my last post I have been trying to address some gaps in my development as a pastor.  Given my tendency to live from the mind I frequently find myself needing to push back against the spectre of Christianity as information.

Christianity certainly contains and requires information. What I think about Jesus matters.  How I view the Bible matters.  My beliefs and doctrines matter.  And yet the reality is these aren’t the only things that matter.  If Stuart is right, and I think he is, then what he is describing is a disciple-making system that reduces Christianity to information.  In this system the response I am really looking for from my preaching isn’t really life change.  If it were I would create enough space for people to actually respond.  I would check in with people to see how it was going.  I would watch for signs that changes were taking place and then and only then would I move on to something else.  But that isn’t the norm is it?  In the current system the only REAL responses people have time for are:  agree, disagree, or some form of performance evaluation (ie – “Good job preacher, I really liked your sermon”).  David Fitch has a great post about his desire to have people respond to his preaching with something more along the lines of “God used you to destroy my world today“.  I would love to hear that sometime myself but I’m not sure a weekly diet of world destroying sermons would improve the current situation much.  The current system promotes what we in the industry call “functional atheism”.  Functional Atheism is when a person would identify with the idea of Jesus – would call themselves a Christian – and yet live as if God did not exist.  They would give intellectual assent to the idea that Jesus matters but nothing about their lives would indicate that they believed that to be true.  They would say with their mouth that Jesus was Lord – but their bank account, calendar, relationships, life decisions, and value system would largely remain untouched by that truth.

I’m not sure what to do with all of this quite yet.  Something tells me preaching harder isn’t the solution.  I’m not even sure preaching a sermon on this phenomenon would help either.  But the wheels are turning…

What do you think?  Is Stuart way off on this one?  Any ideas what we could do differently?

1 Comment to Can Preaching Lead to Christianity as Merely Information

  • Hello,
    Although not a church preacher, I can sympathize with the concern as a Christian writer. If you think as a preacher preaching could lead to Informational followers, imagine when your preaching or teaching is “all” between your mind and on paper, without an immediate audience for feedback.

    I don’t think the once-per-month sermon is a balanced idea for two reasons. First, a hungry Christian simply needs to be regularly fed, and those times in-between could become more of a social club than a church and/or opportunity for people to stay home. Second, now more than ever people (especially Christians) have to be reminded of and redirected in their discipleship way.

    Home Group studies are an excellent way of maintaining a regular theme with which to offer time to meditate and opportunity for response. A multi-part service and be followed up with corresponding themes within Home Groups with that added benefit of turning it over to the floor.

    A mixed media approach could also be a benefit, that is, one theme per month, but the same theme told from the vantage of a different medium. Perhaps one week is a sermon, a second week is an explanatory story of that theme told from a church elder, a following week perhaps a series of short videos on the same message. This way the message is continually being “preached” with less “sermon preparation” and more time for the congregation to absorb the key points.

    That’s just my spur of the moment thought. Might even help feed the preacher a bit in the process.

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