Flash Back: Is Church Really About the Sermon?

Another post from a series I did on Considering Church, this one was entitled, Good Sermons Draw a Crowd:

I understand bigger churches, especially when there is a great preacher. There are a handful of sermons I download regularly to listen to during the week, and if I lived in those towns I’d probably check them out on Sunday. There is a church in my hometown that has grown immensly, and I think it is largely do to the head pastors wonderful preaching. So, don’t get me wrong I understand the appeal of a good sermon.

For me though, that just doesn’t seem what the church should centrally be about. One of the first things that is said about the early meetings of believers is “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Now, I’m not arguing we shouldn’t have teaching, I just think we’ve put far too much focus on it, and we lack the fellowship and the close knit community that is so necessary, or beneficial, to carrying out the teachings and the gospel itself.

I’ve continued this discussion recently off-line with some friends in my community and with my brother and dad on our camping trip. It’s been extremely interesting to think about. And at the same time, I’ve been listening to multiple sermons a week on my bike ride to and from work. I’m not against sermons, just sermons as the focus of a Sunday morning.

What are your thoughts on Sermons on Sunday?

8 thoughts on “Flash Back: Is Church Really About the Sermon?”

  1. Hmm… On Sunday morning, I think it’s OK in certain cultures to have the service revolve around the sermon. In American cultures in particular, that seems to be a culturally appropriate way of doing things. Events revolve around the keynote speaker, and services revolve around sermons. However, I think that the church should be more than just Sunday morning service.

    Back home, a big part of attending church on Sundays was hanging around and chatting with people after service. When I was going to college, a group of us would go to church and then head to a cheap Chinese buffet. The point being, I think that a very important part in my growth within a church has been the informal, community stuff.

    So I would say that I am OK with the sermon being the center of the Formal service, as long as people do understand and are intentional about creating community, even if that happens informally.

  2. I am a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, but was raised as an Evangelical Protestant pastor’s daughter. My first twenty years of experience were in a church that devoted nearly half of the service to preaching. I know I’m biased, but I will say that my dad is an amazing speaker and his teachings really were the highlight of the Sunday service.

    So it was a strange turnabout to worship in a church where the sermon/homily was a mere footnote to the prayer worship and sharing in the Eucharist. The Orthodox Church does have a wonderful history of great orator priests (John Chrysostom, anyone?) but that’s not really the focus of Sunday worship. It’s less about exposition and more about the experience.

    My dad, as he has grown older, has felt increasingly uncomfortable with the celebrity status that so many preachers attain within their congregations. He believes, as I do now, that the sermon has been elevated too greatly in many churches. While he still preaches, he doesn’t do long messages anymore, and has worked to help churches put a greater emphasis on worship and sharing communion with one another.

    I’ll admit, I miss my dad’s sermons. I do think there is a time and a place for teachings to be delivered to the church body. But is that time during our Sunday worship? I don’t know.

  3. Yeah! I absolutely agree with Ariah and Richard… “Church” is not a building or an event; it’s a group of people, united by common faith in Christ. If the Sunday morning sermon, or the Sunday morning service, or even the 7 days/week service is the focus of a body of believers, then I think they’re missing the point. The purpose of “church,” in my opinion (and I believe Scripture backs it up), is to provide a forum for a community of believers to grow. The most important part of church happens outside the building because that’s where it’s hardest! That’s where we need our brothers and sisters to be in our life, in our community, in our meals, etc. to constantly support and encourage us in our walk.

    As long as we understand that, though, I’m all for hearing a great message as often as possible!

    My current church has Sundays every once in a while where there is no sermon/message. We replace it with an extended time of prayer or worship through music. We’ve even had a couple Sunday morning services where there was nothing at all except community! No music, no message, not even organized prayer time – just enjoying the fellowship of other believers. I thought it was kind of weird at first, but as I grew to understand the reasoning behind it, I really began to like the idea…

  4. Great thoughts everyone. It’s encouraging to hear about churches that are doing things differently, even when it’s just occasionally. I guess I’m still looking for something even more strange and out there, were songs and preaching take a back seat to doing.

  5. I know what you’re saying, Ariah, but I also think that singing and preaching is a very important part of our walk. First of all, it’s a way to glorify God! I can’t even begin to list all the verses about singing…The longest book of the Bible is dedicated to just praise songs! Second of all, singing and preaching is a way to reach unbelievers, to fulfill the great commission. And it’s also a way to encourage Christians in their faith! It’s incredibly demanding to give, give, give, without ever receiving. The blessing and encouragement I receive from great music or a powerful sermon gives me so much strength! I believe it gives me strength I couldn’t gain on my own. If not, why do church at all? Why not just focus on our personal relationship with God? Should singing and preaching be the sole focus of church? No, definitely not. But I think it’s an integral part of a church that is successful in its primary focus (glorifying God).

  6. Jesus as the center of the Christian life and, therefore, sacrament as center of Christian worship/life. The sermon as center is just a result of an overly epistemological and individualistic conception of Christianity. It’s important, don’t get me wrong, but when you have people like Calvin saying the eucharist should be celebrated every Sunday, and presbyterian churches focusing more on the sermon and celebrating the presence of Christ in the eucharist once a month, I think we have a problem.

  7. Ariah, I don’t think you ask a big enough question. So, what if it wasn’t any of this stuff. What if church was your block, your apartment complex, your neighborhood. It wasn’t limited to a time, or a building, a set of religious traditions, a set of songs. What if church is really just a reference to how we live our lives with one another, a lifestyle, not a place we go, and all this talk of sermons, eucharist, worship music, is alot of energy and emotion spent on the wrong stuff?

  8. I think we need to distinguish between church and the Sunday morning (or evening) service. I think we probably also need to distinguish between Christianity and church.

    Here’s how it breaks down for me.

    Christianity is the entirety of our faith. It should be about how we live our lives with one another, who and what we worship, our purposes (both known and unknown), about eternity, and several other things that I’m probably not going to remember until after I click the “Say it” button.

    Church is a group of people (you could call it an organization of people)who come together to help each other be and do Christianity.

    The service is pretty much a feast day (food optional) where we come to celebrate God, connect with each other, refresh and be refreshed for being and doing Christianity throughout the rest of the week.

    For the most part, I am OK with services being mostly a set of traditions, or a set of songs, or a regular event if the service is just a part of the larger life of the church, and the church is just a part of the larger idea of Christianity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.