Over at the Jesus Creed blog, Scot McKnight is asking people their thoughts about sermons (catch it here).
One of my favorite things about the Jesus Creed blog is that original thinkers tend to show up with regularity. It is always an adventure reading outside-of-the-box thinkers and interacting with them.
For example, I was glad to read others questioning the sermon-centric model of worship that prevails in a large segment of Christianity. If you have participated in many evangelical Christian services, you know that the music and prayers and sort of cushions preparing for the sermon and bringing you back to earth afterwards.
I would imagine that the people most uncomfortable with this arrangement are the clergy. As a rule they are intelligent people who studied Greek (maybe Hebrew as well) and read theological tomes that would curl the hair of their parishioners.
And yet they are expected to deliver 30-minute inspirational talks instead of really teaching.
What if seminaries operated like these sermon-centric churches? “I have to go to Christology now. Professor is preaching on the I-Am statements of the Fourth Gospel.”
I am not completely against sermons. They have their place. They are insufficient, though, and not worthy of being the center.
And Episcopalian commenter wrote in to appreciate how his denomination makes a service of prayer the center. The sermon in his faith community is not central, but additional inspiration and light learning added to a service that is focused on worship.
Of course, in a Jewish context, this is equally, if not more, true. The d’rash is a short, helpful addition to a service which is about covenant, Torah, the Majesty on high, and so on.
In your faith community, how do teaching and the service of worship balance? Does your worship in some ways approximate the glorifying Temple services in the Hebrew Bible and in Revelation?
In the case of our synagogue, the service of worship follows the pattern of the traditional Jewish service for Shabbat morning. We keep the core without obligation to practice every element and every repetition. The pattern of Jewish worship makes the Torah service the high point, and for our community it really is like having Mt. Sinai every week. Our combination of freedom to innovate and participation in tradition seems just right to us.
You might wonder how our congregation can learn the Bible, theology, and practice in a service which has only a three minute d’rash instead of a thirty minute sermon. We have chosen to have a separate hour for learning and discussion right before the prayer service and with a small break in between.
The community-learning model we use is a combination of teaching and discussion. People stay alert because they are participants. People are challenged to know the topic so they can contribute.
The teacher in this model prepares more thoroughly because he cannot just say any old poorly-thought-out thing without being challenged. People keep you on your toes when objections, questions, and contributions are encouraged.
I think this model has many benefits:
(1) If this was purely discussion with a facilitator and no teacher, then the level of learning would often be lower. Let’s face it, real learning doesn’t happen when unprepared participants talk about “what it means to them.”
(2) If this was purely lecture, then the teacher could get away with poorly argued points and platitudes. There is something about an intelligent audience with the chance to participate that makes a leader want to know his stuff.
(3) If this was purely lecture, then the congregation could be musing about anything and everything but the material (“I wonder if that episode of Burn Notice is still available on hulu . . .”).
(4) Because discussion is encouraged, people are more likely to read and think in advance and also afterwards. After all, it is community learning, not a clergy performance.
Is your place of worship sermon-centric? Do you follow a different model? Do you want your model to change? Do tell us how it works in your community and what you think about it.