Monday, December 5, 2011

No Sermons on Sunday? (Part 10: Values & Practices Unpacked)

    Sermons aren't a necessary element of church. Studying the Bible is necessary; but sermons are not.
    The modern sermon--a lecture from the pastor--isn't based off the Hebrew model of discipleship. Yes, Jesus did address crowds and the Sermon on the Mount is awesome. But with his disciples he spent much more time asking questions, working on ministry projects together, in dialogue (not just monologue).
    Our current sermon template emerged in the middle ages of Europe when the entrance exam to become a priest included proving you could read. So each priest had all his illiterate members sit down and be quiet while he explained what the Bible said.
    Bible Study is crucial for a healthy church. It's our second defining practice. But exclusive use of the sermon format actually weakens a church.
    I not only work as a pastor, but also as a consultant and speaker to all sorts of organizations, from multi-billion dollar companies to start-up ministries. And if all I did was lecture, I'd get fired.
    Ask any school teacher. Read any book on professional training. Listen to any news show on education reform. All education professionals agree that lecture-style teaching is among the least effective methods of teaching.
    Only pastors don't seem to think so.
    And pastors only think this way about teaching on Sunday morning. Churches who do small groups don't require sermons during those meetings. Once freed from the assumptions on how Sunday mornings have to be done, they get very creative on how to teach and train people, with videos followed by interactive discussions while using workbooks, for example.
    Don't get me wrong. My spiritual gifts include teaching. I love to teach. And the church needs great teaching. The church even needs great sermons, from time to time. I'm not anti-sermons. I'm anti-sermons-all-the-time. We can do better than medieval teaching strategies.
    One of the leaders of our member-driven church (chosen in advance) stands up and presents an introduction, outlining the theme for the day's Bible study and explains any key background or context that people would need to know to read the scripture passages well. This takes maybe 5-7 minutes.
    Then we release our members to their table groups. Our members sit tables surrounded by chairs, the same tables we ate lunch at (see the post on our practice of Eating Meals Together).  Each table is given a page with scripture passages listed and questions about those passages. We also have a Table Leader--trained in Bible Study principles--assigned to each table who facilitates the discussion for that table.  And our members open their Bibles, read verses out loud to each other, ask questions, and discuss the scripture's application to their lives.
    After a while, the teacher who delivered the introduction stands back up and leads the room in some closing thoughts.
    And then we practice whatever we taught (see the post on our value of Growth Through Practice). If it's a study on prayer, we pray for a while. If it's something harder to practice on the spot, then we give ourselves time to make plans on when, where, and how we'll practice when we leave (and probably pray with each other about our practice plans, too).
    Are there topics that require teaching longer than 5-7 minutes? Absolutely. Some ideas are so new and complex that I've spent 30 min setting the stage. But even then I make at least a little time for the table groups to discuss what's been shared. Because lecture-only teaching isn't as fruitful as allowing the members to drive their own learning through discussion and discovery.
    How do you think the members of your church would respond if they were given the chance to have group discussions this coming Sunday? How would the staff of your church respond?

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