Thursday, February 04, 2010

Thoughts about sermons

'We no longer seem to expect our ministers to spend hours (literally hours) every week, thinking, reading, praying: so that when the hungry sheep look up they may be fed.... '

So said Davis McCaughey, the first president of Australia's Uniting Church, in 1979.

It's quoted in blog piece lamenting the decline of the denomination over the past thirty years. I don't know enough about church life in Australia to comment on the main argument of the piece (here), but it caught my eye because it seemed to have something important to say about the issue I was thinking about earlier in the week.

Perhaps people in our churches would be better equipped to live and share their faith, if they were better taught by ministers who took greater care and time over preparation for Sunday.

I find myself somewhat conflicted about this. Having been challenged on Sunday evening about how fragile some people feel in the face of attacks on their faith in the wider world, McCaughey's comments suggest a way that ministers can be the key to encouraging muscle growth among members of our congregations.

McCaughey is not a lone voice, of course. Eugene Peterson has always aregued that the primary calling of the minister is to listen and speak, to pray, study scripture and offer spiritual direction through Sunday teaching and one-to-ones.

I'm not sure the sermon can carry such baggage, however, in our media and information saturated world. But I do think churches - and ministers especially - need to think about what they teach and how they teach it (I've said this before), so that individual Christians feel better able to face the challenges of the world they live in.

The question is how will this best happen? Answers on a post card, please.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

... "how fragile some people feel in the face of attacks on their faith in the wider world" ...

Indeed so. And it's no wonder. Whenever I've challenged someone on their faith, they've either responded with platitudes (sounding like they should be on Thought for the Day) or by quoting Bible verses - verbatim.

Where's the use in that? If you're genuinely seeking some kind of meaning to your life and are interested in finding God or Christianity, having someone spouting Bible quotes isn't going to help.

You talked about building spiritual muscle in another post. Actually, I don't think a sermon, or indeed a vicar, can build that muscle. A gym instructor can't tone someone else's body - they have to do that - through hard work and challenge.

If you don't challenge someone's faith, it isn't going to get stronger is it? That's the point underlining all my thoughts attached to your posts really. How can you express your Christian faith and beliefs in a way that is convincing not only to the emotional part of your brain, but also the intellectual one?

If you believe God gave me an inquiring mind with capacity for deep thought and intellectual stimulation, why should I leave it behind when I enter the church? And if people believe their faith to be true, why on earth can't they express it in a convincing and basic way that the ordinary person can not only understand, but also take the first steps along the road to sharing that faith?

It's all very well going to church on a Sunday and getting a top-up on Bible teaching or a background guide to predestination or some other part of theology, but will that help someone explain their faith in a compelling way?

And how do you equip someone who believes something on an emotional level, underpinned by the over emotional contemporary worship styles, explain their faith in the cold, rational light of day to someone who remains to be convinced?