Monday, July 26, 2010

Over-fed over there - and over here, too?

There's a good blog on suburban church stuff emanating for the US but featuring some thought-provoking posts, including this one about teaching becoming something of an idol.

Author, Michael Wallenmeyer, offers some pretty sharp observations. So, it's worth checking out.

The subject came up again last night. One of my leaders and I had a conversation about what we do with sermons. At the end of the day when I delivered two sermons that he'd found really helpful, he was concerned about how we follow this stuff up and ensure that it's not only earthed in people's lives but actually changes the way they live them (albeit incrementally).

I still can't escape the feeling that I'm a Sunday morning and evening entertainer for people with a penchant for the Bible. Wallenmeyer seems to feel the same in his context.

On Tuesday this week I'm beginning a Bible study series on Romans. This is great. There seems to be a real desire for people to study scripture and I am keen to meet that desire and help people engage with it, delving into the context of these fabulous texts, getting an overview of the message and, most importantly, helping people apply it to their daily lives.

This is all good. but I'm still fearful that we engage in information overload in our churches. We offer chunky gobbets of stuff each week and yet very little opportunity for people to work out what to do with it. It's like inviting people to visit a gourmet restaurant every day, making them eat a substantial slab of the menu and not give them the opportunity to exercise before we do it again.

The thing is that this isn't making disciples. It's making people who consume church stuff, judging what they get each week against the standards of the best teaching they've heard both in our church and elsewhere, opting in and out of programmes on the basis of whether they like the sound of it.

As Wallenmeyer points out, we're doing church better than we've ever done before in terms of the offer we're making - nice environment, lively music, great child-care, good coffee - and yet we're shrinking as a movement.

There's lots to think about here....


Jan said...

I am no longer a regular church-goer, but when I have gone recently, I have been astonished at the slick-ness and use of technology. And yet... talking to the regulars, some seem to judge it by who is, in their opinion, the best deliverer. And I've been astonished by those who say that attendance at church, for them, is very important as is a belief in the fundamentals of their version of the truth which they will defend to the death. BUT it makes no difference at all the their life the rest of the week which is beset with problems about which they pray in a child-like way to a Santa-like God and hope for an outcome that suits them. They still continue their affluent consumerism, power struggles etc... Maybe church should be less didactic and more interactive?

simon said...

Spot on, Jan.

Clearly there is content to the Christian faith; it's not a blank box which we fill in according to our preferences.

But I think we've just got far too much information that we seem to think is essential for healthy Christian living. And maybe there's a rule that the more information we have, the less difference it makes to the way we live our lives.

At the end of the day, Jesus is about changing the world. He's looking for allies who'll join him in that.

Anthony Gill said...

Good post, and great comment Jan.

I echo your feelings and concur with the information overload conclusion. I think preaching less and meeting together in different ways might be a way forward, for example:

A friend once shared how on the 5th Sunday his Church dropped the evening service and helped someone or did an act of community service. Loads of people got involved including those on the church fringe and conversations took place that wouldn't have happened in the normal service context. My friend loved the fifth sunday, and I can understand why.

As I see the lack of impact from my preaching I find I want to preach about God's word less and lead people in living it more while chatting to them about God's word....but how do we get from here to there?

simon said...

That's precisely the conversation that we are having over the summer, Anthony.

We are constantly giving people information but not how that info might help them live their lives. And it leads me to conclude that some of the information we are giving is not the stuff that's needed.

We talk a lot about the Bible and explain what it means against the social context of the day (I'm a great believer in this having a book on this very subject coming out in March next year!) but we don't give people information about how our society and politics work, about what's going on in our communities beyond our immediate sight lines.

This is information that can be pooled from everyone present in a service. We are not the experts here, though we might ask some sensible questions of it. Perhaps as we pool these insights and reflect on them in the light of the values of Jesus, then we might have a recipe for action that would result in us doing something.

Sue Barker said...

I grew up in your church decades ago - and the bit about church that I remember with the most affection was washing up the coffee cups after the get together in the hall after the Sunday evening service. I can remember one sermon - vaguely!
Having moved many times, I'm now part of a very small chapel where we all know each other and see or phone each other during the week.
I know that there is some reluctance to use the word but we do seem to be like a family!
The folk here enjoy the sermons that make them think but they say it is the discussions and socialising that encourage them to grow as disciples.

simon said...

It seems to me that Sue has put her finger on an obvious point and that is that church works better the smaller it is.

I've often joked with my folk that church should be no bigger than can fit around a large dining table.

But it's not a joke. I think at its core church should be small and intimate - hence the success of home groups in many large churches. It's just that large churches tend to think the intimacy and family stuff can be done in home groups and when we gather on Sundays, something else is happening, though no one's really clear what or why.