Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Sermons We Endure

Last week our church hosted a missionary couple and over lunch one of them told me something fascinating. He referred to my sermon that morning and said that it had been years since he heard an expositional sermon. In other words, as he further explained, it had been years since he heard a sermon in which the minister opened the Bible, took a chunk of Scripture and explained it to people. The fact that this came from a missionary is important: in our denomination missionaries “itinerate.” That means they travel from church to church raising their support and are often in 4-6 different churches in a month.

They had not heard a sermon serious about a passage of Scripture in years.

I have actually heard this often in recent months. My style of preaching has always been expositional. So much so (to prove the depth of my commitment), we recently spent two years in the book of Jeremiah, and it was probably the most powerful two years of work I have ever done. As more people become accustomed to my style, they tell me it has been a long time since they needed to open their Bibles in a service or that they are excited that they hear people in the sanctuary flipping the pages of their Bibles during the sermon.

What is your experience? I worry that the “non-biblical” sermon is becoming more and more common in our evangelical services. A decade or two ago it was probably the influence of the seeker-sensitive movement with its self-help pop-psychology approach that dethroned the Bible in our pulpits, and today my guess is that the social liberalism and literary deconstruction of younger evangelicals and emergents is behind much of it. (A sermon on being green and recycling is, in my opinion, not a sermon but a platform—it’s not hard to find those mp3s on many church websites.)

Frankly, if the Bible isn’t the primary source and Jesus isn’t the primary target on any given Sunday, then what are we doing and why are we doing it? My basic contention is that what happens in the church should be the kind of thing that can only happen in the church. If you have accomplished something that could have been done at a political rally, a local community organization, or anywhere else, then what you have done, no matter how nice, wasn’t really church.


DavidJ said...

We live through this everywere in Denmark. I do not know a single expository free church. (Free, means not a statechurch)

Deborah L. said...

Phil, amen and amen. Thank you for always teaching directly from the Word. I am grateful to also be back under expository teaching myself. The new style of teaching from a sermon purchased online or 'subject-based' with three bullet points leaves me with the feeling I received empty content. I much prefer the natural exposition of Scripture that happens when you read through it!
Also, it's more difficult to learn to think about or disseminate Scripture for ourselves when it's so neatly packaged as 'Scripture-lite.' But it's getting harder and harder to find such teaching...

Scott said...

I agree with you whole heartedly. In the past few years I have become more and more appalled at the number of folks that don't know the flow of scripture. It is amazing what happens when we actually tell them what Paul said in context before the application. I had one man say to me "Wow I didn't know you could read the Bible like that". The "that" he was speaking of was that the book of Ephesians actually has a logical flow to it. Thanks for sticking with what the Word says!