I started this a couple weeks ago but wanted to put it up as soon as possible after the sermon I heard at my home church this last Sabbath.
In a recent interview on ProgressiveAdventism.com Clifford Goldstein stated in the comments section:
The first question, from Tim. The fact is that in the 26 years I’ve been in this church I’ve been bored out of mind with corporate worship service. It’s has often been the low point of my whole SDA experience. Now some churches and some pastors have been better than others, and some even pretty good, but as a whole I have gotten very little out of it. What I’ve learned I’ve basicially learned on my own, which isn’t that hard. I mean, we’re dealing with SDA theology, not Quantum Electodynamics or something. It’s not that hard.
Clifford is not the only one that has found Christian church services to be boring and unrewarding. The following is posted on Heartlight.org website about a letter written to the editor of a newspaper:
I notice that ministers seem to set a great deal of importance on their sermons and spend a great deal of time in preparing them. I have been attending services quite regularly for the past thirty years and during that time, if I estimate correctly, I have listened to no less than 3,000 sermons, but, to my consternation, I discover I cannot remember a single one of them. I wonder if a minister's time might be more profitably spent on something else?
That letter triggered an avalanche of angry responses for weeks. Sermons were castigated and defended, but eventually a single letter closed the debate:
I have been married for 30 years, during that time I have eaten 32,580 meals — mostly of my wife's cooking. Suddenly, I have discovered that I cannot remember the menu of a single meal. And yet, I have received nourishment from every single one of them. I have the distinct impression that without them, I would have starved to death long ago...
There is a great deal of wisdom in that letter. I have heard countless sermons over my lifetime — many were memorable and many more were not. The truth is, I can't even remember everything that I have preached — that's why God created databases! However, I know that many of the sermons which I heard have made an impact in my life. I pray that the sermons I deliver do the same for others.
And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)
The author at Heartlight.org has thought he has answered the question. By some type of repetition the listener is changed though the listener does not even know he has been affected. How many of us would want our doctors or other professionals to have been trained by such an osmosis type of education. To graduate and be told you are ready now even though you can’t remember what it is you have supposedly been taught.
The problem is that as churches have evolved they have remained with traditions that were best used for people at a time when the congregation was illiterate and books were rare and expensive. When knowledge was something that only a few had and the expression of information from that knowledge had to go to the unknowledgeable and the uninformed the sermon took the lead. It has remained by tradition the centerpiece of today’s Christian churches even though the masses are literate, have access to all types of reading material and recorded material, both audio and visual. Society has changed yet the church has not. It may be that because of our traditions we believe that if this is what happened in the New Testament church it is what the ideal is forever more. Hard to believe as we don’t segregate men from women. (Well I guess the shakers did, when was the last time you saw one of them?) We don’t tell the women to be silent so why is it that we should hold so tightly to the example of the early church. The early church had no Pastor over the congregation or paid clergy. Those are later practices which have become our traditions.
The local church is not a hospital for sinners or a museum of the best of Christianity. It is a group of like minded people who get together to support one another in their lives and become equipped to serve as ambassadors for God. The Sermon as the centerpiece of the Christian church have become the plaque of the religion. We have trained our members to become passive. Fulfilling their duty to God by once a week hearing someone preach at them what he thinks is the word of God. Half the time it is not a message of God and three quarters of the time it will be logically flawed, yet as with the letter above we expect the good intentions to pervade the audience as they passively listen, trained not to interrupt the sacred proceedings. The thinking ones in the group may interrupt in their minds but they must be silent and if it is brought to the sermonizer’s attention they will likely be thought of as troublemakers.
Are sermons really what the modern Christian church needs? Ecclesiastes tells us of the wisdom of using few words yet our religion centers on listening to many words. Meaningless are the words which fly over us because we sit in passive silence waiting for someone to tell us what God wants us to do. As our society gets lonelier and lonelier why is it that we want to sit in a large group of people, silently?
Wouldn’t it be nice to know the people at your local church; to know about them, to have real conversations with them? Not the kind of meaningless and inane conversation we hear at the so called sharing time when people get up to say “nice to see you, what’s your name, welcome to our church”. We don’t know the people in our congregations because we are trained not to know them. The biggest congregational attendance is for the so called main worship service. This consists of singing (sometimes interminably long singing) and then the message delivered in the form of a sermon which can range from 10 minutes to interminable depending upon the personality of the local pastor.
Of course there are going to be some people that we know and can have real conversations with before or after church. Over time we actually do develop friends at church or at church related activities like our schools. This has been the saving feature of churches at some point there would be somebody we might be able to call a friend at our church and then we begin to feel at home in “our” church.
We play church so badly because it has become a formalized tradition of how a Christian should act. We have the tools and even the tradition of
The news in the past few years has spoken of people getting together and bookstores and coffeehouses to discuss issues and make friends and express themselves. While our churches struggle to get people to come early enough for Sabbath school to discuss issues and make friends and express themselves. The disconnect I would submit is that we have created a false idol out of the sermon and replaced real social interaction with the quasi human interaction of passive listening. It is a phenomenon that has helped to create multi-thousand member churches. These churches no longer have anything like the Sunday school for adults of past generations, just a period of singing and the sermon and home. These mega churches still have some type of smaller group activities but with greatly reduced numbers even when all the groups are combined compared to the main sermon services.
The problem it seems to me is we want to be a church community but we discourage the elements that make us a community. The bonds created by knowing and caring for someone personally, has been replaced by the weaker bond of being at the same place as someone else and sitting quietly.