The problem with sermons

As I’ve mentioned before, I was raised Lutheran, which I consider to have been a good thing, even though I haven’t been to a Lutheran church in many, many years. It was a good thing because in this tradition, representative of what many would call “dead” religion, I was taught a very sound, living theology which has survived through waves of trends and movements.

One of the things which I now appreciate about my church and the liturgies as set forth in the “red” hymnal (I can’t speak for the newer ones) is that Scripture was highly valued – the reading of pre-chosen Bible passages from both the Old and New Testaments was given a very prominent place in the service. You may question various Lutheran interpretations of scripture, but that doesn’t mean that Scripture wasn’t shown the respect that it deserved.

One of the other things I now appreciate was that the sermon was only 10-15 minutes long.

For the last twenty-some years, I have been attending various “freestyle” churches which, to varying degrees, will claim to have a more vital and true interpretation and demonstration of the Bible. I will agree in part with this assessment; however, all is not well with the freestyle church.

One of the first things you notice when switching from a liturgical church to a more contemporary tradition is that the pastor talks a lot more; sermons can range from 30 to as much as 90 minutes long. That might not be so bad, except that most sermons only have enough quality stuff for about 10-15 minutes, and the rest is, at best, filler. (Hint: unless you’re David Letterman, let’s forget the warm-up comedy bits.)

My main complaint, however, is not the length of the sermon. My complaint is that today’s contemporary sermons do not teach the Bible, or theology; rather, they are merely an opportunity for the pastor or speaker to present their Perspective on Life. As interesting as this may be, there is no place in the Bible where you can find justification for this practice.

The Perspective on Life Sermon can’t honestly be touted as Biblical exposition; in fact, the Bible is often manipulated by quoting partial passages from a dozen different locations to support the predetermined point the pastor wants to make. Often during these speeches, verses will come to my mind which cast at least some doubt on the point being made; however, these are never addressed in the sermon (although I would bet the speaker’s aware of the same verses), for to do so would detract from the pastor’s point. The Point has somehow become inspired, if not inerrant, and the Bible is used to support The Point.

Even in cases where “through the Bible” style sermon series are given, the pastor’s perspective will usually dominate the problem texts of Scripture, if they’re addressed at all. A good speaker can slalom his way down a passage of Scripture without really dealing with it; sometimes the pastor’s need to present his perspective is so great that the Biblical text is almost immaterial. Within the last few weeks I heard a pastor completely abandon his text to insert some personal perspectives which had nothing whatsoever to do with the passage he was speaking on, and present no Biblical basis whatsoever for his perspective. This is not “preaching the Word.” What it is, to varying degrees, is manipulation and deception.

Jeremiah 31, speaking of life in the New Covenant, said:

No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.

So… why do we need to pay some guy to give us his perspective on life? (You know, I’ve never heard a pastor speak on this passage…) In my humble opinion, it’s time to elevate the Bible back where it belongs, and to put the sermon back where it belongs – into a supporting role, if we have one at all. And, if we insist on having one, let’s shorten it up a bit.

7 thoughts on “The problem with sermons”

  1. I never said that there wasn’t a time for lengthier teaching or preaching; I’m just talking about the standard Sunday A.M. sermon presented as part of a worship service. However, should an actual apostle ever show up on a Sunday morning, I may give him a few extra minutes (as long as he stays on point).

  2. You boys need to be careful about venerating the “short” sermon. The Apostle Paul, for one, wouldn’t have made the cut. And short isn’t necessarily better.

    Just try limiting your own blog posts to 25 words and see how far you get.

    Maybe the real problem is not preachers, sermon length or placement, but substance.

  3. Great Post!

    I shared this before: The last word should be given to God. The singing, etc. is the opportunity for everyone to connect with God.

    As for sermons, it seems these long sermons are the pastor’s way of justifying his salary. Most of them seem to ramble because they can’t specifically explain the point or they are just filling time.

    I’ve noticed two trends. You covered the first: pastors going off message to interject a personal point. I’ve seen a pastor do this whenever he was “given” a sermon…the personal interjection made him feel like it was now “his” sermon.

    The second trend is the Saturday Night Prep. It seems a lot of these pastors are putting their sermons together at the last minute ON PURPOSE. (This may be why you’re seeing less Bible and more personal perspective.) But the other reason gets back to the contradictions. The longer they have to think about the sermon, the more they recognize the holes and obsess over the content.

    The less time they have to think, the easier it is to believe in and “sell” their point of view…

  4. Perhaps a little clarification of definitions would be helpful- “worship” has come to be understood to mean only the singing portion of the service, so I understand and agree to some extent. However, in a meeting where “all things are done in order,” the recitations, prayers, Bible readings, sermons as well as singing (actually, this falls under “recitations,” only with music…) is worship. The goal is that it all serves to orient us in proper position to God.

  5. I agree.
    And as long as were shuflin’ the service, I believe worship should come after the message, not before. Rather than preparing our hearts {through song) to “receive the word” it would be more appropriate to put the burden of proof on the preacher of the word to present a good case for Christ, so that the people may respond to “Who has been made known” for the focal point of their worship.
    But that’s just me.

  6. “The Point has somehow become inspired, if not inerrant, and the Bible is used to support The Point.” Great observation.

    While living in Minneapolis, I had the privilege (I know now how much a privilege it was) to attend a church where the pastor preached the Bible through a book at a time. He said he liked to do it that way because he couldn’t choose the topics but had to deal with them as they came up. He was a great speaker and explicator, to be sure, but the Bible was definitely the star there.

    To be fair, there are lots of churches out there (not just Lutheran ones) who subscribe to the same approach. But they are often dismissed by the more “Spirit-filled” charismatic folks as legalistic or semi-comatose. For their part, the Vibey Fellowship Churches are so into “hearing the Father” they neglect to read him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *