Line ‘em Up and Lay It on ‘em

By Mark A. Taylor

“If my only choice is to sit in a row and hear someone talk for 30 minutes, I want it to be the best speaker I can find.” The young adult (a raised in the church, graduate of a Christian college Christian) was explaining why she’d chosen the congregation where she’s now a member.

Her comment reminded me of an article I’d seen in Leadership journal this summer by Spencer Burke, creator of a Web site called theOOZE.com.

Burke says churches today are “focusing on one product to the exclusion of others,” Most often, it’s a 60 to 90 minute teaching event, he says, “basically the same product we’ve been selling since the Reformation. People sit in a room and listen to someone talk.”

Burke’s Web site is a forum for postmodern Christians, many of them young adults more or less disenchanted with church forms they find today. Several of them share the same ambivalence about what happens at most churches on Sunday mornings. Samples from recent posts:

Dialogue needs to occur, people need to think and discuss, and pastors need to get off their high towers of control and be challenged by others. The sermon can have a place but it needs to be shared.

A discussion is way better . . . a meeting of minds, an all participating study. Anything but a soapbox, one man show.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sermons. One of the problems of switching to a discussion format that I’ve found is that it can be intimidating for new folks or old folks who are used to sitting and listening.

I guess I’m one of those “old folks,” because I love a good sermon. But I have to wonder if today’s excellent 30 minute sermon is more a contemporary art form than a biblical requirement. For example, how are we obeying Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 14:26? As one contemporary paraphrase puts it: “When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight” (The Message) .

It’s the “each one of you” and the “prepared” that seem to be missing in many American church services today. Too often too many watch in silence, as though they’ve come to a movie or their 10 year old’s piano recital. They leave for lunch and quickly forget most of the hour till they show up for next week’s performance.

How do we solve the problem? Many of these row fillers, as the third post above indicates, would complain if we did something different. But I can’t help but wonder how many we would energize, and how many new folks (many of them young adults) we would attract, if we dared to try something on Sunday different than line-‘em-up-and-lay-it-on-‘em.

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