Every Sunday, thousands of preachers give a talk based (often loosely!) on the Bible to millions of Christians sitting in front of them. But do these sermons make any difference in people’s lives?! It’s tempting to believe that the impact, if any, is very short-lived and superficial. Many churches don’t seem to be growing and lots of church attenders show little evidence of a deepening discipleship or heart for mission.
So, is there something wrong with many of our preachers? Or is the sermon itself past its sell-by date in a world of short soundbites, social media and Twitter comment? Or perhaps the problem is with the hearers who don’t come to the church service with much of an expectation of learning anything which will affect their lives?
I’ll talk about the problem with some sermons (and some preachers!) in another blog, but for now, let’s think about the role of the ‘hearer’. As those who listen to sermons, let’s make a commitment to come to each talk we hear with an approach that’s asking God if He has something to say to us. We should do this even if our regular sermon diet is a little dull and uninspiring, in which case we’ll need the help of the Holy Spirit even more to answer the following questions:
what’s the main point here?
what does it tell me about God?
what does it tell me about myself?
how should I change my behaviour as a result of what I’m listening to right now?
what should I DO this week as a result of the message I’m hearing?
This attitude with these questions should revolutionise what we get out of a Sunday morning talk! I can think of several friends who are stuck in churches where they constantly listen to uninspiring sermons, when they are tired and their minds are full of other things. By making a commitment of the will to questions like these, they still manage to maintain a positive and fruitful Christian life.
Read the correspondence below that was written a century ago in a national newspaper. It might make us all a bit more positive about the cumulative impact of listening week by week to our local preacher!
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 regularly for the past thirty years and during that time, if I estimate correctly, I have listened to no less than three thousand 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 responses for weeks. Eventually, a single letter closed the debate:
I have been married for thirty years. During that time I have eaten 32,000 meals – mostly of my wife’s cooking. Suddenly, I have discovered that I cannot remember the menu of a single meal. And yet, I received nourishment from every one of them. I have the distinct impression that without them I would have starved to death long ago.
Yours sincerely …