When The Sermon’s the Thing

Is it possible big bangthat sermons can be ruinous to our spiritual lives? And I’m not talking about bad theology.

I’m talking about the primacy of The Sermon.

We in the Reformed tradition would say that the primacy of the sermon  is – in itself – good theology.  But making the sermon the center of all things also causes theological confusion in that:

  • Most pastor nominating committees are seeking – first and foremost –  “a good preacher” rather than a strong leader who can equip the saints for their own ministry.
  • When Sunday morning worship is considered the most important hour of the week, we can become self-satisfied.  I heard a sermon, so my spiritual ponderings are done until next time I hear a sermon.
  • When we invest most of our energy, money, and ‘church time’ in that single hour of Sunday morning worship – if we go to church at all – we forget that following Jesus is a way of life rather than single hour commitment.
  • When we receive all our theological training from sermons, we forget our own calling to study the Scriptures and reflect theologically in other venues.
  • If we expect the sermon to be educational, entertaining, comforting, and compelling – and then we go have brunch and forget about it – there is no spiritual transformation or visible impact.

The sermon – to me – is dessert. If we consider it the main course we are going to die of theological malnutrition.

Yes, many of our preachers are elegant and brilliant and excellent at interpreting Scripture for daily life.  But excellent pastors are also Walking Sermons, modeling what discipleship looks like and offering spiritual reflection in every meeting, class, and conversation.  We’ve all know Good Preachers who are rarely confused for Jesus.

It’s a common joke that pastors only work on Sundays.  But the joke also lets parishioners off the hook.  If “the pastor only works on Sundays” then maybe this means that parishioners only have to practice their faith on Sundays.

The 21st Century Church offers multiple portals for entering a faith community.  Yes, there is a corporate gathering on Sundays.  But if there is something different everyday in a variety of places with a variety of practices, there are more ways to enter the community.  What if small congregations partnered with other small congregations so that individual staff members don’t burn out?

I love a good sermon.  But if it’s the only time I ponder holy things, I’m missing out on the holy stuff that happens every day.


2 responses to “When The Sermon’s the Thing

  1. I think it can let people off the hook in another way, as well. The most recent issue of Presbyterians Today says that the top three reasons for visitors returning are: 1) friendliness of the people, 2) quality of the sermon, and 3) overall worship experience. If community trumps preaching on that list, then that means that the work the people do is more important than the work the preacher does. However, if we make the sermon THE thing, then we can convince ourselves that we don’t need to be friendly because people will surely come back to hear another sermon.


  2. Amen!! I offer a critique of the primacy of the Word (in our tradition) and the way that too easily slides into a primacy of the preacher that is contrary to our theology of ordination in the final chapter of the dissertation I’m working to finish (or rather was until taking up this call…)

    Your arguments are a nice supplement to my thinking in this area. Like the image of sermon as dessert… But it is a key vehicle for the ongoing proclamation of the a gospel in the world which inspires, nurtures, and sustains faith- bit more than dessert. That said- I think we need to broaden our definition of what counts as preaching… Wherever the gospel of forgiveness is mediated, there the Word is proclaimed… In Geneva there were daily sermons- so it may still be in Seoul. But here… It can’t all boil down to that hour… The Gospel needs to be proclaimed daily. And I believe it is… But we need to cultivate intentionality around this task…


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