Sunday, June 27, 2010

What We Might REALLY Be Saying

The first thing I would like to do is completely undermine any shred of credibility I have ever had and say that I just purchased "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga on iTunes. Yes, you read that right. It is so freakin' catchy!

Now that I have all my unconfessed sin out in the open, I would like to share a thought I had today in church. It had nothing to do with the sermon. So to the guy who preached today, this is not about you buddy or anything you had to say. However, I totally tuned you out when I was writing all this stuff down. Sorry.

We like to say that following Jesus is first and foremost a relationship. On the whole, I like that description. I don't actually think we take it far enough most of the time but that is not the point.

My point is that through all our teaching on this "relationship," are we unintentionally totally undermining the entire thing with the way we do Sunday morning? Relationships are about interaction. They are about communication, spending time together, doing things together, living life together, figuring out and working through conflicts, celebrating. You know, the things you do with people you care about.

I am trying to think of any relationships I have that resemble a pastor giving a sermon.

Connection? If week after week after week the primary way we learn about God is through a monologue speech, doesn't that affect our perception of the subject of that monologue?

It is possible that I am making too big a leap in my logic but I think there might be something to it.

Many of us think God doesn't speak to us. We want someone to speak like a pastor does. We want him to lay out 3 key steps to improving our lives (preferably they all start with the same letter and end in "-tion"). But I think most people who "hear" from God experience something much more subtle and cryptic. Something more mysterious. Sometimes it is a picture or a word. Sometimes a passage of scripture just punched you in the face like it never did before. Sometimes a friend calls you out on something and you are able to see the world through new eyes.

Nor do my relationships resemble this. When was the last time you sat down with a friend and then launched into a sermon?

Which brings me to my next point. Sermons are not conversational. I don't know about your church, but at mine and MANY others I have been to, the whole set up on Sunday morning is about listening to one person. I do not interact with this person. I am not allowed to ask questions during the sermon.

Though maybe I should try sometime. Boy that would throw everyone off wouldn't it?

Do some of us struggle with seeing God as someone we can interact with? As someone we can't question or argue with? I believe we can, though we need to be prepared to get Job-like answers.

And in my relationships, I interact. I ask questions. I get asked questions. We deepen our relationship with each other. We get to know each other more. I don't know that I have ever felt like I knew my pastor better and had a deeper relationship with him after a sermon. He certainly doesn't know me any better. I probably know a little more ABOUT him and have heard some funny story about his kids or his family's frequent stops at In-n-Out burger on their vacations. But there is no deepening of relationship.

And because of that, neither of us are transformed.

When I get to interact with someone, the chances of me having a life-changing experience go up dramatically.

Now don't get me wrong. I love a good sermon. I love giving good ones. I want to be a better preacher. But I can't rely on that. I have to realize the limits of what it can do. I have to understand what I communicate that has nothing to do with the words I say.

The sermon must be accompanied by relationship. The sermon must be able to be challenged and questioned and wrestled with in the context of community and friendship.

So thanks pastor man this morning for giving me some space to think about this.


  1. Holy cow I agree with this so much. I was feeling a lot like this when my family went to the 5pm smaller service at our large WASP suburban church. I think you outlined here a lot of the reasons for the unfulfilled feeling I often have in large church settings.

    It's also interesting because I have heard the pastor say that at this smaller service people are welcome to ask questions, but no one ever has. We're used to being passive receptors, and especially adults who aren't used to being in school where people are trying to make you an 'active listener' or whatever are apt to just sit in that mode even when told to respond or discuss or whatever.

    Incidentally, I don't think this is nearly as much of a problem at Awake, for a number of reasons. The first is that I do know you personally, and do feel like I can speak up (and do, because I'm usually hyped up and can't control myself). Secondly and perhaps most importantly, you're not just speaking to a group of random people, but a true community. Part of that community's root is my third point, that you don't just always talk at us - there are plenty of discussions and there is also Bible study, which takes place in the same sort of vague IV context and thus serves to be part of the same relationship that is coming up in the talks you give.

    I guess another thing I'm thinking about now is passive reception, and the kind of relationship that mirrors. What it brings to mind for me, in a more general sense, is TV watching - I don't often enjoy watching TV or movies because in part of the medium. It's very one-dimensional - things just happen, you may not notice things you're supposed to, and everything just sweeps on. I love reading books because I can reread sections if I was zoning out, or didn't understand something, or want to see if what I just read really did relate to something that was hinted at 20 pages ago. It makes me think a lot more. I also enjoy video games, but they're interactive in a very different way, and only the very best really make for a lot of thinking, at least as the industry stands now. I dunno, now I'm talking about media consumption I guess, but it's a vague parallel of sorts, and I seem to be in a contemplative mood as I read people's blogs and they make me think.

    I hope this response isn't longer than your post; that would be awkward.

    Anyway, thanks for the thought provoking, spot-on post.


  2. Nope, mine is only about 60% of the size of yours. Curiosity: satisfied.

  3. Well said!

    Ha ... at one point, I looked over and saw you writing stuff down. I thought, "Ben can't be taking sermon notes ... he must have had a different revelation." :)

  4. I'll echo Austin, "spot-on" my friend. I'm so glad that you took the time yesterday to write this out.

    Right not, I don't think that we, those of us sitting in the back few roles, feel known by our pastors, but I have experienced something very differently. Paul, who I still consider to be "my pastor" and friend in my hometown, is highly gifted both in connecting and preaching. Long after the service, he can be found meeting new people, asking them great questions and answering theirs. It feels like his sermons are the continuation of his conversations with others, in addition to his conversations with God. It was always fun to listen to a sermon that was directly tied to a question that I had raised or conversations that we had had.

    In order to decrease my Sunday frustrations, I have resigned to the belief that pastors are not all gifted in the same way; that they each have different strengths and gifting to bless their congregations. In all honestly, my expectations for Sunday mornings are probably too low. I have no influence on what happens “on stage”, but I have complete control over how I connect with others on Sunday mornings.

    How does your understanding change what we do on Tuesdays? And outside of Tuesdays for our community?

    Good stuff to chew on my friend and I look forward to your written reflects on the past two weeks. Write on, write on....