CHURCH & MINISTRY
By Steve Webb
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Continued from Page Two
Maybe the reason that Jesus was so effective in his teaching is that he didn't really sermonize. By strict translation, the word "sermon" is not in the Bible. The words "Sermon on the Mount" are not in Scripture. The longest thing that could be called a sermon in the Bible is Stephen's defense and statement of faith in Acts 7, where it is a sum total of 52 verses. Even allowing for the possibility of Acts presenting a condensed version, it probably did not last longer than 15 minutes. You might recall that the practice of extended formal oratory was introduced by the Greeks who became famous for it. The celebrities of that day were men like Plato and Aristotle, who were trained in rhetoric and skilled in oratory. This quickly translated itself into the church. Thus, it is the Christian theologian Origen (184-253 A.D.), who, long after the church had been established, became known as "Father of the Sermon." This Greek style of rhetoric consisting of formalized lengthy discourses spread through early Christian theologians like Augustine, Ambrose, Cyprian, and many others, proceeding in various ways and degrees up to present day. It has reached the point where the entire church service is built around, and focused upon, a formalized discourse: the sermon. That is where the worship time is dedicated. Everything else is a bit of a passing formality preceding the main event. Even Communion has been dispensed with in many churches as taking too much time and being too much trouble, taking time away from the sermon.
This sermonizing is strikingly alien to the early church services, such as described in 1 Corinthians 14:26 which reads, "What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up." The sense I get from Scripture is that formalized teaching is not the main event and is not restricted to designated clergy. The floor belongs to one and all, so long as everything is done decently and in order, and under the authority of the elders. There is not to be one person who teaches all, but instead it is everyone's responsibility to teach each other and grow together. This does not obviate the fact that there are people among us who have special teaching skills and Bible knowledge. We must allow them the opportunity to teach. But it is not to be done to the degree that it relegates the rest of the congregation to be permanent pew-sitters, second-stringers who never have a chance to take the court.
To the degree that we allow specially trained teachers to carry the teaching load, we need to expect them to do their job. Not everyone is gifted at teaching and not everyone is willing to be sufficiently educated and hard-working to do the job. This role needs to be honestly evaluated and acted upon. Speaking and presentation skills must be studied, practiced, and employed by those intent on teaching. The latest and best theological resources and scholarship must be brought to bear on the subject. Concordances and commentaries must be evaluated and used as aides. It is inexcusable to not use multimedia when the technology is present. PowerPoint slides are easier to prepare than sermon notes and there is no reason to not use them. Seeing, as well as hearing, holds people's attention much better, and tremendously helps people remember the message. A talk should start with a clear statement as to why it is important to the audience. From there you tell them what you are going to tell them, you tell them, then you tell them what you told them. Few talks should last beyond thirty minutes otherwise it exceeds normal attention spans. These are just a few pointers from presentation training that I received in both industry and seminary. Christians today see good multimedia teaching on TV, videos, most large churches, and at their workplace. They know good teaching when they see it, have come to expect it, and deserve it. It is time to improve in this area if not done already.
Present day, I am tremendously more merciful towards teachers now than I was in my youth, partly because I have come to realize the great mercy God has extended to me. I further realize I am at the stage in life where I should not expect to be gaining a huge amount of new information from the Bible after a lifetime of studying it. For this reason, I give great honor to those who are doing a good job of teaching. It is a necessary part of our church life. I simply pray that we do it wisely, always seeking to improve, and not getting stuck in traditions and methods that are manmade, no longer working well, do a disservice to our children, and do not take into account the spiritual maturity of one's particular church.
Bs0u10e0; "The Pulpit: St Chads Church, Hopwas"; Creative Commons
The Explorographer; "In Ruins"; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Church-Issues | Ministry-Church | Personal-Life
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