Why we shouldn't ditch the traditional sermon just yet

Calls for us to ditch sermons are nothing new. I remember people saying these sorts of these things when I was a young lad. More recently, I’ve heard people give a variety of different reasons why we should ditch the sermon. Some of them are intellectual sounding, others are much more straightforward and honest, while others still reference culture and insist that it is all passe. But all of these views agree that the sermon has had its day.

And you’d assume an area like mine would be ripe for that sort of thing. We’re a church with a large number of non-English speakers present, the thought of a 30-40 minute sermon (no 10-minute Anglican homilies in our gaff) seems almost insane. Then there’s the the whole working class thing. Surely (as I am frequently told in slightly more dressed up language) your people are a bit too thick to concentrate for that long. Obviously if you’ve never been to university, how could you cope with listening. And what about the ‘younger generation’ – all those feckless millenials who are wedded to their phones and youtube videos? They can’t concentrate for more than the length of a gif!

And yet *big shock to absolutely nobody who pays attention* most people manage perfectly happily with our 40-minute sermons. The only people who don’t are those who don’t really want to listen to the Word at all. Most people are quite happy to sit, listen and will even chat about stuff they’ve heard later in the week with other church members. It’s almost as if people who want to understand the Word are perfectly capable of listening to expository preaching when they are motivated to do so.

So, in no particular order, here are some reasons I don’t think we should be ditching the sermon just yet.

It’s biblical

Bottom line, the bible pushes us to view preaching as important. Thoughout Acts, whilst there are examples of dialogue going on, there is a clear pattern of preaching in monologue. I suppose it is possible that these are edited examples of discussions, but they are in actuality presented as monologues. What is more, Timothy is given the charge to devote himself to the public reading of scripture and to preach the Word. The Corinthian church are told to stop quite so many people speaking, which suggests that too much conversation and sharing was getting in the way of the main purpose of the gather. And, in the end, the typical words translated ‘preach’ or ‘preaching’ mean to proclaim, declare or herald. Preaching is biblical and we are foolish to depart from what the Lord has told us clearly to do.

Myths of concentration

People like to make a lot of lack of concentration. But if monologues really are a problem, why is that people are happy to pay to go and listen to hour long comedy sets that involve nothing but a bloke talking (usually for twice the length of time as a preacher)? Universities still insist on the hour long lecture format and seem to think this perfectly reasonable. It has been my experience that claims to lack of concentration are rarely borne out in reality.

Difficulties of dialogue

There is also a sense, often peddled, that dialogue is necessarily better and more engaging. That may be true if your congregation is nothing but professionals and university graduates. But many people who have not been through university would far rather sit and listen to a sermon than have questions fired at them whilst they dig around a text to alight on answers that you clearly know but seem unwilling to tell them.

And it’s not just working class people. Translation is made much harder in discussion groups. Simultaneously translating a monologue is far easier than allowing a discussion to take place and then attempting to translate it as you go. At best, the discussion is stilted as you have frequent pauses for translation. More often, discussion flows and translation either gets lost altogether or ends up being little more than a sweeping summary of what has been said. Dialogue is not always monologue’s superior.

Bad preaching?

Fact is, an awful lot of preaching is terrible. It is boring, badly structured, not applied and – worst of all – ultimately has no point. If not that, it is delivered in monotone or just read off a script so that – even if there are good things in it – it is so badly delivered nothing goes in. Everyone struggles to concentrate on that sort of preaching because it is, essentially, rubbish. But just as rancid food is not a reason to stop eating altogether, so bad preaching is not a reason to can the sermon. The problem is not preaching per se, it is bad preaching.

We should all be against boring, dull, pointless preaching. But that shouldn’t mean we are against preaching. Preaching is God’s principal means of growing his people. It is through the folly of preaching that the lost will be won and God’s people discipled to maturity. It’s not the only means of teaching and it’s not the only way. But I think we should be wary of those who would call us to ditch it altogether.