Saturday, April 28, 2012

Who Gives a Sermon?

In my Church Shopping Saga, one of the qualifications we came up with was Is the Sermon Good?  I want to explore a bit more about the sermon, and specifically, who should give the sermon.

Traditionally in churches, it is the Senior Pastor that gives a sermon.  Associate pastors might speak once per month, and there may be an occasional guest speaker.  And often, when the Senior Pastor is going to be away, people will skip church that week because it is not the Senior Pastor who is speaking.

Generally, I can understand this.  The Senior Pastor is likely the one with the most experience and education.  Even though this is usually the case, it does come with some downfalls.  I once knew a pastor who got sermons online and often gave them verbatim, never saying that they were not his own, and said "thank you" when he was told "good sermon" as people shook his hand when they left the service.  Despite his having an M.Div. and despite the fact that a sermon is a large part of a pastor's job (I once asked a pastor how long it took him to prepare a sermon, and he said to do a really good job, it was about 20 hours), this particular pastor really put little effort into it.  I don't know what the actual reason for his doing it was (when I confronted him about it, and told him I'd read along with one he gave, he said "why would you do that?" as if I was the one with the problem.  In case you are wondering that too, I looked it up ahead of time and brought it with me to see if what I suspected was true.  Now, I also do know that a sermon is not comprised of all original ideas.  I just believe that credit needs to be given where credit is due).

I think that part of the problem is that we expect pastors, because they are paid, and often, the only full-time employee, to be and do all things. They do have a difficult job.  But if a pastor is not equipped to do one part of the whole job, or feels burnt out by it, or whatever reason there is, why not find someone else who can do that part of the job?  What if there was someone else in the congregation who was perfectly capable of giving a sermon?  Why not let that person do it on a regular basis, even if the pastor is not away?

Megachurches with campuses that broadcast one person speaking make me sad because it essentially says that of those thousands of people, nobody else is qualified to speak.  Really?  Nobody?

One of the things that I appreciated so much about Waldorf College and working there was that many people were invited to bring a message during chapel services.  It could be a local pastor, a faculty member, a staff member, a student.  There was no distinction between people who were "ordained" and "lay" people.  It is the place where I gave my first sermon/homily/message and if it wasn't for the belief held there that anyone can speak, I would never have even considered I could do something like that.

What does it say when we limit who God can use to speak to people?  Can't God can use anyone to get a  message across to people?  I believe He can, and not only can He use anyone, He can even the absurd.  Remember the burning bush?  The talking donkey?  A simple shepherd named Amos?  A sinful Samaritan woman?  A man who denied Jesus three times?

As much as I enjoy preparing for and giving sermons, I think, if I were ever pastor of a church (which I have no plans to be), I would want to actively look for people within the congregation to bring messages as well.  I would want them to be able to tell their stories, to encourage them in studying a passage of the Bible in depth in order to prepare, to introduce them to commentaries that can help in their understanding, and, ultimately, all of these things can help in their faith.

I love this verse about gathering together from 1 Corinthians:  What should be done then, my friends?  When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. --1 Corinthians 14:26

This verse shows that all who gather have something valuable to share, and that each person can bring each of these things.  Maybe one week, someone has a hymn to share, and the next week, a lesson.  When I picture this in my head, I see people sitting around together, talking and sharing and looking at each other rather than at the backs of the heads of people in front of them.  I see them being able to interact and discuss the lesson given rather than just nodding along to what the speaker says and then filing out to make small talk and go get coffee (although, I do think coffee is very important).

What do you think about sermons?  Do you ever wish you had time to ask a question about it or discuss it?  Or do you like the traditional way churches do sermons?  Do you think only the pastor is qualified to speak, or do you think others should have the opportunity as well?

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