No one thinks of themselves as a consumer when it relates to church. Most church-goers wake up thinking, “Should I go today? Yeah I should …” not “Well, what’s in it for me?” It’s not until we get moving do we think things like, “I hope the preacher doesn’t get on his soap box again,” “I hope the service doesn’t go long,” “I hope they don’t feed my kids Smarties” and “Please, no more Chris Tomlin songs.”
Anyway, no one really wakes up in the morning thinking, “I have to consume church today.” But the truth is, we don’t need to actually say that in order to consume. I am hoping these posts help in the reflection of our hearts, expectations and practices as they relate to things like the preaching, the music, the ambiance, and the ministries.
If I could talk about my vanity (as opposed to yours), I’d like to say here’s how and what I have been guilty of consuming and first on the list is the sermon. I’ve been in church for pretty much all my life. I consider myself to be “over-churched” (a term I throw around quite a bit) and I’ve seen quite a bit in the worship service. I’ve had moments where I believe I’ve tasted the goodness of heaven. I’ve also experienced services so awful that if they really were representative of God’s eternity, annihilation would be a more appealing alternative. And like so many, I’ve had a million other experiences in between and have found myself asking, “Well, does the sermon actually matter?”
The sermon is a big deal to me and of course has been a very important element of the collective worship gathering since the beginning of the Church. It’s one of the key moments where we receive the word and we sit in hopes this message will be communicated by the preacher and that God would speak through the strengths (and weaknesses) of him or her. It is no exaggeration when I say some of my most life-altering words I’ve heard as come through the sermon.
With this level of expectation comes potential frustration. It bothers, distracts and at times, infuriates me if the sermon lacks heart or depth or preparation. I am also annoyed if the preacher side-steps obvious questions the text is raising. I get frustrated with these and more. Some of this is fair, some isn’t and this is where the consumption mentality sneaks in.
The flip side of this is I get extremely excited if the sermon is on point and inspiring yet challenging. I love to see the evidence of a communicator who has spent time reading commentaries, reflecting on the nuances of the passage, digging through the rich history of the church, and sharing this in a way we can understand. I love a sermon with intellectual integrity but also challenges my application. I am grateful when the preacher reveres the Word of God as such.
There is nothing wrong with that but even the noblest of expectations are hoped for, I may still be guilty of consuming the sermon.
So how does one shift from consumer to worshipper?
For me, it has been entering the worship service with my fellow believers and fellow seekers with the expectation that in this hour, we will meet with God together. Maybe the better word is “commune.” I tend to avoid using it because it’s too churchy of a word, however, I love how it invokes engaging the presence as opposed to “sitting through a service and seeing if I like it.”
When my heart is not right, I can shift from a worshipper to a consumer and this is has little to do with the preacher. Frankly, the preacher can be prideful or lazy relying on his/her talent, training and experience and God may still use this message to penetrate a heart. This isn’t to justify such a preacher as I believe God will judge this individual severely but we cannot blame all of our shortcomings on the lazy, prideful preacher.
It’s not that the sermon or its quality is irrelevant, it’s that the Scriptures are greater.
It’s not that the preacher is insignificant, it’s that the worship of God is the true focal point.
This is why the sermon could be awkwardly-prepared and the preacher be inarticulate and it can also penetrate the heart. I have also given quite a few of these. This is also why many of us love intelligent, talented communicators who are humble, who truly revere God and love people. They take their calling seriously, strive to lead with character and treat sermonizing as a craft and not a mere function of their job or a vehicle for their own glory.
My point is that God can speak to those in communion in spite of the inability of the preacher or the inadequate sermon if hearts are focused on the worship of The Lord.
So does the quality of the sermon preparation and delivery matter? Absolutely. Should I look for a church where I like the preaching or am I then guilty of consuming? Absolutely.
That’s the case for finding a church-fit. The problem arises again if we are spending more of our time and energy finding our fit and less time actually worshipping the Lord. Liking your church and appreciating elements like the sermon do not make us go-lucky consumers – Why you like your church might. Best to keep the focus on being in communion with others worshipping The Lord.
Future posts will discuss the consumption of worship music, ministries, big church versus small church, traditional, contemporary, non-traditional, etc. Honored that you’re taking the time to read, would love if you offered you thoughts too.