During the weekend course I've just been on, we had a discussion about the value of preaching.
The place of the sermon in our regular services was brought in to question. Should we keep the sermon in our service?
Well the early church, as far as we know, didn't have anything like a sermon slot. Of course they also didn't have music, dedicated Christian buildings (or indeed the Bible as we know it, in the early years, but let's not go there!!) so that's not exactly a good argument AGAINST the sermon.
What difference do sermons make?
I remember playing games during the sermons when I was younger (embarrassingly not THAT much younger in fact!) and I know there are those who time them either by clock or by mint imperials. "At least it makes people read the notices sheet" said one of my colleagues today! OUCH! So is there any point in having sermons at church?
I know that people make comments to me when I've preached but I am also very much aware that I can't remember many sermons that I've heard and surely I must have heard hundreds. However I DO remember some sermons. Not normally the WHOLE sermon but certainly the message of some. Or indeed just a section, a sentence, a word.
Today, for example, Mike Butterworth preached on the topic of prayer and asking God for things. The sermon as a whole didn't speak to me especially. HOWEVER there was one sentence which really did slap me round the face like a wet fish. Mike said that when we ask God for things, sometimes, the answer isn't "NO" but "Why are you asking for that? There is something SO much better" This is a message I really needed to hear and which I am still trying to REALLY hear. Some of you may know why but oh BOY let's not go there.
This for me is an argument in favour of the sermon.
One of the other arguments AGAINST getting rid of the sermon is... what do we do instead? This is not to say that the sermon is there merely as a result of a lack of imagination to do something else. In fact I think we all need a challenge. Although the Bible can give us a challenge we often need someone to EXPOUND on that message and make it clearer for us or relate it to our modern lives.
Indeed the sermon is the primary means of teaching in many churches. It would be brilliant if all the people in our churches could spend time in Bible study groups but this simply isn't the reality for many Christians. Therefore the sermon remains the prime focus for teaching about Christianity.
Part of our discussions focussed on the style of sermons and here my peculiar mix of an academic background and a youthwork present showed through. The first two styles we discussed were a) serious and learned b) informal, relaxed and chatty. I actually see no reason why these two can't combine. I don't believe that a relaxed sermon necessarily means one that uses only simple language. In fact I really feel it is important that preachers do use complex language sometimes. In a relaxed sermon the preacher needs not simply to use the technical theological terms but also to explain them.
Again an argument in favour of the sermon I feel.
Oh dear before this sounds too much like a poorly constructed essay I'd better stop.
I appear to have persuaded myself that we should keep on preaching. Who else has any feelings about keeping or losing the sermon from our services?