When it Comes to the Church, Only One Thing is Necessary
- Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Leeman's new book, Reverberation: How God's Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People (Moody).
Like many children who grow up in church, I learned how to endure the blah-blah-blah of long sermons at a young age.
When you’re five or six, you survive them by scrutinizing everything within arm’s reach: the back of the head in front of you, the misshapen ears, the offering envelopes which you fold into a tiny ball, the halflength pencils whose tips you break. Sometimes you poke your little brother, which provokes your mother and keeps things interesting.
When you’re fifteen or sixteen, you can listen to some of the blah-blah-blah, but your attention comes and goes. Maybe you daydream. Maybe you wonder what the other teenagers in the room think of you, introduction: especially the members of the opposite sex.
I also remember at this age watching the preacher walk around the platform. He would stroll to one side of the pulpit nonchalantly, as if he were walking up to you at a backyard barbeque. Then he’d amble to the other side of the pulpit, like he wanted to say hello to a family who just arrived. Sometimes he’d casually lean sideways with one hand resting on the pulpit. The whole thing intrigued me. It was so friendly and down to earth.
Of course, I wasn’t really listening to what he said. About the only thing I heard were illustrations about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. It was the 1980s, and the Bulls were on the rise. And we lived in a suburb of Chicago. Mention Jordan’s name and everyone would hop to attention.
Yet let’s be honest. It’s not just the five-year-olds and fifteen-year-olds who struggle to avoid yawning in sermons. It’s adults, too.We all phase in and out. Maybe your brain gets stuck in a spin cycle about a conversation from yesterday. Maybe you start planning Sunday afternoon’s “to-do” list. To this day, I can catch myself tuning out, especially when the preacher mires down in some biblical lesson. But the moment that he begins telling a story, my ears perk up. Does that happen to you?
All of this causes a person to ask whether preaching is that important to the lives of Christians and churches.
The preaching didn’t make much of a difference in my life in high school, or in the lives of some of my friends and their parents. I left high school for college, quit attending church, and jumped into the party scene. So did many of my friends. By God’s grace, I came back to Christ and to His church after college. But many of those friends did not. Today they are stuck in agnosticism, materialism, alcoholism, and more. Many of the parents I looked up to are now divorced.
What good did all those sermons do?
Something with More Octane?
It makes you wonder: Isn’t there something with a little more octane for powering life and growth in our churches than a guy standing up front talking?
My guess is that many Christians today want sermons and songs that are true and broadly biblical, yet for many of us, rightly or wrongly, a strong ministry of the Word is not a top priority.When we first walk into a church, our attention fixes on other things, like the style of the music, the availability of good children’s programming, or even the look and feel of the room. Honestly, we can evaluate churches like people evaluate trendy urban restaurants—“how’s the ambiance?”
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