Revitalizing Our Sunday Sermon Experience

Sunday sermons are perhaps the greatest opportunity for the Church. Think about it. Every week multitudes everywhere submit politely to a proclamation of a Biblical theme, with the anticipation of being instructed on how to live by faith in a muddled world. We cannot allow the sermon experience to slip into a mere traditional routine while contemporary issues overwhelm us. The challenges confronting Christians today require a sermon to apply Scripture not only to theological topics, but also to ideologies, political issues, societal tensions, scientific advancements, and more. Relevancy is now indispensable, as it can be presupposed that church attendees are thinking about the foregoing. Bless the hearts of pastors who are trying to deliver relevant sermons while leading their flocks, but the world is becoming far too complex now for any person to address everything proficiently. Pastors and Elders should consider tapping into the gifts and talents of their congregants to complement the Sunday sermon experience. After all, it’s Biblical.

When pulpiteers introduced coffee tables and stools on the platform, they somehow overlooked that a sermon’s value is in its content and not its optics. People attend church not for the spectacle, but to hear the real deal. They desire Scriptural depth. In 2017, Christianity Today reported on a Gallup poll that revealed the primary reason people attend church is they are interested in “the truth:”

". . . according to a new Gallup poll. . . Preaching on Scripture and its relevance ranked above factors like kids’ programs, . . . community outreach, . . . and social activities. . . Even so-called seeker sensitive churches have discovered that theological depth appeals to lapsed Christians and non-believers. . . They are interested in the truth or else they’d be out golfing."

After a hectic week in a fast-paced world, congregants want their faith nourished substantially. Routinely, a pastor unpacks a Scriptural theme with practical application, but there are times when the gifts and knowledge of congregants can aid to enrich the message for everyone.

Let’s take a lesson from the testimony of Francis Chan who was a successful mega-church pastor, but transitioned out of that model. Chan came to realize that many gifts in his church were being wasted. In Letters to the Church Chan explains:

The Bible tells us that every member of the body has a gift necessary to the functioning of the Church. When I looked at what went on at Cornerstone, I saw a few other people and me using our gifts, while thousands just came and sat in the sanctuary for an hour and a half and then went home. The way we had structured the church was stunting people’s growth, and the whole body was weaker for it (6).

Chan’s observations should impel us to support pastoral ministry by awakening a fellowship’s dormant resources. Not all fellowships have big numbers, but the availability of gifts can be scaled accordingly.

After a time sensitive sermon, pastors can be joined occasionally by various congregants who can provide pertinent knowledge on a particular topic, for an open congregational panel discussion. Depending on the topic, it may be a lawyer, a nurse, a psychologist, and a business leader. For another topic, it may be a general labourer, a domestic worker, an engineer, a doctor, a science, history or philosophy teacher, and then allow questions from the congregation. Gifts and talents of administration, “helps,” governance, and hospitality (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12) are among us and they are under-utilized. Those who have them can articulate the Christian experience of their vocations and provide valuable knowledge to their fellowship. Even so, the participants will feel valued and the church will experience a deeper connection of fellowship as unity is fostered. Furthermore, sermons must now speak to a church’s culturally diverse composition. Discussion will allow everyone to learn from one another and grow together, appreciating the cultural values of our fellowships. The Great Commission calls for all nations to accept grace, be discipled, and grow together as a church family.

Perhaps some church leaders reading this might think that it’s a radical change, but it’s not. Note again Chan’s cautionary insight, “The way we had structured the church was stunting people’s growth, and the whole body was weaker for it.” When gifted people sit down weekly for church and then go home, it’s really irresponsible to what God has given us. Church leadership should develop its people to become everything that God has for them and their fellowship.

Elder boards have a chair for committees such as HR, finance, missions, and maintenance. Isn’t it also high time that a committee for gifts and talents be established to identify particular congregants and encourage them to serve? Likewise, they should also appoint a committee for pulpit ministry to work along the pastor and identify congregants who can contribute pertinently to scheduled topics. We need to acknowledge seriously what God has provided among us.

Given how fast the world is changing, expectations from a sermon will continue to increase, especially among millennials and Generation Z who are advanced, educated and likely to be fact checking while listening. Issues are coming at us thick and fast, and we need to support our pastors by maximizing resources to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ . . . so that we may no longer be children, tossed . . . by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:12-14). For now, the golden opportunity of the sermon still exists. Let’s revitalize the experience lest it dries up and becomes relegated to a mere traditional exercise. “Winds of doctrine” will be unrelenting, but our messages can rise up and provide a more corporate and fulfilling experience.

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About the author

Marlon De Blasio, Ph.D. is a Christian thinker, cultural apologist, and author of Discerning Culture. He lives in Toronto with his family. Follow him at @MarlonDeBlasio on Twitter.