A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Why I do not like going to church (Part 1)

Surprising coming from a minister the past two years on hiatus and seminary student? You might think so, but I have met enough of people like me to know that there is a strong contingent of us.

Now when I say I do not like attending church, it is not a cop out to cease to being part of a Christian community. This is not a selfish justification at go-it-alone religion.  Rather, I do something else, which I also dislike: church-jumping.

There a strong sense of discontent about the way worship services function. While I do not have many concrete solutions (nor any that have actually be tried by fire), wisdom comes from seeing where there are problems and moving from there to a solution. Nor am I the first to ever say these things.

What I hope to do then is to give a series of critique of the ways church worship is frequently done, in the hopes that it will move others and me to pursue wisdom.

Lack of good preaching

Probably one of the most thrown about criticisms of worship services. There are about as many styles of teaching as there are number of churches. Nevertheless, in my experience they all suffer from some of the typical elements that I believe make the teaching lack real substance.

First off, many sermons move too quickly to the moral exhortation. While I have the conviction that the reason for orthodox teaching is partly to ensure proper practice, moralizing sermons fail to engage the whole person. It makes a simple moral statement that has likely been oft repeated in that church and other churches and maybe in culture. If people aren’t following it now after the thousands times they have heard it, why would it suddenly move them now?

God and His work is what enables us to live as His Son did. But when we move too quickly to the prescriptive part of a message, we fail to provide the full grounds by which we can fulfill the message. We live by God’s will because we trust God with the concerns of life and death that might force us to choose to neglect our Christian duty. Trust is the essential foundation upon which obedience must be built upon for it to stand. But when in our preaching, we do not focus so much of what God has, is, and will do but on what we should do, we do not stir the trust of God in people’s hearts that is necessary to take upon our own cross

But not all sermons are moralizing sermons. Many are expository sermons that focus on a particular text. The preacher goes through the meticulous details of a particular Biblical text, dissecting it to try to bring its full meaning out. However, these sermons are way to cognitive. They fall upon the Enlightenment mindset where we must validate everything we say. However, the average person gets lost in all the details. How are the supposed to get from A to C when they get lost at A or B?

And even the more intellectual ones frequently get lost into a deep analysis of the text (speaking from personal experience). Furthermore, where analysis is the primary mode of a particular worshiper, they  place the text under their control by their knowledge and goals. How are they supposed to grow when they are lost in the analytical mode and not coming to God with open hands? How are they supposed to be lead by the Spirit, when they fall into purely leading themselves by textual and historical analysis?

While exegesis of the Biblical text is critical on the part of any preacher, it must be a background exercise that gives them a better understanding of the story that is occurring. For those of us who are leaders of the flock, we have an authority bestowed upon us. If we indeed have that trust from the listeners, we need not have to going into a thorough exegetical analysis of the text in the sermon. There are places when an exegetical point might force open a rather closed, selfish, and anachronistic understanding of the text, and there is a place for exegesis in teaching of the Bible itself. But the preachers must act as Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount, teaching with authority, and not as a scribe who wrestled with the minutiae of the text to derive their teaching.

In addition, much of our sermons rely too much on analogies and illustrations. There are times and places for them, but the more one uses them and the greater amount of time they take up, the more they serve as a distraction. I have remember many a sermon where I learned more about the pastor’s family than I really did about God’s work in the world in Christ through the Spirit.

Also, the proliferation of  emotional material frequently is used to try to get force behind the behavioral prescription. While the emotional life is essential to the Christian life, when the things that drive our emotional responses are not so much based upon what God is doing, but upon our analysis of other stories that we read through our moral lenses of justice, injustice, love, struggle, etc., we are appealing to a form of self-willed morality, instead of one that is energized by the very story and work of God.

In summary, most of the content of preaching relies very little upon God’s story and work beyond a logical justification for a certain moral exhortation. And when we do appeal to God’s side, we appeal to metaphysics, abstract theological concepts, and hidden spiritualities, instead of the actual historical stories and proclamations of God and Christ witnessed to by the Bible. The classic sermon is primarily an exercise in self-will, cheap emotions, and cognition.

There are more criticism I could provide on preaching, but they also fall under other more generic criticisms that apply to places beyond the sermon, so I will leave them for there.

The last few sermons that I have given, I have tried to move towards this style of preaching, but the habits of old are hard to break. And to travel in a dark forest with no made path is seen is also a hard task with many mistakes that come along the journey. May the God of wisdom reveal to us how to truly proclaim Him!


January 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment