When You Come Together, Each One Has a Sermon

2 Weeks of Pagan Christianity

Chapter 4 of Pagan Christianity deals with the topic of the sermon. We had a couple of interesting discussions about the sermon previously on my blog here and here. If you go to read them, don’t skip the comments because, as usual, the best stuff is always in the comments.

In my post Underlying Issues, I said this about the sermon:

We are convinced that a church system which allows believers to fulfill their weekly spiritual obligation by listening to a sermon creates a consumerist audience who have not been encouraged to step into the responsibility of being a disciple and discipling others.

Here is a little of what the book said:

“The ancient Greeks and Romans viewed rhetoric as one of the greatest forms of art. Consequently, Greco-Roman culture developed an insatiable appetite for hearing someone give an eloquent oration. Orators were given celebrity status.”

“Many of these became theologians and leaders in the early Christian church. They began to use their oratorical skills for Christian purposes.”

“So a new style of communication was being birthed in the Christian church – a style that emphasized polished rhetoric, sophisticated grammar, flowery eloquence, and monologue. Only those who were trained in it were allowed to address the assembly.”

The book continues with an interesting description of how over the years the sermon became the central focus of the Protestant worship service.

So what are the principles influenced by this practice?

  • every-member ministry
  • mutual edification
  • participation

One final statement from the book:

“The normative church meeting is when every member of the church comes together to share his or her portion of Christ.”

Do you agree with this statement?

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36 thoughts on “When You Come Together, Each One Has a Sermon

  1. i’d have to weigh in with the above about finding the practice of one speaker addressing a crowd regularly in the new testament

    The church i grew up in disbanded to adopt the every member model

    you know what happened

    the person who used to be the pastor and preach for 30-60

    would arrive not as pastor and speak for as long as he liked

    but it wasn’t a sermon

  2. i agree with the idea that teaching is a spritual gift (some have it more than others) and that there can be beauty in well-chosen words. 2000 years ago jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed… and my guess is that if he were preaching in person these days, he would have chosen a different analogy to help us understand. i’ve learned a lot from our pastor and non-pastoral members who have given the sermon. so net/net — i don’t see an issue when people who are good at teaching use their gifts. the issue is really when that’s all there is. things like small groups. bible study. community service. sharing ideas. giving of yourself. and just talking to the person sitting across from you (christian or not) are needed, too.

  3. I’m all in favor of more participation in worship (testimonies, special music, drama, etc..), but I don’t think anything should replace a well-crafted 12-15 minute sermon bringing God’s timeless Word to life today.

  4. I think my question would be, “how do we define, sharing his/her portion of Christ?” If it is in preaching/sharing – yes – I can see problems with that.

    Of course, I grew up in an area where Sunday meetings were very long. The preacher preached and then a long line of elders would give their comments on what was preached. I think it is good people have a voice, but sometimes things could get off-track somewhere.

    If everyone came to church with a Spirit-driven mind-set, it’d maybe not be so worrisome, but we can all attest to times our minds were not so Spirit-driven on a Sunday morning, no? Then are we sharing our portion of Christ or just our gripes from the week?

  5. It is interesting to read the comments here. For the most part they seem to say that it would be ideal for everyone indwelled by the Spirit to speak as led by the Spirit. But, since that ideal will not hold up in the real world, we should not allow it.

    But, isn’t this the situation that Paul discussed in 1 Corinthians 14? Don’t we have a situation where people were not speaking as led by the Spirit, but they were speaking in order to show how “spiritual” they were? Paul does not clamp down on allowing everyone to speak. Instead, he explains – probably not the first time – the purpose of meeting together.

    Perhaps, when we see everyone lining up to “have their say”, that is the time for more mature believers (like Paul was) to explain to them the purpose of the meeting – that everything be done to edify other – not so that everyone can get a word in or share their “gripes from the week”.

    Similarly, when one person is “hogging” the meeting – which is usually the case today – that would also seem like an appropriate case for more mature believers to take that person aside and explain that the purpose of the meeting is not for one person to demonstrate their gifts, but so that many in the church can use their gifts to edify the church.

    But, then again, maybe Paul was wrong and this will never work?

    -Alan

  6. “While I am not a fan of the Sunday Sermon does it weigh in at all that Jesus often used this form to address many people at once?”

    Yes, but Jesus had NOTHING to learn from his fellow man. We do!

  7. “but I don’t think anything should replace a well-crafted 12-15 minute sermon bringing God’s timeless Word to life today.”

    How about the TESTIMONY of a NEW BELIEVER… Beats it EVERY time…

  8. So…We have our cake AND eat it too.

    :)

    Our sermon/discussion is led by one of the elders, who has prepared a message, usually based on/flowing out of a biblical text. During the sermon, there are multiple open-ended questions asked and a good amount of time given for people to respond. It’s not uncommon for people to interrupt and ask questions.
    And at the end of every morning, we always ask: What do you-all want to say? What questions or comments do you have? What does this bring up for you.
    We have a teaching team of 7, currently. Others regularly are involved in leading us in worship, praying, Scripture, creating art, creating experiential elements for the gathering…

    The either/or mentality throughout Pagan Christianity drives me absolutely batty.

    Frank bases the idea that everything should be open-ended and free-form on a couple of verses from 1 Cor, not allowing that they could be read to allow, say, what I’ve described above.

    After describing the supposedly pagan origin and derivation of the sermon, Viola asks: “How can a man preach a sermon on being faithful to the Word of God while he is preaching a sermon?”

    It’s that kind of stuff that make me think, occasionaly good points aside, this book is simply proving to be largely ridiculous and condemnatory of anything but the authors’ model of completely open, free form house church.

    Ugh.

  9. Bob,
    I assume you have the freedom to make these changes to the sermon format because you understand that the sermon, as traditionally known, is not biblically mandated. People bound to tradition don’t necessarily understand that freedom.

    The benefit of understanding the cultural roots of practices is not necessarily to vilify the practices or to promote an idealistic model, but rather to release us to express church in a way that is effective in our culture.

    I am not a proponent of house-church-only. As I’ve listened to the frustration of you and others who have read the book, I’ve gone back and tried to see where the authors have pushed that agenda, but it seems to be more of an assumed agenda on the part of the readers. The ideal they promote is organic church which can be true or untrue of many different models.

    What I hear is a message to free yourself from the traditions that inhibit and to be free in the practices that edify. Again, I agree that specific statements, especially pulled out of context and given a negative spin, don’t help in getting the message across.

  10. On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted. Acts 20

    Now that was one long sermon! Seems Paul even violated his own protocol… :)

    And I think Eutychus the unwitting poster child for all of us that have suffered through long-winded sermons as we valiantly fought off slumber with every snap of our heavy head…

    Then of course even a dramatic diversion of raising him from the dead did not dampen Paul’s oratory any!

    I am no fan of the one-preacher-speaking-from-the-pulpit format. I enjoy the Socratic questioning method more than the sit there & listen to a monologue arrangement. Most of the sermons I listened to before I took up golf instead of going to church made me twitch. I was itching to raise my hand or stand up in the balcony section & loudly ask, “Hey, that seems a bit wack. Have you thought about it this way?” I actually discovered my own theological perspectives about certain common Protestant evangelical principles being spouted from the pulpit ran more & more counter to the standard company line. The voice in my head saying, “shoot, I would present it differently if it were me,” finally drowned out any remaining points being made. Once that first disagreement was breached I was ready to bolt. I suppose there is an element of politeness & respect to be extended to the one preaching. And maybe there is a big difference between preaching (to unbelievers?) vs. teaching (believers?). Anyway, I quickly concluded I could disagree better from a distance, let’s say, my local golf course, than endure another such session. Maybe we (a specific congregation) have indeed artificially ceded authority to a point-man (preacher behind pulpit). So the preacher gets the wrong idea he is the final ‘word’ on what scriptural interpretation & application is the official one. And of course the congregation just as guilty since they put the preacher on a pedestal to begin with…

  11. And maybe there is a big difference between preaching (to unbelievers?) vs. teaching (believers?).

    That is the theory I have been working with for a while now, too.

    When it says that Paul “preached” until midnight, the word is “dialogued”. This would appear to me to be part of the pattern of believer gatherings (1 Cor 14:26ff seems to indicate the need for dialogue when teaching is present, too)

    Preaching to larger audiences in the NT seems to be tied to unbelievers in the audience (i.e., evangelism). It’s a distinction that I think is sometimes lost in translation (i.e., the use of the word “preach” in the story referenced above).

    Something else to keep in mind, too. This was not necessarily a “normal church service” for the folks in Troas. It might have been, but is not necessarily so. Paul was a traveling apostle, and they were excited to get to see him for a week. It stand to reason that they would have wanted to talk to him and hear all about what he was doing, etc. well into the night. It wasn’t like they could call him on Skype whenever they wanted to! ;)

    So, Joseph, I think you and I agree on this one.

  12. Somehow when I was editing, I got a couple of paragraphs in the wrong order. Just for the record, my final sentence to Joseph should have appeared prior to the last full paragraph beginning “Something else…” I meant that last paragraph to be a change in direction in my thought after agreeing with Joseph. Sorry for the confusion there!

  13. This is such a useful discussion.

    A few years ago, I revived the old Sunday evening service, but as a discussion on the morning sermon instead of another teaching time. There are lots of questions to clarify or challenge points from the sermon.

    But mostly, the group (40-50 these days) settles into problem-solving. Last Sunday evening, for instance, we got onto the false dilemma between doing and praying, and how various people found time prayer in their busyness. It lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes.

    The congregation has such a wealth of applications that, when I preach and we don’t have the discussion, I really feel empty.

  14. I wonder how many people in U.S. churches on a given Sunday recognize that God speaks to, and through them? How many have actually read the entire Bible once or more times? How many know anything about the Holy Spirit and the gifts he gives to believers? What are said gifts to be used for? In other words, can they articulate what is their portion in Christ?
    In many cases (some of which are named in comments above), the open mic is not the best formula for building up the Body of Christ or hearing a word from the Lord. In a small group, with sensitive leading and questioning, each member certainly can help in sharing their portion or learning that they actually do have some portion in Christ.

  15. Good point, Steve! It was definitely NOT a monologue sermon, but very much a participatory meeting that I believe kept everyone on the edge of their seats (except for poor Eutychus, who may have had a touch of narcolepsy or simply couldn’t stay awake all night). Paul had a lot to share with a group of people who had a lot to ask: it wasn’t simply one gigantic apostolic “brain dump” from his brilliant mind to those gathered with baited breath for hour upon end.

    We have such a narrow view of “preaching” as found in our English Bibles (translated by linguists—often professional clergy—with a vested interest or their necks on the line) and this view has been supported by centuries of only one model being put forth. It virtually amounts to institutional brain-washing and, therefore, very difficult for us to see preaching as anything else than a well-crafted sermon from a raised platform and/or pulpit.

    Allowing every believer to share didn’t necessitate unreasonably l-o-n-g meetings, either, because we should keep in mind that these congregations gathered in homes, making them quite small and much more intimate compared to our modern assemblies. While there may have been occasional gatherings in larger numbers, it would not have been the norm and the New Testament says nothing that requires a weekly meeting.

    Hebrews 10:24-25 is often used to beat people over the head to make them “attend church” every week, but there’s nothing mentioned in the text about worship, prayers, sermons, singing, or anything else we associate with “church services.” It simply says, “don’t give up meeting together for purposes of mutual encouragement and stimulation to love and good deeds” (loose translation).

  16. ditto to Cindy’s response.

    At the practical level….does every gifting in the Body exemplify itself or function through speech? (But then, in actuality, the quote is, “The normative church meeting is when every member of the church comes together to share his or her portion of Christ”, not “his or her comments/statements/observations/ideas about Christ”.) The “portion” which some have from Christ is not exemplified verbally.

    Tom

  17. Bill, exactly;

    “We have such a narrow view of “preaching” as found in our English Bibles (translated by linguists—often professional clergy—with a vested interest or their necks on the line) and this view has been supported by centuries of only one model being put forth. It virtually amounts to institutional brain-washing and, therefore, very difficult for us to see preaching as anything else than a well-crafted sermon from a raised platform and/or pulpit.”

    And also huzzah’s to Steve;

    “When it says that Paul “preached” until midnight, the word is “dialogued”. This would appear to me to be part of the pattern of believer gatherings (1 Cor 14:26ff seems to indicate the need for dialogue when teaching is present, too)”

    (I’m still rotf over Bill’s decency to name the indecency of our “traditional” translations relative to “preach”. )

    T

  18. Did you know that contrary to the modern church movement of ‘blogging’ that the early founders of Christianity, and even the Jews themselves didn’t ‘blog’?!

    This is just a modern cultural phenomenon and is rooted in Western pagan influences.

    (Alex Fear 2008)

    Isn’t everyone just trying to re-invent the wheel? I mean come on! There is nothing new under the sun. What I’d like to know is what do they propose as an alternative?

    I mean, why are we gonna tell people they shouldn’t be using CD’s because back in the day we used vinyl?

  19. The concern that comes to my mind is the tremendous drain of resources required for this form of discipleship. As I understand it, a sermon typically takes a pastor an average of 20 hours for preparation time in a week. Does anyone have a greater or lesser number? If that’s the case, that’s a lot of time for a “key leader” in a community to be sequestered away.

  20. One alternative might be to dismantle the institutional church altogether, in favor of gathering informally with other believers. No clergy…period. No Sunday morning religious clubs with membership and dues and fighting over who’s going to turn on the heating, lock up the building, and cut the grass. No sermons. No guilt-tripping fellow Christians for not keeping the rules.

    Sounds like anarchy, doesn’t it? True grace and freedom always sound like that. I love the Wayne Jacobsen quote I ran across recently,

    The church is not something we build, it is simply a way of living alongside each other that makes Jesus known…" —Wayne Jacobsen, excerpt from his blog post, "How do I find a good body of believers?

  21. HH comments;

    “The concern that comes to my mind is the tremendous drain of resources required for this form of discipleship. As I understand it, a sermon typically takes a pastor an average of 20 hours for preparation time in a week. Does anyone have a greater or lesser number? If that’s the case, that’s a lot of time for a “key leader” in a community to be sequestered away.”

    8 hrs. minimum. Gets better with practice. I could never recycle sermons, so it took me longer.

    It’s rediculous to think that one person in the congregation has a bottomless jar of Spiritual oil.

    Tom

  22. Sounds like anarchy, doesn’t it? True grace and freedom always sound like that. I love the Wayne Jacobsen quote I ran across recently,

    The church is not something we build, it is simply a way of living alongside each other that makes Jesus known…” —Wayne Jacobsen, excerpt from his blog post, “How do I find a good body of believers?

    Wayne was actually the associate pastor of the small church I was a member of during my early formative years of being a new believer…

    To think that I was in the same church along with his brother during those years & then to find out not too many years ago how he divested himself of the ‘institutional church arrangement’ to embrace a less definite journey of emergent flavor…

    I am sure he would not remember me. But then I was not an individual seeking any type of notoriety. There were some interesting people I was familiar with back then. One I recall jumped into the ‘river’ of renewal hook, line & sinker, yet left the church he started for some other vocation not at all part of this supposed next move of God…

    I remember the passion of those heady years. Renewal. Toronto. Prophetic insight & the associated manifestations…

    One of the attractive elements of emergent thought for me was the de-emphasis of spiritual hoopla. Yet even in this less intensive emerging trend I find the lingering uncertainty still hard to accept.

    Spiritual gifting done rightly? If we have such a problem actually identifying what that should look like after 2,000 years of Corinthian precedent, is it no wonder many remain skeptical of those that say, “’There it is, out in the desert, or, Here it is, in the inner rooms?” Simply claiming it is in fact being practiced here or there not enough to convince this weary saint. But then I am assured my caution not any real hindrance to what the Holy Spirit is doing in other saints throughout the world today.

    I have had enough hoopla, thank you very much. Enough conversation & dialogue. Enough theological theorization. I confess my skepticism. No need to hide or deny my propensity. If others claim what they are experiencing is the way it was intended from the beginning, then God bless you. I still have a ways to go before I can join in your happy testimony time…

    So, onward I plod. Not that I doubt what it is you are experiencing is what you are convinced authentic. But then all those that have claimed they are on the cutting edge of God’s true expression upon their own soapboxes spouting the same assertions. Anyway, just rambling here…

  23. As a minister, I have to tell you that I hate standing up there and hearing myself talk on and on. I love holding dialogues and interacting with people, because I can see and hear that there really are so many talented and gifted people who have so much to share. And, to go in to those settings knowing that I will learn and “be fed” just as much as anyone else makes it exciting and fun. I’ve noticed that when we hold a more dialogue oriented gathering, it can sometimes go for well over an hour, and people don’t even realize it. And to watch the teens really get into it as well is just incredible. We mix it up quite a bit, but generally speaking, it’s a dialogue that many people are invested in. A great book to read: Preaching Re-imagined by Doug Pagitt.

    To answer a previous question, yes, generally speaking it’s about 20 hours on average a preacher spends for a typical sermon. I’ve noticed I can “prep” for about 5 hours- and 10 tops- when it’s more of a dialogue (though if I have a feeling that it’s a topic or passage that can lead to “rabbit trails,” I try to guess where it might go and do some additional research, just so I can have some idea if it ever does go somewhere else).

    sounds like a really interesting book so far, Grace, thanks for sharing. I really want to check it out after I get caught up on all the other reading I’ve been trying to do.

    http://www.anewkindofminister.blogspot.com

  24. Joseph wrote;

    have had enough hoopla, thank you very much. Enough conversation & dialogue. Enough theological theorization. I confess my skepticism. No need to hide or deny my propensity. If others claim what they are experiencing is the way it was intended from the beginning, then God bless you. I still have a ways to go before I can join in your happy testimony time…

    So, onward I plod. Not that I doubt what it is you are experiencing is what you are convinced authentic. But then all those that have claimed they are on the cutting edge of God’s true expression upon their own soapboxes spouting the same assertions. Anyway, just rambling here…”

    Brother, I appreciate your honesty and willingness to be vulnerable.

    I’m constantly having to remind myself of what Paul said in Rom. 14; “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.”

    That is the true cutting edge.

    Tom

  25. 1 cor. 14:26 What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
    What did Paul mean by this? How should this reflect the gathering of the saints?

  26. Grace, it looks like you’ve got a hot topic here. I agree that “The normative church meeting is when every member of the church comes together to share his or her portion of Christ”. However, the word “meeting” makes my head twitch. We share our portion of Christ much better in participating in life together than we do in a meeting.

    The last little while I’ve been reflecting on typical pastoral communication styles and content and have concluded that they say way too much. By communicating so much and listening so little they set themselves up for theological error and reinforce the two caste church system.

    John Santic (Toward Hope) has a great recent post on the compulsion to constantly produce: “Thank you for sharing my journey. However, of late, it feels as thought the well has dried up and I am running out of things to say. One of the temptations that blogging can bring is the feeling that one needs to constantly come up with something profound and important to say. Feeling I need to always have something to say, to share, to write, has tired me out and led to misdirected desires. Who am I trying to impress?”

    This same compulsion dogs preachers. We need to free them from the tyranny of constant communication and maybe there’s some freedom for ourselves in this.

  27. This same compulsion dogs preachers. We need to free them from the tyranny of constant communication and maybe there’s some freedom for ourselves in this.

    “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation…”

    What an interesting phenomenon. One that dogs preachers or bloggers or maybe even those that have a hymn, lesson, revelation, tongue or interpretation?

    Saw it in the prophetic. One upmanship cloaked in spiritual propriety. The smaller the group the more tempted to, as it was stated above, “constantly produce” with greater & greater spiritual impact…

    Spiritual gifting does have a subtle effect upon its emitter that is different than say a natural talent. We can appreciate the artist & those creative types. Admire greater sports ability or mental acuity. But those pesky spiritual gifts are dispensed willy-nilly as the Spirit chooses…

    But then if you are gathering each week to express such giftings the dreaded one-upmanship must be resisted. Gifting may level the playing field, but it is the wounded & disenfranchised & the needy & those seeking attention that will quickly glom onto the spiritual celebrity status that brings nods & Amens & Hallelujahs from the more popular attendees…

    Takes a level of meekness to avoid that trap of impressing the saints no matter what it is that is being done “in the name of the Lord.”

    And now we must address the concept of maturity level. How the giftings will be permitted to be publicly expressed & who chooses the person & how it is to be demonstrated. Seems a facilitator or leader must keep things in order to accurately pattern the way it is to be done.

    I like the idea of the Holy Spirit being the one orchestrating the proceedings. But it seems He is either unwilling or prevented from causing Sister So-and-So from sharing that hymn abrasively off-tune & if allowed, in 3 movements accompanied by her own choreography…

    Some brave saint must step in & put the holy kibosh on such a spontaneous anointment or the entire group will be less inclined to be so open next time.

    Now it could be a long novitiate period is warranted like they did in the early church. Up to a year or even two before being ‘released’ into the regular body dynamic & invited to share giftings. Maybe the need for such a discipleship novice period something that should be considered if the desire is to allow greater participation in regular gatherings on a regular basis…

  28. [continuing rumination…]

    Anyone here familiar with The Way Int’l? I had an encounter with them early in my journey. I was maybe 2-3 years on “my way” when these 2 cute girls in the apartment complex next to mine noticed me carrying a bible. Well, not only carrying a bible. Back in “the day” I wore a blue cotton shirt embroidered on the back with a resurrection scene & I wore a wooden cross hanging around my neck on a leather tie. No joking.

    Anyway, they invited up to their apartment for their version of a “bible study.”

    So, I went & sure enough they gathered there with a few others. Small group. The young girl that was the leader read some scripture. Asked another person to give a short homily, then directed her roommate to “speak in tongues” & yet another person to give the interpretation.

    Yeah. Spooky though. I got Holy Spirit goosebumps alright, but not the positive kind…

    That was the last time I went. Never saw those girls again. I’m sure I was simply a potential proselyte they would have notched onto their bibles as a recruitment trophy…

    I hate it when I am just treated as a spiritual piece of meat! :)

    So, anyone know about The Way? It took advantage of the Jesus Movement influx of young people. I don’t know what Way they are going today though…

  29. Bill Lollar,

    I am with you. No clergy. Just believers helping the world by any means necessary: 24/7.

    …and institutionalizing a spiritual organism (the Body) has to be the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.

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