Tag Archives: sermon

Five Sermon Themes to Reconsider – 10/11/14

Visiting churches here, I hear all types of sermons. Some have good points, even great points, but many miss because they are theologically weak, not practical, or follow pastoral biases. An example of such sermons might be perennial “giving” or “stewardship” sermons warning all that God is cheated if various percentages of our income are not given (dubious from a true biblical perspective), along with annual pledges for church support. Often the endless and currently trendy “series sermons,” where some pastors preach three-point messages for weeks on end, amaze me. Some are good, but some are grounds for endless pontificating by pastors who can’t come to the point.

Today’s column is intended to give five examples of types of sermons that may be keeping seekers away from Christianity.

Steps to Becoming a Christian

Many pastors rightly believe this is the focus of their ministry but when all is said and done, their congregations often don’t get it, because the pastors themselves don’t seem to get it. Few Christians I meet day-to-day can explain to me how to become a Christian, other than tell me to attend their church. Even Christ’s followers had a hard time understanding it (see Matthew 19:16-30). An elevator speech (explaining what you do or believe in a short elevator ride) is virtually unknown to most pew warmers I meet. Many know more about what they’ve been told not to do, than to share biblical truths on obtaining eternal life. This shows many learn little from attending church for years, even after copious Bible study. I also don’t believe it’s contained in the Billy Graham or Luis Palau approaches nailed down by the “sinner’s prayer.” And why do church people flood such meetings anyway? I thought they were directed at the “unsaved.”

Rapture Theologies

Some churches and pastors advocate rapture teachings of doubtful scriptural backing, teachings widely discredited by biblical scholars and theologians. In too many rapture-preaching churches this teaching emerges as a scare tactic compelling non-believers into following this line of thinking. “Get on board, as you won’t know when it (the rapture) happens.” Christianity Today, just this week, denounced the latest Nicholas Cage movie about the rapture, “Left Behind,” as “un-Christian.” Theologian Martin Marty, in an Oct. 8 piece in Huffington Post, decried the attention these movies get, the rapture industry, and the money it brings in, as “something really bad esthetically … served up by a damn fool to a plain fool public as if it is an asset to belief and believers’ communities.”

Hellfire and Damnation Preaching

Many scholars believe this unfortunate interpretation of scripture is used to compel people to accept a misunderstood theology. This teaching, hurled from hundreds of Alaska pulpits, says God will allow sinners to burn in hell “forever and ever” if they are found wanting. Why would you serve a God who allows this kind of torture to continue forever? Many world-class, conservative and respected Bible-believing theologians and biblical scholars reject this line of reasoning countering instead that God will punish the wicked, their death is certain and final, not “forever and ever”.

Abuse, Domestic Violence and Mental Health

A national debate has arisen regarding pastoral failures to address issues of abuse, domestic violence, and mental health issues from the pulpit. With the recent focus on the NFL regarding issues of domestic violence now extending into other professions, it’s time churches gave these topics wider focus. I agree with the view that church is a hospital for those who are spiritually sick, but shouldn’t the prevailing issues of spiritual sickness be brought out in plain sight? The Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault recently reported that of every 100 adult Alaska women, 48 experience sexual violence from an intimate partner, 37 experience sexual violence, and 59 experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence or both. Yet most churches are strangely silent on this. Why? Maybe they believe these people are not in “their” church.

Practical Advice for Enjoying a Healthy Life

In many churches prayer is requested for friends and loved ones every week. They suffer physical pain with heart, gall bladder, obesity, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and other maladies too numerous to mention. I believe we should pray for those with such conditions. However, many of these maladies might have been totally prevented by adopting healthy living styles, something church leaders seem to ignore from the pulpit. Diabetes, for example, is heavily influenced by poor lifestyles. In 14 years of attending and observing local churches, I’ve heard just one sermon advocating healthy lifestyles. Instead, when attending church suppers and potlucks, I repeatedly see one aspect of an unhealthy lifestyle; unhealthy food, even that cooked by the churches themselves. Abundant scientific evidence is on the side of healthy lifestyles, but why isn’t it shared? The Bible itself contains excellent health information.

While this column won’t endear me to all area church leaders, my intent is to raise questions about the way local churches present themselves by their messages. I can’t claim to visit every church on a regular basis; no one could. However, the churches I regularly visit represent the majority of churchgoers in Anchorage. Though not exhaustive, this list represents reasonable targets to alert church leaders to the way they present themselves. I encourage more church leaders to review these issues seriously and hopefully begin addressing them from their pulpits.

Does the length of the sermon matter? – 7/12/14

Christian churches, as a rule, have a long and glorious history of lengthy sermons, often an hour or two long. My suggestion last week that a 20-minute sermon might be an appropriate length drew the ire of some readers. Let’s face it: Our current communications paradigm is one of talking heads and sound bites. Too many Anchorage pastors squander precious sermon minutes with long stories or illustrations, full of emotional appeal, and narcissistic “I” statements with few ties to the chosen subject.

Consider Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address’. Five variants of his powerful speech exist, with word counts running from 267 to 272. In the brevity of 10 sentences Lincoln brought the nation together. Lincoln’s address takes only two minutes to recite, but the images burned into one’s mind form a lasting impression. Preceding Lincoln that day, famous orator, politician, diplomat, and pastor, Edwin Everett gave a two-hour oration numbering 13,607 words. Everett is now a historical footnote, but every schoolchild in our country is exposed to the ‘Gettysburg Address’.

Dan Bollerud, Julia Seymour, and Martin Eldred, a group of courageous ELCA Lutheran pastors in our community, release a weekly online 10-minute liturgy, true to Lutheran liturgical format, presenting the basic elements of a worship service. (Called 10W, it is available on the Internet at www.10worship.blogspot.com/ or you can have it automatically sent to you weekly by texting 10W to 22828.)

Many famous preachers and theologians consistently deliver excellent, Bible-based sermons in a 20-minute timeframe. Noted pastor, author, and religion educator Barbara Brown Taylor consistently delivers her sermons in 20 minutes or less. She’s delivered many Duke University Chapel sermons in under 20 minutes. Her powerful Feb. 9 sermon this year at Duke Chapel, “The Grace of Good Works,” is inspiring and motivational, and at only 14 minutes in length, a marvel of brevity. (You can find it on YouTube using Google search terms ‘barbara brown taylor duke chapel 2014’.)

Highly sought-after theologian Walter Brueggemann’s sermons often last less than 20 minutes. His Duke Chapel sermons are similarly brief as are Barbara Brown Taylor’s. His December 5, 2010 sermon at Duke Chapel, ‘Continuing Through The Disruptive Conjunction’ is under 20 minutes, and full of Christian power. (You can find it on YouTube using Google search terms ‘walter brueggemann duke chapel 2010’.)

The length of a sermon is not the sole focus of this article, but it’s an element. A sermon should deliver quality content but also depends on whether or not a hearer is open to receive it. Clearly we as hearers bring something to the table. But there are limits. Mark Beeson, Senior Pastor of Granger Community Church, a 5,500-member United Methodist Church in Granger, Indiana quoting his mom says, “The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.”

However, sermons are the documented reason many attend church. Today’s sermon practice has morphed significantly from Old Testament and apostolic times. In the book “Pagan Christianity”, Frank Viola and George Barna comment on key features of Old Testament preaching and teaching.

• It was participative, accepted interruptions, and addressed current concerns.
• Prophets and priests spoke extemporaneously not delivering regular speeches.
• Preaching was sporadic but allowed audience participation.

Documenting Jesus’ style they note, He didn’t give regular speeches, preached and taught in many different ways considering audience, time, and place. Dialogue was often used.

They further observed New Testament apostolic style embraced many of these same characteristics. Preaching was sporadic, used special occasions to deal with problems, was extemporaneous, and used dialogue. Adherents worshiped in leaderless house churches. Today’s preaching style was basically unknown in early church days.

So what is the purpose of preaching? Basically, it is to explain and apply scripture. 1 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NIV). When is the last time you had a dialogue during a pastoral sermon applying these principles in a New Testament manner? Probably never, because the format of today’s preaching does not allow it. Some pastors are televised and it would interrupt the flow of the process. Some may be recording it for replay so that’s clearly not an option. Mostly today’s preaching is a monologue. A few churches offer texting questions to the pastor. In my personal experience, the tough questions are screened out by screeners.

The Barbara Brown Taylor and Walter Brueggemann sermon examples, while not dialogical, explain and apply scripture in a way that’s clear and understandable, in less than 20 minutes. In the vernacular of our culture, they are “sticky” thoughts. I sincerely desire that readers exercise discernment about preaching, regardless of length, which appeals to a broad spectrum of hearers looking for essential truth. I’m most concerned the millennial demographic has access to preaching that engages. Great Land Christian Church is a church with many millennials and fosters an encouraging format of interaction between hearer and preacher. I like the interactive format between congregant and preacher at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. There are others offering congregant engagement in Anchorage, but they are definitely in the minority.

But what I’m hearing in many local churches may not satisfy them.