July 16, 2019

iMonk 101: Just Beyond The 100th Time (What Many Of Us Are Looking For)

I wrote this piece in December of last year, and it remains one of my favorite statements of why so many leave and what they are looking for on their journey. I know that for some of you right now, affirming the church is important, but you need to grow to see that every church isn’t your church and every experience isn’t like yours. Before you universalize in that typical pontifical evangelical way :-), just listen. Listen.

Dedicated to all of you on the same journey. Keep faith and keep going. You’re not alone.

It’s time for one of your favorite programs here at Internet Monk.com: “Secret, Terrible, Unspoken Thoughts…REVEALED!”

Today’s secret thought was uttered by a commenter in a recent discussion thread, but it’s the kind of terrible thought that lurks in the minds of many of you reading this post. What terrible, shameful, embarrassing secret thought am I referring to?

Frankly, I’m to the point where there isn’t that much a pastor/teacher is going to be able to say that I haven’t heard 100 times already.

I know, I know. Shameful. Can you believe there are people like that out there? Someone call the watchbloggers.

Well…..I’ve thought about his kind of statement a lot. I preach about 10-12 times a month, and have preached as often as 20 times a month at my current ministry. I’ve listened to thousands of hours of sermons on tape, mp3, cd. I’ve read sermons- thousands of them. I’m on both sides of the comment, both criminal and consumer.

Some of those preachers have been my very best teachers. I absolutely believe in the value of the right kind of repetition. Gospel proclamation calls for it. Biblical preaching calls for it. It’s commanded. I do it in the classroom.

But let’s have an honest go at, shall we? What is this commenter actually talking about? (Now the REAL shocking truth will be REVEALED!)

The commenter is correct, and he isn’t saying “tickle my ears with something new.” He’s saying that the model of Christian spiritual formation now extent in worship is one that sees the 40 minute information dump as the primary means of spiritual growth. The sermon, the sermon and the sermon from the preacher, the theologian and the teacher. Plus a daily quiet time. That’s evangelical spiritual formation in a nutshell.

It’s hit me like a ton of bricks this past year: the blogosphere is full of voices that think we are all a bunch of big brains, and nothing more. We need more information. More data. More sermons. More books. More facts. More lectures. We are what we think. We are what we hear, read and think. So open up those brains and pour it in…after an appropriate prayer.

Behind this is a view of humanness that needs to be called out. (More SHOCKING REVELATIONS!!)

What thousands of evangelicals are experiencing is not a call from the Holy Spirit to become an overstuffed theological brain with a vocabulary that can only be decoded by a committee of seminary professors and a reading list that looks like the “atonement” shelf at a seminary bookstore.

No, they- we- are longing for authentic humanness in the Gospel. A full and genuine human experience. Normal human life as God created and recreated it. Not more information in a competition to quote the most scripture and do the best imitation of a walking apologetics class. Not more religion of the (fill in the blank) _______ sort. No….humanness made alive in the incarnation. Created, incarnated, redeemed, resurrected humanity.

We long to be human beings, fully alive to who we are, to God, to one another and to all that being made in the image of the incarnated God means.

We long for beauty, for multiple expressions and experiences of beauty.

We long for relational and emotional connection; to know we are not alone; to love and be love; to be heard and to hear our human family.

We long for worship to engage the senses, the body, the whole personality. We long for mystery, not explanation. We long for symbolism, not just exposition. We long for a recognition of what it means for God to be God and for each of us to be human, not for more aspirations to know as much as God and instructions on how to be more than human.

We long for Jesus to come to us in every way that life comes to us, and not just in a set of propositions.

We long for honesty about the brutal pain and disappointments of life, and we long to hear the voices of others experiencing that brokenness.

We are tired of the culture of lies that Christians perpetuate in their fear that someone will know about the beer in the fridge, the porn on the computer, the affair, the repeated abuse, the unbelieving child, the nagging doubts, the frightening diagnosis and the desperate fears.

We long for a spirituality of stillness, contentment and acceptance in the place of spiritual competition and wretched urgency. We have grown weary and sick of being “challenged” to do more, be more committed, more surrendered, more holy by our own energy.

We long for prayer that is not a means to accomplish things, bring miracles, generate power, impress the listener. We long for the depths of spirituality, not the show of being spiritual.

We long to be loved, to be quietly accepted, to be told to lie down in green pastures, to stop the race, to pray in silence. To be given a spirituality of dignity, not a spirituality that is a feature of this week’s sermon series on how to have more sex, make more money, have better kids, smile more, achieve great things and otherwise turn the salvation of Jesus into a means to an American end.

We long to understand the spirituality of those whose religion does not drive them crazy. We long to know the Bible’s message and then be free to live it. We want to be lifted up, not beaten down. We hope for a simple spirituality, not an exciting, never-before-experienced high from the show.

Yes, the commenter speaks the truth, we have heard the same answers a hundred times. Not the same Gospel necessarily, or even the Gospel applied in 100 different ways. But the same 100 moral exhortations. The same 100 life lessons. The same 100 theological necessities. The same 100 spiritual demands. The same 100 pastors sounding like the same 10 pastors. The 100 same catch phrases. The same 100 commercials. The same 100 half-truths, convenient half-truths and agreed upon untruths.

We have heard evangelicalism’s products, its promises, its prosperity promises, its prevarications and protests at least 100 times. Those of us with longer track records have been through all of this, under different names, with different spins, different bumper stickers, t-shirts and gurus. But it is all the same.

It is far less than the glories of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It is far less than it thinks it is. And we feel the emptiness in our souls, even as our minds and senses are overwhelmed by the “wow!”

Where in the New Testament does anyone say how great their church is? Where in the New Testament does anyone brag on their favorite preacher? (Other than in Corinth.) Where in the New Testament are we told to spend money on church advertising and making our pastor’s name the brand of the entire church? Where are we told we know so much that we are experts on everything and can fix anything? Where are we told in the New Testament that we are producing experiences? Where does it say we are competing for the world’s attention the world’s way?

Yes, we’ve heard it all 100 times before, and our children will hear it a 1000 times more if they stay in evangelicalism. They will hear it because the entire gassed up, energized machine is launching itself into the future with all the arrogance it can muster, replete with every answer and all wisdom, learning nothing and seeing nothing wrong.

In 2009, we will hear it all 100 times again and again.

But not all of us. Perhaps less of us than you think.

Some of us will finally say good-bye to this insanity. Some of us will stay, but we will not be listening anymore. Some of us will discover others ways, other paths, other pilgrims and friends.

In fact, many of those standing to say the same things and do the same things and insist on the same things will feel the Great Emptiness in it all.

Somewhere, just beyond the 100th time we hear it all again and the 100th time we hear the new version of it in the latest church, latest book, latest sermon series, latest CD, latest web site and so on….somewhere, we’ll hear it the last time and we’ll walk away.

We will be hearing something else….someone else. Other voices and other music. Another way of being Christian.

Comments

  1. Michael – I swear sometimes if it wasn’t for your blog I would swear I was going insane… and then I read your blog and I realize I’m not alone and its all the people who don’t see these things that are insane (well ok maybe not, but you get my point =)

    The next bit doesn’t have that much to do with your current post, but I wanted to share how God has used your blog in my life today…

    I’ve been feeling rather guilty today because I’m probably about to church hop again… In my defense, I’ve lived here about 3 years, and spent about a year each at 3 different churches – perhaps I just can’t find the right one, or perhaps I’ve gotten into a rut of church hopping, I’m not sure…I’ve certainly got reasons enough (and my mother doesn’t think I’m church hopping) but there is something to be said to sticking it out…

    But you know what? at least I’m not giving up on church in general, like some of my friends (well like quite a lot of my friends really – I’m 27 look at the stats for people my age in church). Maybe I am church hopping, and maybe thats not the best thing to be doing. But its certainly better than the alternative of giving up on the church completely… And so – somehow, even though thats not what you’ve been talking about today – your blog has given me a little bit of peace, that – you know what – that is ok if thats where I’m at at the moment…

    • For the record, there’s a difference between giving up on “churches” and giving up on “the Church”. I’ll never give up on “the Church”. But there are times to shake the dust off and just believe that the the pearls we’ve cast are gone.

  2. Monk –

    I caught the same crap on a Calvinist board for saying I could care less if I ever heard another sermon in my life. I could only remember about two or three lines of all of the two thousand sermons I had heard throughout my Christian life.

    Bible reading too. I mean, I follow the church’s lectionary faithfully, but really now, I’ve read the Bible. I know what it says. I need help doing what it says, not knowing what it says.

    Nevertheless, I wish you could have heard Metropolitan Jonah’s two hour sermon last night on Stillness and the One Thing Needful. Finally, we’ve got a preacher of Christ that’ll stack with Piper, Lloyd-Jones, Hayford, or any Evangelical pulpiteer.

  3. I reached the point some years ago where I do not care how much Bible someone else knows; what concerns me is how much Bible they live! The descriptions of elders and deacons that Paul wrote out for Timothy and Titus do not include a knowledge requirement; they are all character-based. Jesus told the Pharisees that it wasn’t what went into a man that made him unclean, but what came out of the man. When He said “You shall know them by their fruit” I’m afraid He wasn’t talking about test scores.

    This has not been an easy lesson for me over the years. I graduated with honors from both high school and Bible college; a lot of people thought I would end up a professor somewhere. Intellectual pursuits have always been a part of my life. But there are other things that are more important, especially becoming the kind of man God wants me to be.

    I’ll end this with two quotes from a Christian Education prof I studied under: “Learning has not really taken place until there is change in the life of the learner.” and “What’s the worst method of teaching? The one that’s used all the time.”

  4. Metropolitan Jonah’s sermon can be found here:
    http://atlantaorthodoxchurches.org/stjohn/sounds/2009_DOS_Keynote.mp3

    • Thanks so much for that link. A fantastic sermon. Words I needed to hear this very day.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    It’s hit me like a ton of bricks this past year: the blogosphere is full of voices that think we are all a bunch of big brains, and nothing more.

    I was an IQ 160+ kid genius. I grew up being treated as “a Big Brain and nothing more”. I would give anything to have been born with a 100 IQ and grown up normal. Nobody noticed there was a kid attached to that Big Brain with that IQ score.

  6. Good post.

  7. One reason I enjoy being a “preacher” is so that I don’t have to listen to the drivel coming from so many pulpits. Now if I can just keep the drivel away from mine.

  8. There are times I wish the pastor would just get up and say, “Ditto.”
    And then have a good hour of Communion.
    Not hear what others say He has said to them. But what He IS saying to me.

  9. I’ve known for as long as I can remember that I was created with something missing. It took me awhile to figure out that the missing part was shaped like Jesus. It took me even longer to figure out that only Jesus fits that empty place in me.

    He found me. But being the weak creature that I am, I need to see Him regularly. I cannot speak for you, but I seem to get only fleeting far-off glimpses of Him in “church services”. A story here, a sermon there, a bunch of songs. He seems almost abstract. I can tell that most everyone is bored, and there because they think they ought to be or because someone made them go. Perhaps your experience is different.

    But I do see Jesus regularly. I saw Him when my wife and I met with our neighbor who has cancer throughout her body. She and her husband were leaving the next morning to travel cross-country to a famed cancer center looking for her miracle. I saw Him another morning at 6:00 AM when another neighbor, a single mother, was ringing our phone with an “I need you, NOW. I just got up and my house is flooded.”

    I see Him when I am picking up garbage on the streets in the center city on Sunday mornings. People who never darken church doors thank me. Some ask who we are (our group) and why we do it. When we tell them we are followers of Jesus and this is the way we “do church” every other Sunday, some of them want to know more. I have heard “I am totally burned out on church, but I’ve never seen anything like this.” Also, “Nobody comes to this neighborhood and does this.” We talk. Mostly, they ask questions and I answer, or they tell me their story and I listen.

    A few weeks ago when we went to the worst street in the neighborhood on the hottest day of the year and picked up stuff you might not believe (including used condoms and over a hundred used needles and related drug paraphernalia). One of the people who lived on the street offered to let us put our full garbage bags in his trash can. He offered to take my bag. I advised him not to touch it because it was full of used needles. He knew who we were, and based on his comments and the look on his face I think he saw something that a thousand sermons and ten thousand songs would not have communicated.

    I see Jesus out there on the streets and so do the people who live there. The sermon is preached. The Word is heard. The church met.

    • Sam
      Where is your church? I want to be somewhere like that.

      • John

        Sorry for the slow reply. We are in San Diego. Our small center city group meets in the streets, the park, coffee shops and other neighborhood locations. We do not have a building, staff and so on, but do not think that is what makes a church. We are part of the church wherever we are, every minute of every day. If you are local and want more info, I guess we’ll have to figure out how to do that.

        We are not critiquing how others “do church”. We are just trying to live as we understand Jesus’ teachings. Most churches and church people do not understand this, but the people on the street do. Some people even tell us we can’t be a church or Christians because they have never seen or heard of churches and Christians who do the kinds of things we do.

        One group told my wife and I “You can’t be Christians! They’re not nice and don’t like us. But you like us and are nice to us.” If I tell that story, guess who understands it and who does not (and sometimes even gets angry when they hear it). So I seldom tell it.

  10. Spot on post. The church will not survive if all it is is a giant head/brain and mouth. It needs hands and feet.

    This hit home to me a few weeks ago when I was visiting a friend’s church that had all its theology wrapped up tight and neat, but the sermon was an hour long with only one major point and zero application or connection with the congregation. My wife and I wrote notes to each other to keep ourselves awake. I’m a former MK with a seminary degree and I actually apologized to my kids afterward for making them go.

  11. Right on Michael!!! I walked away several years ago and have not regretted a day of it.
    Just a thought: I work in the funeral business. If folks want to come and see great form and order come visit our cemetery. Only thing not much life is there.

  12. Great post and comments.

    I’ve told a couple of pastors at our church that what I like about their sermons is how filled they are with 2 things:

    1) Conviction
    2) Encouragement

    I think if sermons lack either one of those two elements, they shouldn’t be spoken.

    First, if a sermon is convicting (telling us that we, as followers of Christ, need to show God’s grace to the world) but lacks encouragement, then we’ll sit there and feel guilty about not doing enough, but not feel like there’s anything we CAN do. We’ll leave the church feeling lousy about ourselves and our world and our failure to make a difference. Been there, done that…no thanks.

    Second, if a sermon is encouraging (telling us that we, as Christians, are A-OK in God’s book and wonderful, saved people) but lacks conviction, then there’s a tendency to think nothing more needs be done. We’ll leave the church feeling fat, dumb and happy and not worry about doing anything to spread the Good News of God’s grace. Sermons like that are basically sugar-highs that don’t last long.

    It’s the sermon that combines telling us: 1) we NEED to do something; and 2) we CAN do something…that makes a good sermon. That’s the message we should get every Sunday when we walk into a church, I don’t care what church it is. And the Bible, God’s Word, is filled with an endless supply of just such sermons.

  13. Completely off topic, but I can’t post over at Boar’s Head.

    No one at Boar’s Head is commenting on your challenge (relating the purchases of the Lutheran Service Book and the Watchmen).

    It has to be “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” (includes a line: “Zion hears the watchmen singing …”).

    If I’m making an insane connection, then sorry for this bizarre interruption! Just thought I’d take a shot.

  14. “We have grown weary and sick of being “challenged” to do more, be more committed, more surrendered, more holy by our own energy.” Yes!! Especially when the challenges only amount to avoiding “sin and the world” more and more, and yet, ironically, have very little to do with pursuing goodness, pursuing Jesus, in the void.

    I’ve let myself get beat up by people who often are “replete with every answer…and seeing nothing wrong”. It’s such a relief to hear from someone who obviously loves and follows Jesus, and can answer them for me (though they’re probably not reading this site…at least it gives me some peace!)

  15. Hearing the same answers a hundred times – even if those answers are as true as they can be – if they are done without love, they become a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.

  16. Exceptional post, MS! I really, really feel you, man.
    But where is the path forward? Once the flashy trappings of shallow spirituality and the mind-numbing redundancy of static religion have worn down our last nerves, where then do we turn? Home church? That’s what I’ve done, but I must warn you: It’s no spiritual utopia or an answer in and of itself. It is, as I’ve found, a way to start over with close Christian friends — and also a way to dump at least some of the religious baggage that Christianity has collected over the ages.
    Honestly, I think I’ll be just fine if I never hear another sermon in my life. In my opinion, personal testimonies from and honest conversations with nonprofessional Christians are much more powerful and have had a much greater effect on my spiritual life. I know you love Luther, but I think he and the other reformers were mistaken to place the sermon and the preacher in such an exalted place. Heck, I think it was a mistake to center the life of the church around formal services at particular times on particular days. Services can be a genuine celebration of Christ and what He has done for us, but, too often, I think church services services have become the standard substitute for real Christ-centered and Christ-led interaction and community.
    But if we stopped having services, preaching sermons, and building awe-inspiring facilities, what would be left? Is there really enough true spiritual substance left in Western Christianity to sustain us without the programs, productions, and political structures? Or would we just fade away into obscurity? I honestly don’t know.

  17. Hey Michael –
    Assuming you’ve seen a few, what do you think of Piper’s teaching style? I agree with you in the sense that preaching needs to contain encouragement and . . . I’m not sure the term to use, but something like ‘vision’ or ‘a call to the soul’ as well as pure information. But the flip-side being that information is critical to see who God is to become closer to him spiritually. So it really is a delicate balance. I think Piper does it well, myself. Being extremely in-depth in actual biblical narrative and theology while still applying it and really making it “real” in a way that pure, monotone information just doesn’t always accomplish.

  18. I stopped gong to church years ago for what I could learn. Now I go for what I can give.

    Yes, there was a needful time for me to be in church every time the doors were opened. However, after 36 years of Christianity, I’ve actually learned to feed myself. Still, some of my younger brothers and sisters are still learning, and it is my job to teach them how to feed themselves. That is called equipping the saints for works of service (Eph. 4:12).

    Have I been in churches where equipping the saints was not a priority? You bet. I simply moved on until I found one that could use the gifts God gave me. The smartest leaders I know understand it takes apostles, prophets, evangelists pastors AND teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service and build the body of Christ, not just the pastor/pulpiteer. That’s the type of church I’m involved in. And if you are not in that type of church, I encourage you to find one. They’re out there. It may take some time to find them, but they’re there.

  19. Thank you Michael,
    This among other reasons is why I started going to a liturgical church. The sermon is not the main part of the “show”. The liturgy and eucharist are both just as important as the sermon, which is usually not more than 10-15 minutes.

    John

  20. Mark Galli’s book, “Beyond Smells and Bells,” is very profitable for those (myself included) who struggle with the evangelical approach to worship.

  21. One of the great weaknesses of the evangelical approach to is the emphasis on “information dump” or teaching or proclamation relative to follow up and follow through in relationship. This post made me think of the difference b/n how we expect transformation to happen relative to how AA and other support groups expect it to happen. The relational dynamics and emphasis are so dramatically different, even in groups where Jesus is explicitly named as the higher power. We evangelicals are always on to the next topic each week, regardless of how well any of us have worked last week’s topic into our lives. Even our small groups tend to follow this pattern. With the result that working things into our lives–the real heavy lifting–largely falls to each individual alone. But, hey!–No worries! New topic to hear about this week! Bring a friend!

    Our near exclusive sacramental view of the sermon needs to be named as such and reconsidered.

  22. I think part of what we need to do is focus on the relational aspect of the church, and quit trying so hard to improve people, impress people, motivate people to get busy and attract the right sorts of people to join our church.

    My small, urban congregation has a lot of people who don’t fit in so well among the cool crowd. We have folks who suffer with very serious problems in their lives that we are not trying to fix. Some folks show up to church looking like they just rolled out of bed. We have several very elderly members. And yet, part of the warmth of a small congregation is that all are made to feel valued.

    We are okay with our weirdness, our oldness, and our smallness. We are not trying to grow, or figure out our “mission” or turn our members into super-Christians. We just gather every week and receive what Christ offers us in worship.

    This is not to brag. Ours congregation is not perfect, nor should others try to be like ours. But I think one way to stay connected to those drifting off is to simply stop trying so hard. All this emphasis on business and self-improvement and success does not seem to me like it should be part of the true church.

  23. If the average human attention span is known to be only about 15-20 minutes tops, why is it considered more spiritual to sit through a 45 minute to hour long lecture on Sunday morning? And what about all the things educational research has shown us about learning styles. Not everybody’s an auditory learner.

    • There are no options to allow commenter editing, and the plug ins that allow it are old and buggy. Sorry. It’s not my decision. It’s the state of WP. Write them.

      • That’s cool. I just appreciate you being there each day to inspire us and make us think. I also appreciate you providing a place for us to run ideas past each other. As a former English teacher, I’m just hyper sensitive about the stupid typos I seem to make on a regular basis :).

  24. “We long…to be told to lie down in green pastures”

    Somewhere long ago someone did tell us this, but we have become far too intelligent to believe it and so we have chosen to ignore it altogether.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And besides, “God Hates Fill-in-the-blanks! Turn or Burn!” is more Exciting.

  25. Larry Geiger says

    Try going without “hearing it for the 100th time” for a year or two. Just let it go. Just go live your life. See how well you do.

    There is a reason we are called to sabbath every seven days. Preaching (listening to), confessing, offering, bible reading, communing, praying or whatever you do each week, do it as unto the Lord. It’s not about us, it’s about Him.

  26. So Larry, is that a defense of “this is who you are” or “Maybe you’re not who you think and you need to have your assurance plowed up every seven days?”

    I believe we need to be reminded of the Gospel a lot. But replacing application with a constant reminder of core content is not a good educational method. Paul gave fresh expositions and fresh applications of the Gospel. Let’s imitate him.

  27. Amen!…and…But..

    Amen!

    I am a youth pastor in a north suburb of Chicago…and this post is dead on. The issue in all of this is life. So many churches (especially in affluent corporate land) have become well-functioning organizations that rely on Christianized forms of Business in order to have greater “impact” or “transformation” in peoples lives. There is so much talk of being a part of Kingdom Priorities and joining God in His mission. It quickly becomes the same, safe, watered-down, All-application message over and over again.
    What is strange is that many “Leaders” or Chief Spiritual Officers around here would agree with what is being said in this post.
    They would agree that we need to be like Jesus. Therefore, lets abandon preaching (as if they haven’t already) and just have 15-min talks on being hands and feet.

    But…

    You can’t be hands and feet without the head. The head is Christ. We need Him…not just to “incarnate” him by further efforts on our own. We need His life in us. We need to be born again. When He is alive in us…He will be Himself…hands and feet through us…and eyes and ears and mouth.
    People need to hear the Word preached. Not just the Bible as facts and moralistic regulations (mere facts without the work of the Spirit will be just brain filler). But the Word declared…so that the glories of God are on display. When we see Him, when our ears are opened…we will be changed.

    So don’t give up on the Church…have zeal for it. It is the body and bride of Christ. Stay connected to the head…stay faithful to the groom. Preach. See God. Know God. Live.

  28. Our pastor is one who sees his main role a dispenser of information – both on Sunday morning and in the lone Wednesday night class. And primarily lecture style in both. But this information is not proclamation. This information is focused on us and how we aren’t quite doing what we should be doing. What we need is more proclamation of Christ and the Gospel and then application of the same.

    iMonk : “He’s saying that the model of Christian spiritual formation now extent in worship is one that sees the 40 minute information dump as the primary means of spiritual growth.

    As many have already said, we have given the sermon too much priority in our typical Evangelical worship. Furthermore, the content of these sermons seriously Gospel-deficient. And the pastors treat these as commodities that, if packaged correctly, can cause change in the people who are listening.

    Skye Jenthani talks about how we believe that God changes live “through the commodification and consumption of experiences”. I believe we have have the same attitude towards the “information dump” that iMonk mentions.

  29. T Freeman: loved your post and comments relative to AA and methodology. I’ve never been a member but have sat in on meetings, and they very much expect information to ‘take root’ and there structure seems to engender real learning and accountability: who is doing what with that information ?? They assume nothing, and people are held together by not just words but friendships and real accountability. No wonder this stuff has an impact that many say has been “life saving”.

    Preaching is great, necessary, and biblical, but the same could be said for a LOT of other stuff that plays second, third, or eighth fiddle to THE SERMON. No wonder so many want out of this.

    Nice work as usual, I-Monk: may your grand kids know a more alive church than you ever have.

    • I’m very impressed that most 12 step groups know how to deal with a high amount of content in a much less structured way. They have structure and they can do some long talks but most people get their info from sponsors, reading the books on their own, informal discussion, etc.

      • A HUGE difference between 12 step groups and church is the instruction to “Take what you like and leave the rest.” What church has the courage to say that?

  30. ASF-Brian… Yes. What we need is proclamation. When it is just information it isn’t preaching in my book. Does God use it?…yes. But what He wants is Expository Exultation…as Piper puts it.

    PS. I hope we can avoid the “baby out with the bath water” sort of scenario that we often find ourselves in. I grew up in West Michigan. I have seen throngs of friends leave the Church to follow the do-gooding “way of Jesus”. What we need is humble pastors who are fully relying on the Spirit to work through the proclaimed Word. Does the Spirit convict the hearts of men through serving…or does His work within us through the Word produce the serving? Why do we so easily forget the actual and effectual work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God?

    Together for the Gospel

  31. Greg Long says

    To those commentors who have said things like, “I don’t care if I never hear another sermon in my life.”

    2 Tim 4:1-5
    1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

    Paul’s answer for the problems in Corinth wasn’t to give up on preaching. In fact, that was the one thing he focused on. (1 Cor. 1:10-31)

  32. Greg Long: I appreciate your love of the gospel and Paul’s admonitions in II Tim, yet it might be the case that you are comparing sheep to goats. To be tired of sermons is not necessarily a sign of wanting ears tickled. Many, myself included, are tired of words that are ‘merely’ biblical, but lack passion, vision, context, and the word that seems to have popped up a lot: APPLICATION. I’m personally tired of hearing a lot of sermons about application from pastors who have clearly not tried to apply what they are telling me to try.

    Yeah, snarky, I know, but I’ve heard a wide range of admonitions to live out things that I suspect the speaker hasn’t even begun to address. Should I take that message and run with it ?? Maybe, but I sure wish they’d handed the mike over to someone else with even an imperfect track record instead of preaching SOMETHING.

    There is a list of reasons that many have grown tired of “merely” sermons, but it would be rash to assume that those with sermon fatigue are therefore wandering away from Paul’s warnings in II tim or elsewhere.

    Bitter irony here: in a land aching for good, solid, Christ centered preaching, words and sermons are bountiful, and the art of speaking held in high esteem. I smell a massive disconnect here.

  33. Greg Long:

    Seldom to I respond to commenters here, but in your case I must.

    If you read this post, then you heard a call for something far different than No More Sermons. That all you can respond to is the “threat” that some people may have tired of “preaching” shows that you have raced past the entire point of those post and past all the people it represents to defend the one group of people MOST to be legitimately faulted: preachers.

    Of whom I am one, and will be as long as God allows.

    But this is not about abandoning sermons. It is about sermons that deserve to be abandoned. The sermons Jesus denounced in Matthew 23 as making the disciples they formed far worse than the preachers who preached. This isn’t about abadoning sermons, but about the CRY for genuine Christianity and not the “information dump.”

    How is it that men like yourself will read this post and see only the need to defend the sermon? Why no acknowledgment that the state of the sermon is these times is poor? Why no recognition that perhaps perhaps we have a few things to learn? Why no recognition that the cry you hear and even the criticism of the sermon grows out of a legitimate desire for a spirituality that is more than what we have experienced to this point?

    Even if you disagree with what is suggested, how can you run past the legitimate protest to defend that which is more legitimately blamed?

    peace

    ms

  34. Greg Long says

    IM:

    First, my comment was very specifically directed to those who said they didn’t want to hear another sermon in their lives, etc.

    Second, I was not defending preachers, but preaching. We’ve all heard bad preaching…man-centered, anemic, moralistic preaching. The answer is not to ditch preaching and start sharing or dialoguing or picking up trash on Sunday mornings or whatever. The answer is good, biblical, Word-centered, Gospel-focused, Spirit-empowered preaching that points people to Jesus Christ.

  35. Greg Long,

    Clearly our preaching can be improved (I still have reservations about using that word to refer to a practice that is almost entirely directed to those who are already believers, but that’s a subject for another day). But the point of this post is that evangelicals tend to over-rely on the practice, whether doing it well or badly. Our over-reliance is based on a selective reading of scripture, an overly-intellectualized view of the faith and of humanity, and, now, the inertia of tradition. We have made a primary practice out of our least relational and participatory interaction with one another and it produces its fruit. In fact, if I had to name the necessary ingredients of evangelical ecclesiology, they would be a person preaching and someone listening. A song or two may also be required. That’s what evangelicals need to have to call something “church.” Maybe you agree with that assessment, maybe you don’t, but it’s worth thinking about, and about how warped that is relationally compared to a body concept. And it’s worth thinking about how that working definition of church, when practiced over decades, will form and even mal-form people given its lack of relational accountability or even interaction and the “role” it tries to place on the vast majority of people, which is essentially a non-role. The answer to this problem, which is the problem raised here, is not “good, biblical, Word-centered, Gospel-focused, Spirit-empowered preaching that points people to Jesus Christ” as wonderful as that sounds and can be. We need a bigger, better picture of being human and of being the church than our current ecclesial practices and priorities reveal.

  36. Greg Long says

    T Freeman said:

    “But the point of this post is that evangelicals tend to over-rely on the practice, whether doing it well or badly. Our over-reliance is based on a selective reading of scripture, an overly-intellectualized view of the faith and of humanity, and, now, the inertia of tradition. ”

    Sorry, I can’t get away from:

    1 Cor 1:17
    17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

    2 Tim 4:1-2
    1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word…

    For Paul, preaching was central and essential. Notice that 2 Tim. 4 reveals Paul’s final instructions to Pastor Timothy before Paul’s impending death. It’s as if Paul is saying, “OK, now, Timothy, above all else, here’s what I want you to do…”

    I have been fortunate not to have had the experiences that some of you have had that have turned you from the church (or from preaching, or whatever), and for that I’m thankful. This post has been helpful to be reminded of the struggle that many have today with “the church”. I’m afraid we just disagree on the prescription, that’s all.

  37. Greg,

    I really don’t want to fight this battle because it is completely unnecessary. Paul’s admonition to preach is in the context of his time and culture. Jesus told stories in his context and time, then elucidated them. I believe in preaching, but are you ready to say that only John Macarthur’s version of preaching is “real” preaching? What about the 12 minute homily at the Anglican Church? What about a church I listened to earlier this month that did a tag team sermon with 3 preachers using 3 different approaches?

    If someone is saying preaching is disposable because they don’t like it, then I side with you. But if someone is saying that a lot of forms of preaching have grown ineffective in this culture I’ll say I see that as well.

    ms

  38. ….sounds to me like the commenter is not far from the Kingdom of God…whats really sad here is that there is no one in this persons life capable to lead him/her through this “wilderness”….but God is able…..

  39. Larry Geiger says

    I’m an old codger and I suppose that I just didn’t “connect” with your post. I suppose that my post seemed “snarky” (is that really a word?). I’m at the place in my life where if the pastor went up front each Sunday and read:

    1 Corinthians 15
    1Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
    2By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
    3For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
    4And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
    5And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
    6After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
    7After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
    8And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

    then I’d be satisfied. Confess my sins (not very well), receive absolution (joyfully), make an offering, sing a song and commune.

    A song that I like to sing:
    I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
    Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
    And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
    ’Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.

    I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
    To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

    It all boils down to He died, I’m alive. We are not going to get, or even approach, all those things you long for above. I guess that a list like that sounds like whining to me. We all yearn for those kinds of things but we’re never going to see them until “in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song”.

    I apologize if classifying someones longings as whining seems harsh. Someone out there is longing for their mom to not die. And she dies. Someone is longing for a million dollars, buys a lottery ticket and gets a million dollars (someone wins). I’m not so worried about seeing my longings fulfilled in my church as I am about seeing Christ’s longings for me fulfilled in my life.

  40. My longings go beyond me and my personal relationship with Jesus. I am part of the body of Christ. I have seen many of these things described. Sorry you have not. Apparently you have been looking in all the wrong places. Just remember – it is not all about just you and Jesus. I’m an old codger too. As Christ lived and died for others, so may we, and that’s not whining.

  41. Larry Geiger says

    Ok, Sam. I guess I’ll bite.

    “My longings go beyond me and my personal relationship with Jesus. I am part of the body of Christ.”
    Ok, you just contradicted yourself. As a “part of the body of Christ” your longings, really nothing in your life, can go beyond your personal relationship with Jesus. Longings beyond a personal relationship with Jesus are longings for the world.

    I have seen many of these things described. Sorry you have not.
    No, no you haven’t. Perhaps you have seen shadows of these things or perhaps you have seen them evidenced for a short period of time. For instance:
    Someone may have been honest, but you haven’t seen honesty. There are lies all around you. Everywhere.
    You may have loved but you don’t love. You have no more perfect love than any of the rest of us.
    You may have engaged the senses in a truly God like fashion once or twice but your senses, just like mine, are full of lies, garbage, and trash.

    “Just remember – it is not all about just you and Jesus.”
    In this case you are absolutely correct. It’s all about Him.

    “As Christ lived and died for others, so may we,”
    Exactly my point. It’s not about MY longings, it’s about His.

    Here is a longing, try this one on:
    I long to share in His sufferings.

    I didn’t see that one on the list above, and that’s not whining.

    Romans 8:17
    Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

  42. Spiritual Prosperity is what we miss out especially when we live in a materialistic world.

    We live in a world that imprints in our mind that prosperity can only be defined by material wealth. What we miss out is that, there is a deeper kind of prosperity—spiritual prosperity, and this is what we need more than financial prosperity. Have spiritual prosperity and everything else will follow.