In the World

"Read my lips: No more sermons"

Mary Brown took to HuffPost Religion recently to highlight a Lilly-funded study that asked
laypeople what they want out of sermons. In short, it appears we want the

  • Spiritual leadership
  • Inspiration for spiritual growth
  • "Serious spiritual content about the Bible"
  • An impact on our lives

Oh, so that's all! Leaving
aside the question of what we want vs. what we might need--and assuming an expansive definition of "spiritual"--this
seems a pretty reasonable list of criteria for a good sermon. The difficulty,
of course, is in how to preach in a
way that effectively accomplishes all this--and, as Brown notes, how to find
the preparation time.

What's more helpful than this
summary of the study's findings is Brown's own point on the subject of lay
opinions about preaching:

best preaching conversations I have observed are between a pastor and his/her
own people. For a sermon to be a public discourse, it takes a pastor and a
congregation. The shape and form of these conversations cannot be prescribed.
In a community of faith where there is trust and openness, they will develop
organically between the pastor and the people.

Those of you who are
pastors and/or preachers: what kinds of helpful conversations have you had with
parishioners on the subject of preaching?

Also: how might you
respond if this comment left on Brown's post came from someone
at your church?

got an idea: read my lips--NO MORE SERMONS! just stop preaching. We laypeople
are now literate. We can read books on our own or take classes. We don't need
clergy teaching or preaching at us. The very idea of a sermon is offensive: a
lecture where we can't argue back or even ask questions. And so is the very
idea of clergy as authorities or intellectual leaders--when in many
congregations most laypeople are as educated or better educated.

shut up already. NO MORE SERMONS. Give us liturgy, sacraments and mystery, and
stop the talk. You have nothing to say us.

There's obviously much to
argue with here. Is all public
speaking offensive? Is preaching just about authority? Is authority based in education?
Where are these churches where most people are at least as educated as the
pastor, so that I can avoid ever, ever participating in their committee

I'm curious, however,
about potential pastoral responses--because
I suspect that HuffPost commenter
hebaber, however vitriolic his/her tone, is not the only churchgoer who feels
this way.

Steve Thorngate

The Century managing editor is also a church musician and songwriter.

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