Friday, November 06, 2009

"Yawning at the Word"

This month's article by Mark Galli has a rather brave assertion: Reading the Bible during a Church service is considered boring to many. He tells of a worrying experience where reading the Bible is equated to boredom, himself being asked to 'cut down' on the Bible verses while he is preaching. More disconcerting is his sharp rebuke at preachers who prefer to preach exciting 'relevant' stuff like stories etc, rather than the plain Word of God. He writes in ChristianityToday Nov web edition: saying that "It's really hard to listen to God when there are really interesting things to think about." 

There are truly many more interesting things for the 1-day a week Church goer. How can a 1 day Church service compete with 6 days of TV, Internet, Sports, Work, Social and everything else combined? The 6-day mentality wins hands down. Galli's main criticism is on pew listening. From experience, he raises several points pertaining to the way church goers listen to the sermon.
  • People tend to get 'lost' when too much Bible is read during the sermon;
  • People are more interested in processed arguments rather than the pure Word itself; (eg arguments about creation, rather than reading Genesis)
  • People tend to be more concerned about 'relevance' rather than the plain reading of the Word.
  • Some listeners expect illustrations and applications to interest them.
  • Some listen to sermon as if they are preparing to mount a counter-argument, to prove their own personal point;
Poignantly, he shares with us his observation about the lack of listening skills we have simply because we CHOOSE to listen according to our set thinking. Worse, we are raising a whole generation to listen like this.
"We often hear people say how difficult it is to hear God anymore, and I wonder if one reason is that we've forgotten how to listen to the Word of God when it comes to us in the sanctuary or the classroom. We listen like a husband and wife listen when they are in the middle of an argument: they listen only so they can have ammunition to mount a counterattack. That's not listening. And when we listen to the sermon only to hear what seems immediately and directly relevant, neither is that listening. And yet we've raised a whole generation of Christians to listen like this." (Mark Galli)
My Comments
I understand Galli's points. I think the Church ought to incorporate the reading of large chunks of Scripture. I too believe that the Bible ought to be given its full attention, not simply listening only to 'choice' perspectives. Having said that, there is more than meets the eye. I like to make 3 responses in fairness to the laity. Let me put it as my P.E.W response.

I believe that preaching is a shared responsibility. Both clergy, preachers as well as laity ought to come together to listen together. They ought to help one another along, give feedback, and see the sermon as a special channel to deliver God's Word. As much as listeners have to learn to listen to the pure Word of God, preachers ought to give them TOOLS to listen. Training needs to be encouraged for preachers to be able to connect with their listeners. Listeners need to be handheld as they move from one point to another. The lack of listening ability is not simply the responsibility of the laity. The preaching community has to play their part. Both the preaching community and the listening community constitutes the Church TOGETHER.

Teaching the congregation to listen well is an ongoing endeavour. In preaching, we valiantly preach at the level of teenagers so as to ensure the maximum number of people can catch what we are saying. It is wrong to assume everyone's spiritual maturity is at the same level. I believe that with every congregation is both unique and similar. They are unique in the sense that their church and personal contexts are unique. Location of church, the mix and the idiosyncracies of the neighbourhood. Yet, they are universally similar in the sense that the tradition and background they come from mirrors many others of the same. Moreover, they use the same Word of God, even if the translations are different. Not every person on the pew has the privilege of studying and preparing the Word of God like the preacher. They genuinely need help to cope with large chunks of Scripture. Hence, by gently guiding the listeners to where the preacher is saying, the listeners can be trained. I tend to think that if we give in too often to listener's preferences, we end up spoiling their appetite. Preachers need to WHET their appetite for the Word of God, starting from where they are.

I believe that reading Scripture is important in sermons. However, let us not limit ourselves to just the sermon but the WHOLE worship time. We can read Scripture during the singing, in between announcements, when the hat is passed, before the doxology apart from the actual sermon itself. Maybe, 'Scripture reading' can be incorporated into one highlight of the whole church service! This will prepare the ears of people to listen better. Reading chunks of Scripture during service raise other agendas (many legitimate) in the minds of listeners.
  • What is the preacher trying to say?
  • Why is he quoting this part of Scripture?
  • What context is he referring to?
In conclusion, I believe Galli's concern about raising a new generation of narcissistic listeners is somewhat valid. Yet I also believe that preachers have to shoulder part of the blame. We cannot simply sit down and point fingers to people who genuinely desire to know the Word of God. Sometimes, they need an admonishment. Other times they need a gentle encouragement. At all time, they need a loving exhortation. While Galli may have made a good observation, let me add that not everything is lost. It is the subsequent steps that is much more important. Whether one agrees with Galli or not, the question remains:

"How can we listen to the Word of God better?"



km chung said...

The point made about preachers and congregation at worship services... where sermons are deemed dull or speakers boring on one side vs congregation's demands and expectations on the other. Perhaps, it can be considered from how worship services is perceived?

At times, peachers may feel there's 'pressure' to use power point or multi-media tools or just focus on popular themes or verses.

On the other hand, many worshippers may approach service with a 'just in-time' method (perhaps, a carry over from the week's rat race?) or expecting an uplifting, experiential event on Sundays.

Just as preachers need to invest time, effort/resources, and much praying to prepare messages each week... the congregation have their role to play too... setting aside Sundays, coming prayerfully before service begins, with prepared, open hearts, minds, and hands all ready tuned to God

YAPdates said...

it is true that worship services have to be rightly perceived. Jesus has said that true worship is one that is of the Spirit and in truth. Whether preacher or lay, usher or musician, each person has to be a worshiper him or herself.

Question: What if one does not feel he/she is not having a right heart for worship, no matter how hard one tries?

Maybe when that happen, reflect on "Amazing Grace."

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