Stop Preaching, Start Reaching!

I can’t remember the last time a sermon changed my mind. There, I’ve said it. I’ve drawn my line in the sand. If the point of preaching is to evoke change in my life, bring me to repentance, or to inspire me to pay whatever ‘it’ is forward, sermons aren’t cutting it for me.

But this isn’t about sermons, I like sermons for the most part. I’m blessed to experience good preaching regularly and even excellence from time to time. I’ve learned things from those messages and have experienced the gentle nudge of the Spirit through them. I know some folks that still love sermons; I think that is great.

I’ll admit, this may be about me. I’m not the normal congregant. While I’m not clergy, I work for the church and eat, sleep and breathe God stuff. And I get bored easily.

But I suspect that this isn’t really just about me.

After all, there must be some reason that I’m still, at 39, one of the younger people in most of the churches I visit.

In seminary it was common to be engaged in conversations of faith. Often these conversations amounted to the proverbial number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin but on occasion they would dig much deeper than that. Those discussions were challenging, interesting, and sometimes disturbing enough to be faith shaping.

I’ve rarely encountered these types on discussions in a church building but I’ve participated in many online. And while I’m most often communing with other church professionals, I notice more young people involved in such conversations, or peering in from around the edges, than I ever do in church.

People are hungry for a depth of engagement that sermons rarely allow us.

Despite the provocative name of this post, I don’t think that most of our pastors should stop preaching. But I do wonder if we shouldn’t question the size of the investment so many of us make in Sunday mornings as the primary vehicle for transformation and discipleship.

I know thoughts like these are behind the positive reinvestment many churches are making in small groups. I suspect it is also why some pastors and parishioners are abuzz about the experiences they have with things like pub theology.

I just wonder when we are going to get more consistently serious about an online discipleship strategy.

After all, spiritual formation is already happening online, even if the formation isn’t helpful. In 2013, Americans spent just over 5 hours per day online via a computer or mobile device. How does this compare to the time we spend in church? Grumpy cats, overt (and subliminal) advertising, partisan politics, and the latest crazily over-hyped thing Pope Francis did; each pings on our news feed and uproots whatever growth that well-researched sermon initiated.

What if we practiced ministry like we knew that? Would it make a difference if we spent half of that sermon prep time engaging our members online or wherever our people spend the rest of their week? What if we became known as faithful curators of content, the people who always have something thoughtful to offer, and champions of good and holy conversation.

Of course, some ministry leaders are already doing this. Bloggers like Rachel Held Evans are shaping the minds of the faithful on issues long before their pastors ever get a chance. And some pastors have always found the time to throw on that clerical collar before they hit the local coffee shop.

So, should everyone start a blog? No.

Is everyone capable of using Facebook (efficiently) to generate good conversation with their members? Probably not.

Should engagement beyond the walls of the church be yet another thing the pastor is solely responsible for? Absolutely not, that sort of thinking is part of our problem.

I can’t remember the last time I changed my mind because of a sermon but I can remember the last time I was challenged to think differently and move beyond my assumptions online; it was yesterday.

If we are all intent on cultivating deeper discipleship, we need to get creative. And to do so, we need to engage people out where they live and spend their time, wherever that may be.

To transform the world, we may need to reallocate some of our time from the things we perceive to be most important (Sunday morning worship) but we’ll also need to remember that the charge to do this work extends in equal part to all believers.

Now it’s your turn.

  1. What are you doing currently to engage people where they are?
  2. Is it time to start preaching less and reaching more?
  3. What are your hope and fears regarding an online discipleship strategy?
  4. How can we empower all Christians to share in the work of redeeming secular space effectively?

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.

Image Credit: “The Moon With Reach” by Flickr user Gabriel Rojas Hruska

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