I Sold My Soul on eBay: What Churches Do Wrong, Part 2

Not paying attention in church

Again, Mehta nails us.

One would think the adults would be role models, listening to the pastor, maybe even taking notes. Instead, what I saw especially in some of the smaller churches were adults who were obviously bored. They were looking through the program, looking around the room, even looking at their watches. Part of the blame rests on the pastors of those churches (they were among the less-interesting speakers). Regardless, I wonder why these adults come to church in the first place.

Can anyone deny the truth in this? Yes, preachers can be boring. Yes, songs can be horribly led. But how we act affects our children’s perception of church. Moreover, if the services are that bad, why don’t we do something about it?

Now, the other side of the coin is the difficulty small churches have in attracting preaching and song leading talent. I’d like to offer a few partial solutions (they won’t work for everyone) –

* Merge! Many churches can’t hire the talent they need and many don’t have the singing voices they need because they obstinately refuse to merge with similar churches in the area.

* Get training. We have very few resources available for the training of worship leaders, despite the importance the Churches of Christ place on singing. But training can be had. Get your worship leaders to attend the Zoe conferences. Better yet, ask a capable worship leader in another church to train your leaders. Offer to pay.

* The same holds true for preachers. We do a lot of training on theology and leadership, primarily at lectureships, but next to none on how to deliver an effective sermon. But there are Church-affiliated universities that can help, and I’m sure many highly skilled preachers would be glad to listen to your preacher’s tapes and make some suggestions. You see, we often fail to even seek help from each other, and so we often fail.

* Get rid of all vestiges of legalism. Legalism destroys worship. Grace compels worship.

Distracting behavior during worship

Mehta points out that his ability to listen to the sermon was often interfered with by members of the church “moving or speaking while the pastor spoke or while the choir was performing. … They mumbled to themselves, or they raised their hands and blocked my view of the stage.”

All churches have members who interfere with the worship of others. Some of this is due to unruly children. In some churches, members enjoy raising their hands toward God, which is fine, even Biblical, but they do so at inappropriate times. In some charismatic churches, people speak in tongues during the worship. In some churches, people just talk to each other.

Every church has its own personality and own style of worship. However, consideration for the other worshipers is always the order of the day, and yet most churches are reluctant to tell a mother to take her crying baby out or to ask a worshiper who is out of order to tone it down. We are nice, kind people who hate to give offense. But for the sake of visiting seekers, we really need to insist that our members refrain from all kinds of rude behavior — but what is rude will vary greatly from church to church.

Some very effective megachurches are quite stern on this point. For example, some insist that babies be in the nursery, not the auditorium, for this very reason. Many churches train their ushers to kindly but firmly deal with distracting behavior.

Obviously, we want to grant great freedom in how we worship. But rudeness has no place in the assembly.

Lack of opportunities to ask questions

Mehta sees the sermon as central to the service, and he sees sermons as educational. Therefore, he wonders why it’s so rare to have the opportunity to ask questions. He understands why a large church would not allow questions during the sermon, but would love to have that opportunity by speaking to the preacher after worship.

Of course, in Churches of Christ it’s customary for the preacher to meet with the members after services, which allows some time for questions — or at least the opportunity to set a time to meet with the preacher later. Evidently, this was not so at many churches Mehta visited.

And many churches use the sermon as the basis for questions and answers at small groups, which would often give the visitor a great chance to discuss the sermon — if he’s invited to a suitable small group.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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2 Responses to I Sold My Soul on eBay: What Churches Do Wrong, Part 2

  1. Steven Bell says:

    I must completely disagree with your first three suggestions. They attack the wrong problem.
    It makes my stomach churn to think of the first century church worrying about "attracting talent". Can you imagine Paul writing a letter encouraging Christians to "merge" so they could hire a better preacher? Ludicrous!

    The beauty of the Gospel is that it is not about formal, well orchestrated services. It isn't about making sure our preachers are trained and speak well.
    "When [the Sanhedrin] saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus." Acts 4:13.

    "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

    Jesus didn't give the Twelve a three-year sermon class, and warn them that without it they would not be able to attract converts. He gave them a boot camp in servanthood.
    If we attract people with our perfect services, we distort the Gospel into legalism. We show that we value a formal ritual above grace. Without speaking, we say that God is only pleased with good singing and powerful preaching. We couldn't be further from the truth!

    "Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of oil?
    Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

    He has showed you, O man, what is good.
    And what does the LORD require of you?
    To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God."
    Micah 6:7-8
    Like the Israelites, we've allowed what should be an expression of thanksgiving and communion with God to take the place of true worship.

    We need to admit our weakness and brokenness as humans and let the power of God shine. The first century Christians attracted others by the shocking difference that Christ produced in their lives. We need to do the same.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Steven,

    I advocate church mergers at every opportunity for many reasons, but the fundamental reason for mergers is simply the Biblical injunction to be unified.

    And the business side of my training tells me that our being senselessly divided, largely out of pride and legalism, greatly harms our ability to be effective. We lose certain economies of scale — forcing us to put far too many of our resources into the care for the saved and leaving far too little for care of the lost.

    I mean, larger churches generally have more resources for missions and benevolence. And they have more talent — of all kinds.

    Now, there are ways to do church as a small congregation that can be quite effective. Many very large churches started small. Most church plants start small, and some grow rapidly by being evangelistically effective. It can be done.

    But very, very few small Churches of Christ are effective. Most are bleeding members and trying to do church in a way that just won't work.

    Should they merge just to get a better preacher? No. But they should merge, and the attitudes that allow merger — humility and grace — will make the preaching better, even if it's same guy.

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