Renewing Our Worship: The Sermon

The sermon is so central to the Church of Christ assembly that I suppose I need to say something about how to do it better. But in my experience, among the more progressive congregations, our preaching tends to be quite good, even excellent.

Interestingly, while Abilene Christian University and others were working with many in the independent Christian Churches toward a re-unification, the Christian Church leadership found themselves praising the quality of our preaching and our universities. We are truly blessed.

Therefore, I have only a few nits to pick (these are not in order of importance).

And I urgently state that I’m not trying to indirectly criticize the preaching at my own congregation — which is uniformly excellent. This is big picture stuff.

* First, we really need to get over the romantic notion that our women are all great mothers and our men are all bad fathers. I’m sick of Mother’s Day sermons that praise the women as angels from God and Father’s Day sermons that treat men as the source of all ills of society. It’s just not true.

We have women who are Godly mothers and women who need to be re-trained. We have men who are Godly fathers and men who need to be re-trained. Idealizing women and stereotyping man is unhealthy and prevents us from saying to both groups some things that need to be said.

We need sermons that announce, “Moms, you are not your child’s friend, and you need to quit trying to please your child. Rather, teach your child to please Jesus and her parents. Be willing to impose the discipline your daughter needs. Require your daughter to dress to please Jesus, not her friends. And stop trying to re-live your childhood through your daughter.”

Or, “Men, I’ve seen how you teach your sons to respect girls, to work hard, and to have a servant’s heart. I’ve seen so many of our boys refuse to follow the ways of Satan because their dads encouraged and supported them when their friends tempted them. We are proud of how you are raising your sons.”

Now, both statements are only half truths. Many women are great moms, and some men are terrible fathers. But the statements are true as to many of our members. They need to hear it.

* Second, I think any preacher is understandably afraid to say that much about parenting — unless his kids are grown and long gone. But our preachers need to address parenting more often than they do, because modern society is destructive to families and we all need reminders about how to do a better job. We need the encouragement.

People will get mad. We tend to be very defensive about our kids and our parenting — and we just need to get over it. We need to give the preacher (and our teachers and elders and friends) permission to call us to account. We need to stop claiming it’s not the church’s business. It’s God’s business, and that makes it the church’s business.

It’s great to have parenting seminars and classes. Many of our churches do that. But until it’s important enough to say from the pulpit, many of members won’t get the message.

* Third, I don’t think we’ve fully preached kenos. Kenos is Greek for empty. The verb is kenoo. (The first “o” is short, the second long. Accent on the first “o”. Ken o’ oh). This is the verb used of Jesus in Phil 2 —

(Phil 2:6-7)  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

The literal reading of “made himself nothing” in verse 7 is “emptied himself.”

Verse 5 teaches,

(Phil 2:5)  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus …

In other words, we should empty ourselves as well, making ourselves nothing.

The same thought appears in Luke —

(Luke 9:23-24)  Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

Paul explained his own emptying in Acts —

(Acts 20:24)  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

The point is that for some reason we’ve allowed selfishness and pride to become acceptable behavior among God’s people. We therefore fight over whether our songs get led in “our” church, whether it’s okay for elders to criticize our child rearing, and such like. And our leaders are much more likely to kowtow to this behavior than to confront it as sin.

* Fourth, we need to turn up the temperature on evangelism. It’s a tough sermon to preach because many of our preachers are ineffective evangelists themselves (and I’m no one to throw stones).  Nonetheless, we’ll never be an evangelistic people until we hear it from the pulpit and hear it often. We need to be helped to feel the damnation of the lost and the joy of the saved.

We need testimonies and heros to emulate. And we need to be taught about missions and church plants, not just as one of many church programs but as the heart of God’s mission on earth. We need to see all this as central to the Christian experience.

* Fifth, we have to learn to have a heart for the poor and needy — again, not as one of many programs, but as the heart of Christianity. We need to be taught to see God’s concern for the needy as a part of the story of the Bible. We need to have our hearts touched by what touches God’s.

* Sixth, we need to be taught a more mystical, more supernatural Christianity. Until we escape the scientific rationalism of this age, we’ll never truly be a praying people. And while it’s good to have lessons on prayer, they need to be preceded by lessons on the power of God to do miracles even now. We need to see angels and demons as real, the battle against Satan as real, and the power of God to change things as real.

One the most powerful ways to do this is through testimony — by people who’ve been healed, people who’ve been given a task by God, and people who’ve seen angels. Your congregation has them. Give them permission to share the stories God has given them.

* Seventh, we really need to learn to celebrate. Again, because we don’t see the hand of God in the good things that happen, we don’t honor him as we should. Our assemblies should be filled with hallelujahs and hosannahs to God, praising him for good news. If we weren’t so selfish, we’d readily celebrate the good news of others. And if we saw God at work in our volunteers, we’d be more willing to honor them for their work — rather than fearing that we’d leave someone out and so thanking no one.

God is alive, quite well, and working among us, even when we refuse to see it. Praise God for his miracles and blessings, and so help the rest of us to see them when they happen. Over time, you’ll see a dramatically changed church.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to Renewing Our Worship: The Sermon

  1. Terry says:

    You made several excellent points in this post. I would like to comment on #2 and #5. I am not a preacher, but I teach occassionally in an urban church. Last spring, I taught my most popular class. It was a class on parenting. I do not know about the general population, but the urban poor in my area were hungry to learn how to be better parents. They did not seem to feel insulted at all. Of course, they knew that I did not have all the answers, but that I was searching the Scriptures and sharing everything I knew. They were eager to learn any biblical principles I could find to help them with their children. If a church wants to make a positive impact among the poor, a class which applies biblical principles to parenting could be a very popular.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Thanks, Terry.

    I think most churches have good responses to classes and seminars on parenting. I just think that we need to take it a step further and give it pulpit-level emphasis, because nationwide we are in a crisis of bad parenting — and the church is hardly immune. Just talk to any children's or youth minister.

  3. Joe Baggett says:

    Preaching that does not lead to constantly transformed lives is a waste. All the preaching the NT led to immediate and on going transformation. There are preachers like Rick Atchley who embodies transformational preaching. See his series called "Extreme make over of the heart" and "American idols". He spends very little time on religious dogma. The result is transformation which is the true mark of faith.

  4. I think we'd do well to have more sermons about Jesus, and Him crucified.

    I don't think we've mastered the Master yet.

  5. Justin Allen says:

    Point #4 is something I think about often. One of the most powerful things I ever heard from a pulpit was to stop "loving" people to hell.

    It is something the Holy Spirit convicts me of often.

  6. David Tate says:

    I definitely agree with item 6. Mysticism in the Church of Christ? Wow what a concept. But, I am afraid that until we give preachers guaranteed contracts, we will continue to hear what the most vocal of the leadership wants us to hear. Not that I fault the preacher. He has invested time and effort in establishing himself and his family in his community, why would he want to jeopardize that by saying something that his employer doesn't want to hear?

  7. Joe Baggett says:

    I agree the point about mystery is important. Postmodernism is a visercal reaction to modernism. One of the main tenants of modernism is "We have it figured all out" which leads to arrogance. The emergening generations crave mystery the idea that we most everything figured out is very depressing. When the emerging generations hear people preach so confidently about what they think that they are willing to split churches, families, institutions and so on they think to themselves how can they be right when they do things that are against God's character? Preaching today needs to be more focused on exposing God's nature and character rather than worshipping a method of Bible study or tradition.

  8. Alan says:

    * First, we really need to get over the romantic notion that our women are all great mothers and our men are all bad fathers. I’m sick of Mother’s Day sermons that praise the women as angels from God and Father’s Day sermons that treat men as the source of all ills of society. It’s just not true.

    Amen. You've touched on one of my soapboxes.

    Our culture demeans men and idolizes women. Look at how many movies and TV series are built around weak men and powerful women. Men are presented as incompetent and immoral. And our churches are trying to raise godly men in that environment. We certainly shouldn't be contributing to the problem. Instead we should hold up examples of what a godly man looks like in today's world.

  9. Joe Baggett says:

    In regards to the men vs. women issue I would reccomend the book "Why men hate going to church".

  10. greg says:

    I would welcome a class on parenting in our church with scriptures to back what is said. I have 4 little ones and appreciate any help I can get. Also appreciate the fact of pointing out men are equals.ha

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