One of the hindrances to my spiritual formation is listening to sermons. There’s been some significant conflict in me regarding this. I feel like I’m supposed to feast during the message time at church. However, it doesn’t matter what church, who’s speaking or even the topic. If it’s a sermon, I nearly always check out. I fire up my Kindle app and read. Or, I work on my to do list. Or, I read scripture around whatever text the speaker using. But I almost never pay attention.
I’ve wavered back and forth between feeling guilty and feeling indignant. I’m an adult, and I should be able to pay attention during the worst speakers. And, I should be setting an example for my kids. At the same time, I feel like my attention should be earned by whoever is speaking. I also feel like it’s the burden of the speaker to engage me. They bear the burden of not just engaging my attention, but also capturing my imagination, speaking to my soul, challenging my mind and encouraging me to take action.
I wonder why pastors and youth workers still rely on this ancient, tired, one sided mode of unpacking God’s word. Is it because most of them don’t fully understand how people learn? Do pastors need sermons to weekly reassert their power and place in the church? Or, do youth workers opt to speak because it validates their role?
Pastors, youth workers, and speakers in general, please…
1. Consider other learning styles. Many of us (most of us?) don’t learn like you or think like you. Do you want to engage us with what you have to say? Encourage discussions during your message. Seat us in pod-like groups. Give us clay, paper and pencils, and other mediums. I’m a kinesthetic learner who also learns by talking things out. How will you engage me? One of my kids learns by drawing…how will you engage them?
2. Say something interesting. Please. We don’t forget your messages because we’re forgetful people. You’re just not saying anything that makes a difference to us. Try drawing a picture of the image you want us to leave the room with, and plan everything around that image. Protect that image, and don’t allow anything in your message that detracts from it. Dig into your soul for your own questions and explore them, inviting us to dialogue with you. Consider the questions you can’t answer and unleash them on us.
While you’re crafting all of that, remember that we’re adults who live real lives. Pithy, easy to follow, “three simple steps” got tired in the 90′s. We don’t want you to make it easy, we want you to make our difficult lives make sense. Stay away from the easy messages and please, please don’t feed us the doctrine you learned in church history class. Want help planning your sermon topics? Go to a Christian book store, look at the book titles, and say the exact opposite things.
And by the way…we don’t need any more messages against the president, against current culture, against non-believers or other denominations. Engage us with stories from your life, ones that make sense.
3. Reach outside the “Christian worldview”. Tell us about books you’re reading that aren’t published for the christian subculture. Tell us how you engaged with movies that aren’t any of those goofy, poorly made “christian” movies. Read a biography or two, and tell us how you saw God moving. Read a classic and unpack for us how that story engaged your imagination, and transfer that into your life with God. How did your soul intersect with the last good song you listened to? How did your spirit come alive while you viewed Rembrandt. Lead us outside the Christian culture and into seeing how our culture tells God’s story.
4. Stop. Using. Powerpoint. The moments where you s-l-o-w-l-y uncover your outline on the big screen tell us that you think linearly. The problem is we’re listening to you, thinking in dynamic pictures and in multiple images in real time. We’re connecting music to your big idea (assuming you have one). And all the while, we’re interacting with out own lives, wondering how your neat-and-tidy outline works in our real lives.
If you want to engage us using the expensive screen and projector, try using engaging images. Or, show interviews and invite group reflection. Or, just put up one word that helps us see your thinking. If you can’t find a way to use presentation software for effective learning, turn it off. It’s not helping you.
5. Lead us off the grid. Hyperlink what you have to say to other places we can go. Link us into great books. Link us into other people’s stories. Fire up the internet in the middle of your message and show us where you went. Make those links available on the church website. Introduce us to TED talks, YouTube videos, interviews, writings, games, visuals that give the Holy Spirit tools to take us each in different directions by God’s influence and power.
Those are the first five ideas on my mind. I long very badly for a church that engages all of me, both sides of my brain and all parts of who I am – my mind as well as my soul. Does that place exist? I’m not sure.