Did that title grab your attention? Good. Because I mean it.
Rather than add some pointless setup here, I’ll go right into it:
1. Stop the sermons.
Most people can’t remember one point of the three-point sermon they heard last week. Many pastors couldn’t deliver a transformational sermon if the lives of their flock depended on it (and sadly, that is probably the case). I’ll go so far as to say that the average sermon given on an average Sunday doesn’t change the average American pew-sitter one iota. While that’s a crying shame— and shouldn’t be the case—I suspect it is.
So maybe it’s time to pack away the sermons for seven months. Discipleship is a long-haul reality, and no one will have his or her spiritual life derailed for want of seven months of so-so sermonizing.
Besides, we’re going to substitute something guaranteed to change lives.
2. Find a good orator—or three.
We put our best musicians in front of the church, right? Let’s find two or three people in our church who truly grasp the English language and can breathe life into words. This is both a gift and a talent. We should encourage those who speak the language with gusto and life. (Leaders, you are making it a priority to identify, encourage, and utilize the giftings of people in your church, aren’t you? And the best speaker in the church may not be you—or any of the other leaders.)
3. Open the Bible.
Remember the Bible? In some churches it seems as if hardly anyone does, despite its being the word of God. We’re going to open it and see what it says.
4. For that Sunday, have an orator read one book of the New Testament in its entirety before the assembled church.
Okay, so a few of those longer books may need to be split into two readings, but considering the length of the average sermon in an Evangelical church, it’s doable for most of the books.
5. Repeat for all 27 books of the New Testament.
Now enjoy the positive transformation. Your church WILL be changed.
I’m not kidding.
We’ve got our heads in the sand if we think that most Christians have experienced the Scriptures this way. Fact is, the way we Americans teach and read the Bible is a piecemeal shambles. We approach it in such microscopic bits that most Christians have no idea how it fits together. We have no vision for the wholeness of the Scriptures. It’s why the Bible-reading plan I advocate reinforces repetitive reading of entire books. Simply put, most Christians have never read the New Testament books as they were meant to be read.
We’re also fooling ourselves if we think that most Christians have read the entirety of the New Testament. Nearly half of all college graduates, once they step out of those ivy-covered halls, will never again read a book all the way through. This is especially true of men. For those who didn’t graduate from college, it’s certainly worse. And no, I don’t believe the Bible gets a pass on that lack. Given how little Scripture is read in the average church on Sunday, most Christians may otherwise never hear the entirety of the books that forge the backbone of all we are supposed to know and grasp.
We get all huffy about interpretation and so on, but do we trust the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures to deliver on their promise to transform lives? Faith comes by hearing the word of God, right?
How then can this plan not be an EPIC WIN for your church—or for every church in North America?
I say we start this Sunday.
Because the system we have in place for transmitting the Scriptures to people in the pews simply is not working.
And because the Word of God doesn’t need our additions to work miracles in the lives of those who hear it.
All we have to do is believe that is true.
37 thoughts on “Five Steps to Transform Your Church in Seven Months, Guaranteed”
I love this, Dan. I completely agree with every bit of it. I think the sacrosanct position of the weekly sermon is highly overcooked. In fact, it’s burnt to a crisp! I’m not against sermons, and our seminary grads are trained to focus much of their time and attention on them, but it leads one to wonder, what are they neglecting so that they could tell us once again that God has a wonderful plan for our lives (or something).
Furthermore, in my experience, sermons seldom generate conversation. We don’t leave the church and have frank discussions about what the preacher said, because it is off limits to question what he said or even to shade his blacks and white a little toward the gray. You simply walk away nodding and saying, wasn’t that a great sermon!
I agree with the rest of your recommendations also. We need to break the sacred routine of rock concert/offering/sermon in favor of . . . wait for it . . . authentic discipleship.
I do my best hearing of the Lord when out on my tractor or in the shower. Yesterday, I was tractoring, and all the pieces of this post came together. I fully believe God wants this for us. I also believe we have to toss all the preconceptions about how we do Church. I think we’re reading too many of our bad habits into the Scriptures and attempting to find justification for ideas that don’t exist in its pages. Plus, we’re treating too many verses like landmines, sidestepping them because we don’t want to deal with what they say. As for me, I just can’t do that anymore. And I can’t assume that those verses are talking to someone other than me, either. We explain away too many of the hard sayings of the NT, and it’s time to get real.
Church would be transformed, all right. A lot of people would leave. 😉
I was waiting for someone to post about people leaving.
I never want anyone to leave. I think leaving is a failure, especially when the church is doing the right thing.
But if people can’t handle the straight word of God, they probably don’t belong in the Church (big “C”) anyway. I would guess that they simply don’t believe. They want something out of their church experience that isn’t God, and that’s not how it’s supposed to work.
I love this idea. One of the more memorable sermons at my church was when one of the pastors gave the Sermon on the Mount from memory – so powerful! I don’t have a say in picking sermons for Sunday, but this may be a good idea for my small group…
A small group would work well, Kristen!
Quite un-Biblical! “How shall they hear without a preacher?” The Holy Spirit can and does use the preaching of faithful pastors to plant seeds and transform lives. Certainly much could be improved in evangelical churches about the quality of worship and the preaching that goes with it. If you really want to transform your church, teach your people how to talk to and listen to the Lord.
Well, is not the reading of Scripture a sharing of the Gospel, which after all is what “preaching” in Romans 10:14 is referring to? That sharing can happen more effectively in a lots of contexts apart from the designated expert at the lectern in front of a church crowd on Sunday morning. Are you really saying that reading the Bible aloud is un-Biblical? (I sometimes miss when someone’s trying to be ironic, so I’m asking in all seriousness.)
By the way, I’m not advocating the abolition of sermons altogether (and I suspect neither is Dan), only the strict allegiance to the sermon (as we know it) in every church service. I’m with Dan, who wrote, “I also believe we have to toss all the preconceptions about how we do Church.” As Tim Keller points out, our churches are attracting the moralistic while the licentious are keeping away (well-equipped with ten-foot poles), which is exactly the opposite of Jesus, who appalled the moralistic and attracted the licentious. So perhaps we’re doing some things that are more in line with the Pharisees than with Jesus. Food for thought.
Great thoughts on the moralistic/licentious dichotomy, Bob. I like that a lot. Heaven knows that our churches contain a large number of moralizers.
As I posted years ago from the Internet room of a Furry Con:
“Christ’s snubbed the God Squad types and hung out with messed-up losers before.”
Bob covered a lot of my response.
One of the great errors we make in Biblical interpretation and application is to assume our age and the early Church age are identical. While there are similarities, there are also stark differences.
The age of Jesus was largely an illiterate one. Also, it was not flooded with info and media, like ours is. The elite controlled the Scriptures (much like the Catholic Church did at the time of the Reformation). People did not have the Old Testament scrolls in their homes to consult whenever needed. They went to hear the Scriptures read by the people who controlled access to those scrolls. “How shall they hear without a preacher?” takes on new meaning with this understanding.
In most cases, I believe much of the preaching we hear about in that age is little more than reading the existing OT scrolls in a public gathering. As the Church grew, reading the Gospels and Epistles were added. I’m sure a little commentary was added here and there, but I doubt that the type of preaching we equate with the modern-day sermon was what they experienced then.
As to unbiblical, I can think of nothing more unbiblical than churches that never read the entirety of the Scriptures before the assembly of saints. If we can’t give seven months of Sundays to reading the New Testament through every few years, then I believe we are doomed to a perpetual downgrade in the American Church.
One last thing. I mentioned the Protestant Reformation. One of the key concepts was that the Scriptures themselves have the power to transform men. All that must be done is to place those Scriptures before them. I am recommending the identical thing. Pastors/preachers don’t need to add commentary all the time; the Scriptures contain in themselves by the power of the Holy Spirit the ability to convict men and bring them to knowledge of Jesus Christ. We cannot say otherwise or else we fallen men make ourselves out to be more authoritative than the Scriptures themselves.
As to unbiblical, I can think of nothing more unbiblical than churches that never read the entirety of the Scriptures before the assembly of saints.
Liturgical churches have a set series of readings — OT, Psalm, NT, and Gospel at each liturgy. They are staggered so in a three-year cycle you DO hear pretty much the entire Bible, day by day, week by week.
A great post! (I also read your reading plan linked to above, and liked it as well.)
I have used both straight-through and book-concentrated approaches profitably. Currently I am using a modified straight-through: The Old Testament in a year (except for Psalms/Proverbs, monthly) and the New Testament each quarter. I am not reading the gospels consecutively, though. I read one, then go to something else for a time – Luke-Acts plus James; Matthew, Romans, 1 Corinthians; etc. This way I am constantly moving in and out of the gospels. I am finding that reading in different parts of the Scripture concurrently helps establishing links & relationships between the different parts of the Scripture. I elected to do Psalms/Proverbs monthly because I feel weak in those areas. Spending more time in these two books is helping my devotional life as well as the practical living in Proverbs!
Yet, the book centered approach helps as well. I remember one period of several months where I read each of the Pastoral Epistles twice each week. The flow of Paul’s instructions to young preachers really made a difference in my life and understanding of my task as a minister of the gospel.
Again, a great post! I agree that sermons are overrated. The word “preach” in the Scriptures does not carry the idea of an oration – though it can include that. For example, in Acts 20:7 when it says Paul preached to them, the word Luke used is the root word for “dialog.” He “dialoged with them.” That certainly puts a different twist on preaching, doesn’t it?
Thanks for writing! (BTW, have we met before? Your name and picture are familiar.)
In addition to what I outlined in this post, I can think of no greater secondary response than to open dialog after the reading of the Scriptures! Our leaders should not be afraid to handle impromptu questions after a reading. The fact that we do not do this is one reason why our people are so biblically ignorant and have so little grasp of the coherence of the Scriptures.
As for me, I learn by asking questions of learned people! If that gets shut down, my ability to learn declines.
Given that we are averse to a two-hour worship service on Sundays (and honestly, we shouldn’t be), perhaps small groups would be the place to handle post-reading dialog. But then the small group leaders would have to be quite adept at handling the Scriptures. Sadly, my experience has been that outside of the top tier of hierarchy in a church, most people don’t handle the Scriptures well. And when they do, not all are in agreement on key theologies, which makes it hard to maintain a consistency of belief within the church.
It is the four gospels of Jesus Christ that are transformational, and will transform the church, for Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. False prophets and deceivers have drawn the church back to torah and torah is a covenant with death. A church based on torah will not stand, for it is Taanak, which is sand.
You have good timing! My next series of writings will be on the problem of attempting to shoehorn an Old Testament mindset and practice into the New Testament Church.
Already anticipated you by several centuries (if not millenia).
That is the reason for the Readings in Liturgical Churches. The cycle we use puts you through the entire Bible in three years.
Three years is too long. People lose the flow and unity.
The way we do church in the western hemi is counter productive at best, historically ignorant at worst.
Exalt Christ and the Word – all good things will follow.
Sometimes the good is the enemy of the best. In our case, the “mature” is often the enemy of the “childlike,” and the “thorough” the enemy of the “simple.”
Thank You, Dan. You are the Jerry McGuire of all non liturgical churches in America! One thing’s for sure- no will be able to say they didn’t like the message. Reading the Word, word for word…. what a concept. It’s revolutionary. I think the new testament is obviously the priority-but wouldn’t it be great to kick it off with Psalm 119!
Not sure what you mean about being the “Jerry McGuire,” Mark, but I guess that’s a good thing!
Interesting idea, Dan. At that point, you would surely know those who came as a social obligation.
I think the lives we lead preach more of a lasting sermon than do most of the messages one hears in Church.
I tyr to take one point from the message, write it down and ponder as to where and how it affects or needs to be applied to my life. Am I successful all weeks — NOPE.
The end of the Gospel of John refers to the nearly infinite number of books that contain all that Jesus has said and done. I believe those “books” are you and I. Our story is part of His story. Telling it matters.
Although I appreciate your post I don’t believe that the correct response to abuse is non-use, but right-use. I believe in the authority and importance of the Bible and I also believe in the importance of preaching (1 Cor. 1:21). The scriptures need illuminating. Jesus did this on the road to emmaus, and on many other occasions. He helped people understand.
I do agree that preaching should not be “human wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:13), but Spirit taught. I also believe that preaching should demonstrate the Spirit’s power.
My concern is not with practice of preaching, but with who is doing it and how. I have noticed over the years that church leadership is allowing all and sundry to “bring a word”. We must respect the gift of preaching and ensure we have good preachers rather than remove preaching altogether. Martyn-Lloyd Jones addressed just this issue in his book, “Preachers and Preaching”.
I would also add (at the risk of becoming extremely unpopular), that many Bible colleges educate people on the level of the text and not the Spirit. Methodology may be important, but not as important as an individual being open to the Holy Spirit.
If we want to see people coming to our churches we should seek for God’s glory to return!
No one is advocating abandoning the sermon forever. I’m asking for a seven-month sabbatical while the Scriptures are read in place of the typical sermon. How can anyone criticize that?
Hi Dan, I would have disagree with your definition of a sermon. In the post below you call it ‘commentary’ or ‘reading the bible’. If that is the definition of a sermon, then they should definitely be questioned. However, I believe that a sermon is supposed to be God speaking to the people. The Preacher waits on God prepares himself, listens to the Holy Spirit and brings that revelation to the people. Far from being boring, I have seen people delivered, set free, healed and equipped!
I do not believe that the Bible without the Holy Spirit profits anyone. The letter kills but the Spirit gives life. I do believe that the Holy Spirit can and does work through the reading of the Scriptures, but I also believe that God has called men to preach the word in the power of the Holy Spirit that leads to transformation. We should do the former without neglecting the latter.
Stop the sermons?
“They can’t hear because they don’t have a preacher?” Hmmm.
The Word of God is DONE to people in a good law (to convict) and gospel (to liberate) sermon.
I don’t think re-inventing the wheel is necessary.
Churches could be transformed if the gospel is preached and the Sacraments are administered in accordance with that gospel. It’s a tried and true method, instituted by God.
Why do we feel that adding our commentary “improves” the words of God? If that’s our perspective, then we truly don’t believe that God’s Word spoken aloud to others is sufficient to change anyone. At its essence, isn’t that what preaching really is?
Also, given that most people become believers by the time they are 21 and live until their late 70s, they have 50 years to hear all manner of interesting sermons. No one is taking away from the sermon here! How is it that we can’t devote seven months or so to just reading the word of God in its entirety?
I dunno…but that quote by Paul keeps ringing in my ears, “Faith comes by hearing”.
And we need to be kept in faith. It’s not a one time shot. St. Paul also says, “for those of us BEING SAVED…”
Steve, does that “hearing” have to refer to preaching (as defined in our contemporary context–teaching life-lessons from the Scriptures to a church congregation)?
“…and hearing by the Word of God.” How about, therefore, giving people an opportunity to actually “hear” the Word, in context, as a whole, not as a snip selected for preachability. As Dan says, he is not suggesting the permanent abolition of all pulpit preaching, but just not the slavish allegiance to it as an absolute necessity on Sunday morning. That’s my take, anyway. As I said at my blog this morning, “It’s rare [for a preacher] to let a parable stand on its own, as Jesus usually did, without parsing the life out of it with learned exegesis.”
As already mentioned, I really have to disagree with your idea of a sermon.
I am totally with you on Bible reading, but why replace the preaching of the word? Can’t they be done harmoniously? We are in danger for always looking for a ‘silver bullet’ to solve problems, but there are none. I do not believe that one thing will transform the church. This leads to the christianised version of the world hopping from one thing to another and never finding peace.
They never are, Simon. Worse, most people never hear an entire book read in church. They hear a sermon every Sunday, though.
Again, I’m not saying to get rid of the sermon forever. Can’t we just read an entire book once in a while? Can’t we trust the Word to speak?
Tonija ranted: “It is the four gospels of Jesus Christ that are transformational, and will transform the church, for Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. False prophets and deceivers have drawn the church back to torah and torah is a covenant with death. A church based on torah will not stand, for it is Taanak, which is sand”.
Dan, seriously, you unquestioningly agree with that incoherent cesspool of replacement theology ? You think the early Nazarenes would have viewed the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings as “death” ? What “scriptures” do you think Paul and the saints refer to in everyday parlance ? Better yet, what “scriptures” did Jesus himself refer to ? Based on Tonja’s reasoning, nobody was “transformed” till the first manuscripts of the NT were codified decades after the deaths of the original eyewitnesses.
What exactly do you mean by an “OT mindset” ? Haven’t we had enough mucking around of the truth by Hellenized, dualistic racists of old ? Here we are in 2011 bellyaching about whose view of the afterlife is more “orthodox”.
Can’t we all just get on with the job IN THIS LIFE, like our middle-eastern elders in the faith did ? What is so wrong with rediscovering the hebraic worldview and foundations of our faith ? Can we make sense of Jesus’ words outside of the immediate context of his culture ? ( and no I’m not endorsing shameful charismatic shenanigans with “OT” practices either ).
Unity in the body is not uniformity of belief ( 40,000 plus denominations–and counting–testify to that );but the smug, uninformed triumphalism of Tonja’s post is highly disturbing.
Sigh. I guess I ranted too.
Too many of our churches operate off ideals that are Old Covenant based and not New Covenant. This is not to say that all of the OT has been replaced, only that we are not selective enough in what we adhere to now. In too many cases, we take the hard parts of the New Covenant and substitute in the parts of the Old Covenant that are “easier” to abide by. I think this is undermining a great deal of what the New Testament Church is supposed to be. Just look how a contemporary “temple” and “tithing” mentality interferes with New Covenant community and giving as depicted in Acts.
I will also add that no one other than Jesus could keep the Law perfectly. Only faith in Jesus overcomes our inability here. The person who does not know Christ cannot become righteous by keeping the Law, and God demands that all the Law be kept.
Maybe you know more about what Tonija is talking about than I do. Perhaps she’s talking in some code that I did not catch but you did. I was reading her comments through the eyes of Paul in Galatians, and certainly he agrees that going back to the Old Covenant will not work.
Personally I like the idea of a church reading through the New Testament in its Sunday services. Paul writes to Timothy and tells him to give attention to the public reading of scripture along with preaching and teaching. We see the latter two thongs don’t but little if any public reading of the word. In the early N. T. church people would sit for extended times to hear Romans or Hebrews read. Look what happened when the O. T was read on the days of Josiah or Nehemiah. Revival broke put. The persecuted believers of today will air for hours to best the word read. And ypu wonder why they see revival. Yeah a church may lose people, maybe a lot of people if they did this. But the trade off would be changed, conversions, deliverances, and revival. I think such a church would be packed with people who are Hungary for the word. All that would be needed would be for a pastor to have the humiloty and courage to do this. Such is my humble thought.