A plea for church movements instead of church heroes.
Today I sat and listened to a fantastic sermon on 2 Timothy at a church of about 500 or so in a city where I will be visiting for the next two months and thought to myself, "This is a waste of my time."
Because the truth is I can stay at home and listen to a podcast that will have just as great of teaching (although it was a fantastic sermon) and have about the same amount of people interaction as I got from going to this church.
Then the service was over and on the way out I was able to talk with one man for five minutes. It was a great conversation but I was easily as encouraged by my talk with him as I was with the whole hour and half stiff-formal-service.
Why have we taken church - a gathering of believers for fellowship and sharing - and turned it into a place for intense Christian education and awkward liturgy? We can't raise up people who feel equipped to lead a church because they cannot reproduce something that has taken an entire team of people to do. If our churches were lunch meetings, or even brunch meetings where we shared wine, food, and dessert slowly over the course of a few hours while people shared, sang, and prayed it would be reproducible. In fact it would be so reproducible people would be excited about doing it themselves.
I'm not saying we should form our concept of church around what is easily copied. But I am saying a church was supposed to be something that WAS easily copied.
Your church service looks like this:
10:00 AM start
From the pulpit:
Opening 2 worship songs (10 minutes)
Announcements / Welcoming new people (5-10 minutes)
3-4 more worship songs (15 minutes)
Prayer (5 minutes)
Teaching (30-40 Minutes)
Benediction/Wrap up (5 minutes)
But what if your church service looked like this:
10:30 AM start
Around the table:
Catch up and eat snacks (20 minutes)
Eat and that week's appointed person share on what they've been learning or whatever verse has been assigned (15 minutes)
Discussion (15-20 minutes)
Wine and singing/prayer worship (15 minutes)
Desert, hang out, individual prayer time for those who need it (until people leave)
This sort of meeting would be manageable for just about any believer. Of course you would still want a leader whom you could trust to keep the discussion from veering into heresy. And you would encourage people to be learning outside of church and sharing what they're learning. Church would become a place for fellowship and growth rather than a one hour school lesson. It would be a place where friends gather rather than hundreds of strangers. And where you can find community when you need it, prayer when you're hurting, and it could be something you enjoy because you're encouraged by the body of Christ. And hey, on the drive home you could listen to the theologically/seminary trained guy's podcast.
I grow most when I see and share in the lives of other believers. I don't know the life of my pastor. I don't grow because of the relationships I have at church, they're for the most part shallow. I grow because of the relationships I have outside of church and the ability I have on days other than Sunday to go deep in those in relationships and talk about what God is doing in such people's lives. A great teaching on 2 Timothy is great for about two hours until I forget it. No matter how great of a sermon it was, it would be much better if I had a personal relationship with the speaker, and understood why these things were important to him, so I could understand why they should matter to me.
If you're doing this sort of church soon you could raise up a leader within your group who was capable of doing the same thing at his house. He would invite a few friends and you would give him some of your people to help start it. You could invite new friends and begin thinking again about who to raise up to split.
This would lead to movements rather than hero speakers who mass more and more people around them to hear a "perfectly formed 3 point sermon" or "Bible teaching that's not boring." I think our churches would look more like the early church (which isn't necessarily THE reason to do it, but I think they had some things right) and bringing a non-believer would be like inviting someone to a friend's house for lunch rather than an uncomfortable 1.5 hours of liturgy.
The hard thing about this is that most pastors are longing to be the best speaker they can be and have the best and biggest church around. No longer would this be the case. Soon you would be seeking to lead the pastors and then help them to lead the other pastors and you would have movements on your hands rather than one big church you could control. It is my opinion that this is the model we should be seeking.
If you are a gifted speaker, please by all means continue to try to reach a large audience, start a podcast. We need all the great teaching we can get so that we can share at church about what we've been hearing in your great podcast.