What was the content of the last sermon you heard? The key points? The main message? What exactly did you take away from it?
Sometimes it’s easy to question the effectiveness of a church sermon when we’re struggling to remember what it was even about. Sure, some bible talks are more coherent, well-structured and ‘powerful’ than others… But even the best ones seem to fly out our heads as we exit the building.
Our former pastor Tim MacBride writes about this in a blog post called Why bother with preaching?. He argues that, even though the recall of sermons might not be strong for many of us, one of the main roles of regular, biblical preaching is to build a relationship with God. “An ‘attachment’ to him, if you want to speak in psychological terms,” writes Tim, who goes on to describe how sermons connect us with God and his story…
“Each week we come to church to hear (hopefully) God’s story,” he says. “We’re reminded of who he is. Of what he’s done for us in Christ. And how this means that our story can now find its place within his big story. It anchors our existence and gives our life meaning within a much bigger framework. Over time we might forget the content of each message. Our attitudes and behaviour might be transformed only incrementally. But each week, we build the connection as we hang out with God and his story. Even though we might not be fully conscious of what’s going on, we’re enjoying the feeling of sitting on our heavenly Father’s knee and having the same story read to us over and over again. And it’s that feeling of connection that builds the bonds of trust and affection and love. Does it mean that duty, character, goals, and worldview aren’t important? Not at all! But when we trust and love God, we’re more likely to want to do what pleases him, to be more like him, to pursue his purposes in our lives, and to see the world around us through our Father’s eyes.”
I really like this explanation of what ‘sitting in church’ means. Sure, we can attend church, or hear a sermon, and not be ‘fully there’. But every week that we hear a part of God’s story our goals, attitudes, and lives change just a little. As Tim says, we’re ‘sitting on our heavenly Father’s knee’ and hearing the stories that make us want to please him more. We’re building a stronger connection with him and we’re growing in our faith.
The stories we were told as children might completely oppose what we hear in church. The stories we’ve played over and over in our heads are most likely at odds with the story God tells about us. His love story of redemption is different to any romance we might have experienced. The connection we make with Jesus is stronger than any other, and his stories are meant to impact us.
Don’t give up on church, even if you can’t remember last week’s sermon. Don’t give up on God’s people – even though they might disappoint you. Allow your struggles to build your faith in God – the one who’ll never let us down. Ask him to show you how to keep loving others and listening to the words he has for you.