I’ve spent the last 6 years traveling the country and have visited hundreds of churches. As you can imagine, I’ve had the opportunity to hear a lot of sermons from a diverse group of pastors. But there is one sermon which sticks out in my mind as being simultaneously one of the best and one of the worst.
I was touring somewhere in,… well that doesn’t matter. Anyways, I was sitting in a service after having led a few corporate songs and then performing a few songs of my own when the pastor got up and began his sermon. What followed was without a doubt the single best sermon I’ve ever heard on the doctrine of the Trinity. It was clear, concise, well-delivered and practical. The pastor wrestled with some of the difficulties of the doctrine, defined it as best anyone can, and went on to talk about why it matters. The structure and flow of the sermon was great, and the powerpoint that went along with it was really helpful. As I recall he even gave some really helpful suggestions about how to practically apply the Trinity to our lives. It was a home run, until… He Apologized!!!
After the message and the song of response, while dismissing us he said, “Sorry to get so heady this morning, folks. Thanks for staying with me. I know that’s an awful lot to wrestle with. I promise next weeks’ sermon will be a lot simpler and easy to digest.” I was aghast! He had preached one of the most excellent, educational, intellectually stimulating sermons I’ve ever heard. The kind that young homiletics students everywhere should study while learning to preach. It was sophisticated enough to be an intro to Theology lecture, yet accessible enough for the Jr Highers to fully grasp, but for some reason when he was finished he felt compelled to apologize for it.
I can’t blame him. We in the church have created and fostered a climate of intellectual laziness. Our churches are full of doctors, lawyers, nurses, accountants, electricians, carpenters, financial planners, people of all walks of life who have had to study complicated ideas or procedures for their profession. Yet when it comes to faith we often spoon feed them simple ideas and slogans. If we do challenge them, we somehow feel the need to apologize for it afterward.
At one time the church was the cultural and intellectual centre of the community. Theology was referred to as “The Queen of the Sciences”, but somehow we’ve let all that slip. Nowadays, we equate worshipping well with engaging our hearts in worship, while neglecting the mind.
My point in writing this blog series has been to show that when we worship with anything less than our whole being (heart, soul, mind & strength) we are left fragmented and diminished. So how do we engage the mind in worship?
1. Don’t be Afraid to Teach Theology.
When I was a Youth & Worship Pastor, it was expected that I complete my ordination within the first 2 years of my ministry (I think it took me 4). That process involved a lot of extra reading and study in addition to the reading and study that my regular teaching ministry required. My Senior pastor encouraged me to combine the two wherever I could. So for a year, the study for my ordination became the material I taught at the weekly Bible study I led for Sr. High students. Those students, who were studying English, History, Physics, Algebra and Calculus at the time were more than capable of wrestling with the Theology I was studying for my ordination. So that’s what we did. Without them realizing it, I essentially gave them a crash course in studying for ordination. The best part? They weren’t intimidated at all. In fact, they came every week excited to learn more.
In all my years as a Christian, I have never once heard someone complain that the teaching at their church was over their heads. In fact, when people rave about their favourite church, the comment is that “The pastor really challenges us.” or “He really gives us a lot to think about.” or “We really wrestle with some heavy stuff, but it’s presented in a way everyone can understand.”. And more often than not, when I talked to someone who’s recently left their church, one of the most common reasons is, “I just wasn’t being fed there.”
This doesn’t need to become a burden for pastors. Quite the opposite. Pastors constantly wrestle with big questions about weighty issues. Often they fear sharing those burdens with their congregations, either because they don’t want to be perceived as weak, or because they don’t feel their congregations are strong enough to bear the weight of those questions. This fear leads to pastors feeling isolated and discouraged. My encouragement is for pastors to wrestle through those questions with their people. If this is done properly, the congregation will appreciate your trust and transparency, and you may be surprised at the shrewdness of some of the solutions they offer.
2. Teach Apologetics.
Apologetics has nothing to do with apologizing. Apologetics is giving a defence for the Christian faith. Sadly, many Christians cannot give sound reasons for why they believe in God or in the resurrection, even though there are good, sound reasons for both. For too long, worshipping God with all our minds has meant laying our minds on God’s altar, and shrugging our shoulders any time we are confronted with difficult questions. The Sunday morning sermon isn’t the only place this can happen. The burden of all of this teaching shouldn’t fall on the pastor alone. There are plenty of good resources available in the work of Dr. William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, and Timothy Keller that can be used in the context of a Sunday School class or Bible Study. This is a great way to engage the mind in worship outside of a Sunday morning service.
3. Recite the Creeds.
Every Sunday morning, the Anglican Church recites one of the ancient creeds. Either the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. The creeds encompass orthodox Christian belief at its most basic level. It would be hard to call anyone “Christian” who cannot fully embrace and affirm the creeds. It’s important to remind each other what we believe as Christians, and to aspire toward orthodoxy in those times of doubt or disorientation.
I read somewhere, about six months back, that the significance of the “We believe” of the creeds (as opposed to “I believe”) is that we believe these things together as a community. Each of us comes with our own doubts. All of us have times when, for one reason or another, we are unable to affirm the whole creed. As a community “We believe” the creeds even when “I” cannot. The creeds enshrine all we aspire as a community to believe. They are the goal toward which our faith moves us.
I’ve tried to be as brief as I can be with this post. Certainly much more can be said. Hopefully you’ve found something helpful here, either by way of encouragement or reminder, that is helpful to you as you consider how to love God with your mind more fully.
I always appreciate any questions or comments you’d like to share. The analytics on my website tell me how many people are reading the blog, but they don’t give any indication as to whether these posts are helpful or not. So, if you have a moment, drop me a line.
My hope is that this series will help us to think about worship more clearly with the goal of learning to love God with all that we are.