Church Newsletter Article 05.03.17

A theatre in London has banned eating during the play. Their explanation is that the constant rustling of packets and munching is distracting the actors and other theatre-goers. If I’m honest, despite occasionally sneaking in the odd snack, I agree with the sentiment having sat by those who have constantly been rummaging around in their bags, chewing and chatting. Maybe I’m becoming a grumpy old man, but I think the audience have a part to play in making a show a good night out…

Reminds me of a question from the blurb for new course we’re using for the mid-week Bible Study group caught my imagination last week, ‘What’s your sermon screen-saver face?’ Now, we haven’t done the course yet and so I don’t know what they officially mean by this, but I’m guessing they mean the face you pull while you’re listening. Are you watching the preacher? Are you smiling encouragingly? Are you grimacing – it might be that you’re simply concentrating, but for everyone else it looks like you’re finding it disagreeable or maybe painful! Are you head down, maybe in prayerful focus or possibly silent slumber… I think looking around the room on Sunday I spotted all of these! Myself? Aware of what I was looking for, I was aiming for the alert and smiling face, but Noel might have seen something totally different (apologies if it came across as either inane or disturbing).

Over the last few years I have become increasingly aware through reflecting on my studies that a sermon is not a solo effort, the work of a lone woman or man at the front of the church. The actual preach itself is a group effort. Clearly a lot of the focus is on the preacher. He or she will have spent a lot of time putting together the words to speak, but as a live event there is more involved than just the words uttered. As they preach, the speaker responds to what’s going on in the congregation. If their jokes are being laughed at, if heads are nodding at serious points, and if the occasional amen is utter, that brings encouragement, stimulating them to deliver the sermon with more gusto and alertness; the congregation are listening, it’s worthwhile. If questions are met with stony silence, and no one is looking at you, instead seemingly finding the floor fascinating, this too feeds back; if no one else is bothered, why bother as the preacher (you might not put it that way, but subconsciously it’s there). Interestingly, the more you actively try and be engaged, the more engaged you will be.

It’s not just the preacher who is effected either. The crowd feeds off the crowd. It only takes one or two to be actively involved with the sermon for others to pick up on it and be more engaged and alert too. If everyone else around you looks as if they’d rather be at home, then that too says something (just like the fans leaving early at a football match).

There’s a deeper level at play too than just the face we pull. What are we doing as we listen? Just as it’s the preacher’s responsibility to speak the words, it is ours to pray for them and to listen intently, asking what God is saying to us through them, weighing them up to make sure they’re of him, and deciding what we’re going to do in response. Simply letting the words wash over us is not playing our part. A sermon is not really the talk, it’s about us as a family engaging together with the Bible; the preacher may be a guide, but we’re all on the journey together.