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About jonbirch

animator, illustrator, character designer, graphic designer. music producer/recording musician. co-owner of PROOST. proost.co.uk
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109 Responses to 599

  1. sarah says:

    Yeah but there ain’t. There’s all kinds of things you could say on love, life, how we can live as Christians…bring it on, man.

    From Hippie Sarah ( :-) )

  2. Mike says:

    This is where we have to move beyond the traditional sermon of speeching to a more participatory conversation. One where evryone gets the chance to build each other up.

    There are so many good things we call pull from the bible.

  3. Mike says:

    Oooops sorry I should have said “could pull”.

  4. jenn says:

    Funny cause it’s TRUE! I have a theory that every pastor only has ONE SERMON and he just recycles it every week. My old pastor had the same message every week – God will help you through the storm. I’m sure it ministered to people, but COME ON. EVERY WEEK? How can people grow when it’s the SAME THING?

  5. Robb says:

    Jon – erm ….. no ……..

    Jenn – erm ……… no …………

  6. Laura says:

    Minister School. That’s next door to Worship Leader school where they teach there’s only one verse to a song so that’s why you have to sing it over and over again right?

  7. Robb says:

    erm…….. no…………

  8. Mandy says:

    i don’t think they would let women into THAT minister school…

  9. dennis says:

    Its probably more like saying it in the same way and the same thing week after week, after all I have been taught that God is the same forever and ever and never changes!? And the other Ol cherry that we will be singing the same song in Heaven forever and ever.

    Maybe that’s why we end with more men as vicars, because were crap at multitasking. Maybe it is time we changed and did something different.

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  11. chad m says:

    let’s face it…everyone has their “stump” speech. just like politicians, us pastors have our “agendas” as well. it’s when we don’t own up to this fact that things get messy…

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  13. Kim says:

    Mm, will try and avoid that vicar school when choosing!!

  14. Jon: Fantastic stuff – I’ve pasted it on our ‘minister school’ blog…


  15. jonbirch says:

    robb… all you have to do is come back next sunday and write ‘erm……. no…….’ and the cartoon will be complete. :-)

  16. Hayles says:

    At least the minister’s not using a powerpoint presentation…I’m not a fan of those…

  17. Pat says:

    I always though 7 was the magic number with these things – story plots, basic jokes, wall paper patterns, sermon outlines etc. Not sure if it applies to cartoons though :lol:

    Hayles – powerpoints can be ok if they are well put together and used properly. Unfortunately they often aren’t – either in church or in academia :-)

  18. dadube says:

    Ooooo Hayles don’t get me started on powerpoints!
    Our senior management team seem to think they are the answer to everything – and it winds me up when they sodding read the whole thing to us in meetings. I’m a teacher people, I think I can read it myself! :D

  19. Stumpy says:

    Have to agree re the powerpoint, but how about a Powerpontificate…. :)

  20. jonbirch says:

    are people that use them ‘powerponces’… i think they’re mostly power pointless m’self. :-)

  21. zefi says:

    Like what my mentor always says, “repetition is the mother of success.”

  22. Pat says:

    I reckon some users have clearly been watching too much ‘pimp my powerpoint’ :-)

  23. Hayles says:

    Love it Jon, Power pointless is exactly what they are!

    ‘Don’t listen to my words or try to relate to a real person, look at how beautiful ideas or concepts are simplified and rendered dull on the lifeless screen! There now, don’t you understand it so much better?’

    Maybe the church heard rumours flying about that it was supposed to be ‘relevant’, and thought that powerpoints were the answer…

  24. jonbirch says:

    hi hayles… sometimes i get asked if i do powerpoints. the answer is ‘no’. they are for bar graphs and pie charts only, everything else is pointless. now ‘flash’ on the other hand… :-)

    ‘pimp my powerpoint’… love it, pat! :-)

  25. jonbirch says:

    what’s that again zefi? :-)

  26. Robb says:

    “Frank Zappa is the Mother of Invention”.

    You see the key to getting it right is making sure you were paying attention th first time round so that we don’t need to say it a second and 12th time ;)

  27. Lewis says:

    In reference to powerpoints, I’ve only even been to one church which used one, and actually I found it pretty helpful, just put up the main points.

    And if that’s where you got your minister, you could use a new one! It’s not like that at my church!

  28. Kim says:

    Can I ask you lovely people to pray for my friend who just heard his mum is very sick with cancer? None of them have a faith. Thank you.

  29. Robb says:

    You got it Kim!

  30. jody says:

    dadube, lovely new avotar!

    Kim, of course

    re: cartoon – i think i went to a church where the minister was trained at this minister school…

  31. dennis says:

    Nah I disagree powerpoint or at least presentations on a screen can be “powerful” In the right hands and some sense of the creative. Its how its communicated & presented that matters.

    Powerpoint as a program is rubbish but then anything written for the PC is and without offending our esteemed Jon, flash is only a step up from what we used to do with powerpoint.

    I think its all in the ‘creative’

    Anyway why are we talking about powerpoint?

    How about a superhero “PowerpointMan” with chequerboard entrance!

  32. Caroline Too says:

    I’ve ranted so often and so long and so sadly about sermons

    I will say this ony 1000 times (so you can switch off now)

    the Christian life is a practice

    new life, redeemed life, eternal life, whatever we call it

    is lived, it is practiced, it is a craft…

    it is NOTlearned by thinking about it, reading about
    it, hearing about is and so knowing about it.

    life is learned as new ideas are put into practice. the learning
    happens at that moment, as we put the idea into
    practice and the difference makes a difference to our lives.

    So, you ask, how do I get these new ideas that are different
    enough to make a difference to my life?

    by and large, by people speaking, by people writing…

    BUT CRUCIALLY those spoken and written words will speak into
    a particular moment that is ours, a moment when we can recognise
    God’s call in written or spoken word.

    Now, that doesn’t rule out the possibility that one of those
    moments will happen during a sermon


    it does mean that a sermon, as part of a series, as designed by
    an individual

    is an incredibly inefficient manner of helping others learn
    worse, it can render the listener as passive and, of course, nothing
    makes action, new learned action, more difficult than being passive.
    this is the terrible damage that
    sermons can do to us.

    conversation will create the context in which we share the needs, hopes, longings, ideas, maybes and possiblies. Conversation will help keep us both active and

    that may lead to new actions – learned actions – that are different enough to make a difference….

    hmm, there’s a blog title in there somewhere, but the writer rather lost the plot of what she could say that was new, that could be a difference that makes a difference…
    :-( sigh

  33. JF says:

    CarolineToo, that is excellently put. I could not agree with you more.

  34. subo says:

    wow Caroline Too, I like it. “it is NOT learned by thinking about it, reading about
    it, hearing about is and so knowing about it.”

  35. subo says:

    yep, ditch the power-point and all tedious techiness

    or, lets have a hot coffee for every minute of waiting while
    the feeble power-point stalls or races forward to the wrong page

    or, lets just use it sometimes, when it really does enhance the
    audio-visual experience

  36. subo says:

    all the best for your friends Kim, may God, by some amazing means, use this experience to let them glimpse a little of his awesome love for them

    and may your friend find God’s warmth in this horrendous experience

  37. drew says:

    There is only one truth though Robb. Please agree as otherwise it will seem as if you only have one answer!

  38. Kim says:

    Thank you and bless you. Really appreciate that.

    Also though – Caroline Too – wow, thats one of most brilliant rants I’ve ever heard – love it!! Thanks for so succinctly voicing so many frustrations I share.

    But please hear my confession – I am sometimes lazy and if I’m ‘coasting’, I like to indulge myself with some listening that soothes and doesn’t challenge me. I’m sorry and trying to wean myself off it but the world is a tough ole place sometimes to live in. Maybe thats why we succumb to the repetition at times, instead of just truthfully seeing where we’re at – at least I speak for myself.

  39. Caroline Too says:

    Oh Kim!

    I know; the world is a tough ole place (too often)

    and learning may tend to make it riskier, scarier, tougher

    but that is why we have a christian family, so that we might
    learn to be each other’s ‘sheepskin rug’ – a safe
    place to curl up in when all is just too much…

    sometimes on pilgrimage, part of the journey is being carried,
    maybe, just at this momement you are carrying your friends, another
    day and you will find yourself carried

    but the journey is onwards, and to be carried by a pilgrim is to be
    carried forward, not to sit safely in a place with a pontificator…
    (is that a word?)

    so no confession, Kim, just one of the stories of this life we live…

    but, now, “further up and further in”

  40. Rich says:

    How come Rob Bell’s sermons hit the spot for so many when the format is apparently dead? I regularly listen in to his and find them refreshing and transforming…

    I don’t think sermons are the problem.

    Poor sermons are.

    Just as poor cartoons miss the spot.

    Not that this is a poor cartoon though.

    Having said that, sermons are only one thing amongst all the other ways of learning or helping us to think through something… they are not perfect… and not the main thing. : )

  41. Rich says:

    Oh and Happy First day of Advent everyone. (or is it the second?)

  42. Kim says:

    Thanks Caroline Too – glad to be journeying with you here. I am usually a risky do-er-type learner, but am a bit poleaxed by several issues at present and its making me a bit paralysed. Will pass – all things do, but still takes me by surprise.

    But yes, I agree with you.

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  44. kate says:

    Caroline too … is that your one sermon that you’ll preach over and over ;)

    liked it. a lot.

  45. AnneDroid says:

    I’m not a fan of boring sermons. Who is? (Rhetorical question – I don’t expect some folk to say “me”).

    However, I am a fan of good sermons. I think there are plenty examples of sermons being an authentic way of communicating in the early church, and Jesus himself. Recently my Roman Catholic colleague preached a blinder at the Prisoners Week ecumenical service in the jail.

    I think it’s kinda arrogant of us if we think we’re the only ones who should be in charge of interpreting the Bible in our own lives and that we can do without being preached to altogether. A fresh pair of eyes other than our own on a Biblical text is a good idea, especially someone who’s hopefully taken some time to study the thing and knows what they’re talking about, and – dare I say it – has actually been called and equipped by God to do the bloomin’ thing…

    In a funny way, I also think Jon’s cartoon is true, but not in a negative or sinister or miserable sense.

    There’s a lovely children’s book (a lovely book rather than necessarily a book for lovely children) called “Guess How Much I Love You” in which case Big Nut Brown Hare and Little Nut Brown Hare tell each other over and over again in different ways how much God loves them. Sometimes I DO think in preaching I’m just coming up with different ways to tell the people how much God loves them. But surely that’s ok? It’s such an important message, and if we say it in enough different ways, then people in all their rich variety of personality will get the chance for their Eureka faith moment(s)…

    I say all this on a day when, by coincidence, I’ve, for the first time ever, had the brass neck to publish a link to one of my own sermons on t’internet – which probably doesn’t bear too close scrutiny and judgement, but on the other hand, like the school reports could say, “tries hard”…

    Jings, this is turning into a long post. How long would it need to be before it would be deemed a sermon?

  46. zefi says:

    what’s that again zefi? :-)

    “Repetition is the mother of success.” :P

  47. Robb says:

    Drew – what did the what? Eh? Zappa is the one truth?

    What is truth?

  48. sarah says:

    You go AnneDroid.

  49. AnneDroid says:

    Thanks Sarah. :)

    I will go. To bed.

  50. Forrest says:

    Oh, Kim, will do.
    Is kind of scary when there are so many without fiath.
    Would be really cool for them to come to faith through this.

  51. TyTe says:

    Perhaps part of the problem is the emphasis we place on leader-led church gatherings. (The word ‘service’ I wonder, has less to do with us serving the Lord and more to do with the leader ‘servicing’ the congregation). With the emphasis on the leader, then, of course, when the leader dishes up something boring, unconnected and mentally non-participatory, then the listener is left disconnected and wondering what on earth they are doing in the place.

  52. Kim says:

    43. AnneDroid – come on then, tell us where on t’internet we can find it? Am serious – would love to read it, you speak wise words.

    47. Thanks Forrest. She’s going down for surgery this morning. Is my prayer that the Comforter will come to all of them at the moment.

    48. TyTe – your comment reminded me of an earlier brilliant cartoon by Jon about the Christian Consumer. If we get stuck inside the church in a ‘maintain me’ mode then we do focus on our need for entertainment and srimulation being met maybe?

  53. Caroline Too says:

    Rich (#38) and AnneDroid (#43) I repeat my point, of course sermons
    can be used by God to help us transform

    that does not, however, mean that they are a good, efficient or
    healthful process.

    Kate (#42) :-) no that’s not quite my only sermon,
    although it’s a pretty central theme to my work because it
    relates so deeply to the ways of going on as Christian-family that
    I’m exploring at the moment.

    There are a whole load of related issues here, remember earlier
    cartoons and conversations about statements of faith?

    then there are issues about entertain-0-worship

    also issues about ministerial/preistly power,
    abuse of power etc

    and the other side of that coin, the abuse of ministers and a
    common theme of ministerial burn out

    these are all related issues and may even be a stack of cards where pulling out one card might just
    bring the whole edific down…

    then we can start again?

  54. beatthedrum says:

    Sermons are a tricky thing arnt they. I have had to give a few over the years and they are a difficult thing to get ‘right’. Of course in truth ‘right’ for me is different to ‘right’ for you and different again to ‘right’ for someone else.

    On the one sermon topic i remember hearing this anecdote maybe true or made up….

    There was a church in need of a new minister so the borad of elders pulled in some young chaps and asked them to each prepare a sermon for 1 hour and then present it to them.

    In the end the winner did an excellent sermon on reaching out to the hurt and lost and he was given the job

    So his first sunday comes and he repeats the sermon he gave to the board.

    The second week he gave the same sermon again, the board thought.. give him a chance he’s new

    The third the same sermon, board thinks ok if he does this again we will pull him on it…

    fourth week same sermon… He is pulled infront of the board

    Why are you only giving this sermon.

    the minister turns to them and says, its what God wants to say to you and until you do what is outlined in the sermon i cannot change from it.

    Often churches get the same sermon because they are a stiff necked people and are unwilling to change so God brings the same word time and time again.


    The minister is week and only gives the nice sermons the people want to hear as they dont want to be challenged or changed.

    Even stranger, women respond to sermons more than men. Women are able to compute and digest words much more easier than men, who need visual stimulus or humour to stay awake / attentive.

    Maybe this is one of the reasons that in most churches attendance by men is an ever decreasing circle.

    Just a few thoughts


  55. Rich says:

    Am aware that I have a certain interest in this issue as a decent part of my life is focused on putting such ‘sermons’ together for people… but I think that hearing something together as a community is a good thing. Underrated actually.

    Discussing, chatting, listening, debating are too.

    long live the sermon
    and gathering together
    and breaking bread
    and having meals together
    and doing stuff together
    and hymns
    and spiritual songs
    and laughter
    and tears
    and prayers
    etc… {: -)

  56. Kim says:

    Thanks Rich, thats beautiful, and true. When sermons are taken as one good part of our learning and journeying, they’re seen in a better context I think. But it then puts on each one of us the onus to play our full part as a community member, which I think is a good thing.

  57. jonbirch says:

    am totally and utterly in agreement with caroline too. beautifully put, i wish i could have said it so well.
    i believe the odd sermon could be helpful occasionally, but for the most part simply holds up the christian as consumer function. i agree with gav’s thoughts on this. even good sermons suffer from this.
    although i understand rich’s point about hearing something together and how this can be good, i think that a sermon is often not the best way of delivery. i also like caroline too’s list… here is how i’d modify rich’s… (he is a good friend and i’m sure he will not mind). :-)

    long live the very occasional sermon which truly galvanizes the people to action and community
    and gathering together in honest relationship, for conversation, debate and mutual encouragement
    and breaking bread
    and having meals together
    and doing stuff together
    and hymns
    and spiritual songs
    and laughter
    and tears
    and prayers
    etc… {: -)

  58. jonbirch says:

    kim. request heard. thank you.

  59. jonbirch says:

    a question.
    why is the sermon so sacrosanct?
    think of the hours a good minister loses in sermon preparation (presuming he does it well). all those hours which could be spent in the community with people, doing all those vital other things on all the above lists. sermons are, for most of the planet, boring affairs… nearly always too long no matter how short they are… 75% of which will be forgotten soon after or even during the delivery.
    most of the wonderful people i know who do the weekly sermon i am not sure realise that this is not the bit that makes their ministry a good one… it is all the other stuff.

  60. Caroline Too says:

    sigh, [Rich #54] why is it always preachers who are so sure of the value of sermons?

  61. Caroline Too says:

    Jon #58

    oh it’s worse than that… just think of the hours and talent
    spent on keeping a one(ish) hour slot going on a Sunday morning…

    cleaning, choice of songs/hymns, practicing the music, preparing
    formal prayers, lesson readers having to be there, sermon
    preparation, congregation recovery from sermon preparation, liturgy
    preparation for those who don’t have a liturgy to hand.

    You, see Rich (and other preacher guys) I long for you to break free from your self imposed chains! :-)

  62. beatthedrum says:

    I am not sure i agree with you jon. I think sermons are necessary and biblical, we are told to teach and be taught. The basis of this can only be scome in the form of a sermon or similar.

    The other option is to take the rabi approach and live with the teacher, which i cannot see as being popular.

    In my church the way we do things is sermon on a sunday then discuss and work it out in our lives at a home group. That way it is reiterated and implemented.

    Sermons on their own do not stand you in good stead for life. Sermons + Discussion + Implementation do that.

    There are a few preachers who can hold an audiance for a long time and take them on a spiritual journey but they are few and far between. And they will be different for different people.

    For example i really dig Mark Driscoll or Mars Hill Seattle. I like his style of preaching, I understand what he says, he uses humour and sarcasm to hold the attention, takes what ever he is talking about back to Jesus and is very application orientated. I know others dont like him because, a he uses sarcasm, is a complimentaryian as far as women ministry goes, is calvanistic in doctrine etc.

    BUT even with him i need someone to discuss it with. My wife and I are currently working through is Peasent Princes series on Song of Solomon, which has been mentioned on here before. We listen to the preach (Which are excellent if your a complimentarian, mysogynistic if not) then discuss it and work through the accompanying notes. These have really changed our marriage, but we have to work through it and discuss.

    Just a few thoughts


  63. Robb says:

    Caroline Too – It isn’t. I know plenty of people who aren’t preachers who’s overarching concern when they move house is to find a church where “the preaching is good”.

  64. jonbirch says:

    it is because the ministerial route in most traditions is one based on academic achievement… the process values these successes (as do i)… when it comes to the real world and putting ones ministry in to action, the only place to really use those skills developed is in the sermon. therefore a sermon is what we get.
    i was at a degree ceremony for baps c of e’ers and meths at bristol uni on saturday. what i saw confirms my views.
    btw… i love academia, although i am not an academic… so please, all you brilliant and clever people, carry on being brilliant and clever.
    it’s just sermons… even when the subject is delivered in a digestable manner, they are still school affairs… a man/woman tells, we listen.
    my life blossomed since leaving school and college… i have no desire or probably ‘need’ to return. :-)

  65. jonbirch says:

    yeh robb… those people who look for a church where ‘the preaching is good’ have also missed the point somewhat. i know a place where everyone says the preaching is good, the minister in some ways is subhuman though when it comes to compassion… so yah boo to his damn sermon! :-)

  66. jonbirch says:

    jf’ll know where i’m referring to.

  67. jonbirch says:

    i wasn’t intending to rant like this… but boy, it’s done me the world of good! :-)

  68. jonbirch says:

    there needs to be a new approach to the selection and training of ministers if we are to see any change.

  69. Pat says:

    Jon, i think the hours a minister spends on a sermon are often dwarfed by the hours they have to spend on annoying/boring/frustrating administrative stuff :-(

    Regarding sermons – I think we’re perhaps in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater here. I’m not a preacher and, although I’ve heard some sermons that really have changed the way I think and act, I agree that all too often they are trite, boring,irrelevant, frustrating, just plain wrong etc; but then, so are some conversations :-) However I agree with Rich about the value of communal listening; and I don’t see why sermon and conversation can’t be combined more – I’ve been part of gatherings where this has happened very imaginatively and succesfully, and there is something very stimulating and challenging about breaking open the word together – as well as making for good on-going conversations over the coffee :-)

    I’m not saying that I think they should be a feature of every service or that they should have the central place – but I do think there are things about them that are worth hanging on to and re-imagining in some form or other.

  70. Pat says:

    Blimey! You take your eye of the board for a 5 minutes to type a response and seven new posts appear! :lol:

  71. beatthedrum says:

    In my stream of churches men are identified as potential elders and then given various responsability, training and education to build them up into an elder.

    The first tick box is not seminary / theology degree but character.

    Typically they are found in the local congregarytion rather than outside, but that is not always the case.

    Also an elder does not need to be a sermon giver. There is usually a plural eldership where preaching / teaching is shared depending on the evident gifting.

  72. Robb says:

    I haven’t preached in over a year and a half now. The last time that I did I had just been sat around a table for a week discussing “Communicating Faith in a Narrative Culture” in vicar school. If my memory serves I stood up and gave a monologue as though a servant at the Wedding at Cana… in a quite high quite Anglo-Catholic church.

    I can recommend reading The (Spiritual) @dventures of Cybercindy [from a methodological point of view rather than as a good piece of theology. Much of it inadvertently writes the modern day world into the book of Ruth whilst presenting it as though it were the real context. But as a way of engaging with the bible it is good.]

    I guess this is what happens when your lecturer writes books like The Power of the Force: The Spirituality of the “Star Wars” Films…

    Jon – I too know plenty of places where the “preaching is good” often means “the preaching is bad”. I also know plenty of places where the “preaching is good” means that the “preaching is good”. I guess it depends on which side of certain lines you are looking from as to whether you think that “the preaching is good”. I wonder is a more accurate translation would be “the preacher said things I liked/agreed with”.

    Personally I think that “the preaching is good” when it points out the areas where I’m not following Jesus. Or not following Jesus properly. Or not following Jesus at all.

    I also think that the preaching is good when this is said in an engaging manner in as short a time as possible – possibly with the interjection of an ironic joke. I also like looking at pictures and playing with toys. I think that “the preaching is good” when the children* preach to me as they tell me things that adults daren’t.

    But only if “the preaching is good”.

    *they are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they posses inside!!

  73. Pat says:

    For me “the preaching is good” if I come away thinking ‘I have to change something that I think/say/do in the light of what I’ve just heard – which I guess equates to Robb’s ‘not following Jesus’ comment.

    And I too like short sermons with good jokes!

  74. Robb says:

    Pat – There are some universal constants. Things like C in E=MC2…

    Dr Ruth pointed out one the other night when we left the church. “It is not possible to offend someone by playing a flute”. You point out the other. Everyone likes a “short sermon with good jokes” ;)

    On priest idol (TV show from a couple of years ago) the priest was given lessons on how to preach by a local stand up comedian. Now that is information sharing at its best!!

    [sorry, I am dealing with HM Revenue and Customs and everytime I get off the phone from another annoying official I check the board again. I’ll try not to come back again for a while…]

  75. jonbirch says:

    but there you are… james galway offends me every time i’ve heard him play the flute. it’s not that he ain’t brilliant… it’s just the stuff i’ve heard him play. i probably should avoid ‘you fill up my senses’ played on anything. :-)

    you can always rely on robb to come up with a pertinent song lyric. methinks he doesn’t listen to metal at all. :-)

  76. Robb says:

    I’m just a big closet Whitney fan!

  77. Pat says:

    Jon – Annie’s song was in vogue when I was at uni, but hubby (boyfriend back in those dim and distant days) always used to sing ‘like a tin of baked beans’ …which made it a bit more bearable :lol:

    Taste is a funny thing….

  78. Pat says:

    Well Robb – we had our suspicions… :-)

  79. jonbirch says:

    taste is indeed a funny thing pat. actually, that is probably a very good song. ah well. :-)

    out of the closet now robb! :-)

  80. Caroline Too says:

    so a sermon’s good when we come away from it thinking, “I’ve got
    to change” or “do something” (somewhat muddled version of what
    Robb and Pat were saying)

    not a bad definition


    silly me

    I can’t help but think that you’re more likely to come away with that
    sense if

    the ‘teacher’ has spent sometime listening to you talk about
    where you are

    I’m not opposing biblical teaching, it’s the monologue that
    I’m opposing.

    learning/teaching within an ongoing process of conversation
    will give you that sense of having been ‘spoken to’ so much more

  81. Rich says:

    I still like Rob Bell’s sermons
    And Jim Wallis’
    And Tony Campolo’s
    And Rowan Williams’
    And Greg Boyd’s
    And Will Willimon’s
    And Anne Smith’s
    And Christine Roberts’

    Look them out…
    They are life changing…

  82. Pat says:

    Hey Caroline Too, I don’t disagree – hence the suggestion of preacher and congregation ‘doing’ the sermon together. And yes, ongoing conversation is vital; as is taking responsibility for, and control of, the development of your own life/faith/understanding.

    “I can’t help but think that you’re more likely to come away with that sense if the ‘teacher’ has spent sometime listening to you talk about where you are”. Well yes .. and no! (And a difficult task for preacher since everyone’s going to be in a different place :-) ) I think that sometimes, something said out of a place where you are NOT can be a catalyst for seeing where you ARE differently – helping you connect up fragments that haven’t made sense into a more meaningful pattern. Not sure if how I’ve put that that makes sense :-) but it has certainly been my experience: and that’s not just with regard to my journey with God where sermons (sometimes) conversations (often) and blogs (increasingly frequently!) have given me a ‘Eureka!’ moment, but also with my research student hat on.

  83. AnneDroid says:

    Jon and Caroline Too, I’m pretty depressed after reading all your comments. Truly.

    I’m imagining the two of you coming into the church of which my husband is minister and rearranging it all, and I don’t know how the extremely busy committed folk there could live up to your incredibly high standards.

    You argue that sermons are an inefficient use of time, and that if the minister invested the time spent in sermon prep out in the community instead it would do so much good. The time saved wouldn’t be nearly enough to do the equivalent amount of work, though. By no means.

    To take us as a case study, we have about 250 people come on a Sunday, plus loads of kids. The numbers have been growing steadily for some time. We have about 80 elderly housebound. Our church is in the heart of a local authority housing estate of about 8000 people, for whom we feel a compassion and a desire to show the love of God to. But we have limited human resources. A full time minister. A full time deacon (pastoral assistant). And everyone else is juggling work, home, friends, hobbies and church. Yet your suggestion seems to be that trying to reach a whole bunch all at once with sermons and services which are real and honest and practical and loving and so on is all wrong.

    Our view is that by putting a bit of effort (along with the praise band and the cleaner, as one of you mentioned, and the coffee/tea making folk etc) into the service, it’s possible for us to at least have some contact week by week with all the people (adults and children) who’re able bodied and committed enough to show up at church and listen to the message and participate in communal worship, without having to go round them all individually, detracting from the time we want to give the housebound and the “unchurched”.

    The sermon I alluded to in my earlier comment was partly about the fact that “communal” is a big part of being church, and that we’ve to watch out for our individualistic tendencies. We’re all inclined to go off in a huff and stop going to church when we get scunnered with everyone, or we feel “our needs” are not being met or the minister (shockerooney) is in some way flawed and imperfect, or the music is too traditonal, too modern, too loud, too quiet – all v. consumerist – but church is about us being there for everyone else as much as about what we can “get” from it, and I reckon God likes us to do communal worshipping, even though we all need to make compromises to do that (in a spirit of love and grace) in terms of our individual musical tastes etc..

    As far as the “conversation” thing you mention is concerned, we have home groups too where folk can “conversate” as much as they like! Realistically Him Indoors or whoever’s leading the service can hardly let 250 folk plus kids all say their piece on a Sunday morning so he can “listen” to them.

    We have got away from the one man band approach, certainly in our church, and I imagine in most. We have a pastoral team who visit those who can’t get to church and we’ve gradually chipped away at the notion that the entire able bodied membership are somehow entitled to a regular visit from the minister, though if they want one due to some stress or other of course they get it.

    I know I’m on a rant. And I’m sorry, Jon, because I know this is your blog, and I’m grateful for all the work you do here. But since I’m always telling the prisoners not to bottle things up, I thought I’d better take my own advice.

    I apologise also for going on about my own local church which is admittedly pointless when I’m the only one who is interested in it as such, but I’m the type of person that needs to try in my mind at least to apply ideas such as yours in a real situation to see if I agree with them. And when I did this with your comments, I got depressed….

  84. AnneDroid says:

    Re above. Have now mellowed, following a glass of red wine and a mindless game of Bejewelled. Rant over. I apologise for my grumpiness. Sincerely. I do recognise we’re all on the same side. :)

    And to prove I’m not a total old fashioned fuddy-duddy square, I do want you to know Brian McLaren is speaking at our church on Friday night. So there ;)

  85. Robb says:

    I sense that this conversation is going to keep shifting. We started with a repetitive problem that became a lack of ability to communicate. If people can communicate we don’t like the things that they communicate. If we do like what they communicate we think that the time could be better spent in community being pastoral.

    I vote that the pastoral skills that people exhibit are appauling and that the time would be better spent in the pub.

  86. jonbirch says:

    man… tony campolo is among the worst i’ve heard. massive ego. went on for over an hour most inappropriately. me and jonny were leading worship at the event… we were close to death by boredom, frustration and absolute disbelief at his lack of awareness. mind you, he is famous for saying some good things… but that’s not the point.

    “Yet your suggestion seems to be that trying to reach a whole bunch all at once with sermons and services which are real and honest and practical and loving and so on is all wrong.” annedroid… i didn’t say that at all. your church sounds amazing and sounds like it is vital to the community. thank god for churches such as that. sermons though, generally speaking, are a poor idea. everything we know about the way people learn tells us that. when ever we sermonise we immediately alienate roughly 66.6% of the populous. the sermon must not be this sacred cow. it doesn’t do the good people think it does. in fact it often undoes a lot of the good, regardless of how well meaning. i’m sorry if that sounds negative, but i am one of those for whom sermons are like slow torture… and i’m quite bright.

    okay… here’s why i think protestants get all hot under the collar when you mention that sermons are a poor way of doing things. this comment comes inspired by my good and wise friend iain… i’m sure if he reads this he’ll correct my ignorance.

    iconoclasts are fundamental to the origins of the protestant church. actively choosing words over images as the right mode of teaching and destroying much that was there before. seen as idolatry, images , livelihoods and ways of teaching were deliberately destroyed… the baby was thrown out with the bath water… and so the tradition in our protestant churches remains. we can’t wrestle ourselves free of this because it is so ingrained. we do not even recognise our own prison cell. i know this may ruffle a few feathers, but history bears this out and it was i believe.

  87. jonbirch says:

    annedroid… no need for apology… i am grateful and honoured that you’d debate, argue and wrestle here. thank you. i hope my above comment explains my thinking a bit more. the depression i gave you i am sorry for, but it is what i have been feeling for years… all the years i can remember. i’ve heard so many speakers, sat through so many sermons, in a regular church environment and in other work i’ve done over the years. the change i am suggesting might seem daunting… but let’s face it… it’s just a sermon… that’s all… someone saying stuff. try not having one, see what happens… i wonder who’ll complain and who’ll be fine.
    sometimes i’ve seen people get up and say something in a church, about their life, about a situation and it has been awesome. they spoke for five minutes and everybody was grabbed and moved and challenged. then the sermon happens later… spoils it… takes away from the true moment of meaning. belittles in some way the gravitas of what the person ‘shared’ in my view.
    this happened on saturday when i went to the degree presentations at bristol uni. everything of true importance and meaning had been done and said very beautifully… but because the students and lecturers were christian a bishop had to do a sermon. there was nothing wrong with what he said. but it was pointless, or rather ‘needless’. spoiled something. ruined a moment of beauty and realness. the governor of trinity college said some fantastic and beautiful stuff from the heart which was truly inspiring… the governor of the methodist college prayed a most meaningful prayer… certificates were awarded and the students given a heart warming benediction, bith from the front and from those in attendance. stunning! then… time for dinner?.. no, a sermon. AAAAAGH!

  88. AnneDroid says:

    Jon, you say, “whenever we sermonise we immediately alienate roughly 66.6% of the populous”. I think the key to our difference of opinion may possibly partly lie in that word “sermonise”. I’m thoroughly and wholeheartedly against pulpiteering and sermonising both. I and Him Indoors don’t (we hope) do that. Neither to loads and loads of honest, real, trying-hard, clergy. We DO talk though. And that’s our calling, partly anyway. When I was a student minister I heard a minister “talking” rather than “sermonising”. I decided there and then that’s what I would do – talk, rather than sermonise. By that I meant I would commit to being real, and honest and straight and direct and relevant. Funnily enough, on Sunday just past, I was invited to go and preach/talk at his church and a guy at the end said “I like how you just talk. You’re real”. I don’t say that to boast or anything but to support my argument that talking (which may be called preaching but not pulpiteering or sermonising) ISN’T necessarily bad. Talking is my gift the way art (and no doubt much else besides) is your gift. Paul, Peter, Jesus, others in the Bible have talked/preached and people have listened and their lives been changed. Not everyone who is a Christian is a Christian because of a message they heard preached. Of course not. But some are. Plenty people including me have learned and learned and learned and learned as we’ve grown in our faith through listening to good, real, honest, unpretentious preachers/talkers/teachers. I acknowledge that many have sermonised/pulpiteered and it’s been all about them and I’m sure God can’t stand it any more than you and I can. But let’s not throw the poor wee preachy baby out with the bathwater here any more than it was right to throw the poor wee arty baby out with the bathwater. I stand my ground, mate, that some of us are called to talk/preach, though the minute we get puffed up and sermonise/pulpiteer please please please shout us down – individually, though, not as a species.

  89. Iaincotton says:

    The sermon as a form so often assumes that the congregation are auditory learners – ie they learn by hearing, and of course some of the congregation will be. But what about the visual and kinesthetic learners in the pews? Why do churches consistently choose a form of communication that makes it difficult for as many as 2 thirds of the people to appropriate the teaching? I am very much a visual person – typically the church experience assumes I am blind.
    (Why is iconoclasm alive and kicking in our churches?)
    Let us rediscover images, ritual, action, bodily-nes, creativity, theatre, narrative, conversation, dialogue, touch and smell, moving images, instrumental music, silence, participation and children.
    And add these to singing and monologues.

  90. jonbirch says:

    annedroid… i love you my friend. there is a place for talking… and i don’t doubt your being real for one second… i treasure your realness here at asbo, as i’m sure those in your community do. if i were in prison, i’d want you to visit me. i mean that.
    i hope you’re okay with my next cartoon… it pushes my thinking a bit further. obviously i often overstate a point to make a point in my cartoons. i do that in the next one. hopefully it’ll stir up more debate and thought. :-)

    thanks iain… your points about kinesthetic and visual learning are a key part of the debate about sermons and their value to the multitudes. appreciated. :-)

  91. AnneDroid says:

    Yeah but, yeah but, yeah but, Iain (I can see I’m not going to win so I’m going to bed now) but the thing about the teaching of the Bible is that it constantly uses word pictures. I fully agree about that’s how we learn. I’m up for powerpoint (which I use routinely), drama, art, and even science (which I think, being a science fan, is grossly underused in worship). But even with all these things, the fact is that the messages we are generally preaching about are already presented in imagery. The Bible is full of imagery – parables, analogies, metaphors, similes, word pictures, and so on, and preachers should also (I firmly believe) use not just the Biblical ones but all the modern day ones that come to mind too. The kingdom of heaven is like… The aptly chosen analogy, metaphor, simile, word picture and/or joke can last in the mind for years and IS, I would argue, using the visual – the mind’s eye.

    I like your beautiful list, Iain, of stuff to rediscover. I’m up for that too. BUT at the same time, as an extremely shy person, with a very low cringe threshold, I also really relate to those who want to come to church and be met with no surprises, who want to come and sit (because they’re also really really tired) and not be asked to do things which make them feel self-conscious. I have endured this in church services too and wanted to run away.

  92. Laura says:

    Ian @84
    Yes absolutely…let’s!!!

  93. jonbirch says:

    i here what you’re saying annedroid. i think the reason why stuff can be soooo cringy is that we are unpractised in the arts sadly. protestantism has drummed out of us what used to be perfectly normal.
    the world is full of people making amazing things in the name of all sorts, yet, as a church, we’re a bit barren. we lost the art.
    kids haven’t… they love pictures… the japanese haven’t… they love pictures.
    hmmm… it is sad.

  94. jonbirch says:

    why are picture books nearly always just for kids in the west? comes back to the same problem. it is not a problem they have in the east.

  95. Caroline Too says:

    I’m distressed to think that I may have depressed any fellow

    especially, if it’s thought that I’m just being negative…
    knocking sermons

    anyone can knock

    it’s easy to see the flaws in any action

    but how could we do things differently?

    I’ve gone on about this at huge length over at my place, so I
    won’t bore people again here. But I do believe that there are other
    ways of helping people learn, ways that will offer life and hope and

    Of course, I can hear the preachers reply to me “But,
    Caroline our sermons are full of life, hope and encouragement.”

    Indeed they may be, but sometimes what we say is not what is
    heard… that is why conversation is so crucial.

    “But,” my preacher replies in exasperation, “there is not the
    time fo endless one to one conversations”

    No, not if the minister does them all themself.

    “But so few of my congregation have the time, knowledge or inclination to be teachers”

    ah, really, mums/dads who can’t teach children to eat, to put on
    clothes? Dad’s who can’t pass on their interests? (sorry terrible
    stereotyping, but I hope you see my point)

    Our churches are full of people who help others learn every day of
    their lives

    (but maybe not in the kind of schoolteacherish, transfer of
    knowledge way we so often assume teachers work)

    there are other ways of helping people learn or hear their
    heavenly Father and Lord speak.

    I am not asking for people to stop preaching NOW but I would plead
    that vicars/ministers and the like should just try and experiment
    with other ways, just once in a while.

  96. AnneDroid says:

    We have 70 of our folk currently involved in home groups which meet midweek. There they get to have conversation and do mutual teaching. Does that count, Caroline Too?

  97. Robb says:

    *places tongue in cheek*

    How does the amount of time I spend on the internet debating stuff like this relate to the amount of time I waste on sermon prep? How does that relate to the amount of time I spend in parish doing realm work?

    *places tongue back in the middle of mouth*

  98. Robb says:

    Just reread what I wrote. My typo works quite well :lol:

    Real work! real</b work!!

    The day I start talking with jargon like ‘realm’ is the day I need to be kicked in the nuts*!

    *in the style of Eric Cartman.

  99. Caroline Too says:

    I don’t know, AnneDroid (#96), small cell groups or home groups can be a place of conversational learning

    my experience, however, is that such groups often end up talking about issues and interesting topics rather than dealing with where we are at in our pilgrimage. Of course, this might just reflect the kind of middle-class church that I have always been involved in.

    I don’t think that the issue is one of structure, or types of activities… rather it’s about exploring which ways will help church members be active learners (disciples). That, for me, is what is crucial.

  100. jonbirch says:

    it’s just a sermon after all, not life and death.
    stirs the passions, this debate, doesn’t it.

  101. Pat says:

    CarolineToo – I’ve just been reading some of the stuff ‘over at my place’. I have to say that I’m pretty much in agreement with you on all sorts of things to do with what learning is and isn’t, and about the relational aspect of it. And it’s helped me appreciate where you’re coming from in this conversation :-)

    I’m really interested in your comments about the centrality of relational encounter to learning. My own research is into the connections between relationality and health, and I think there are lots of overlapping things here. Would love to talk to you about some of this sometime.

  102. chad m says:

    isn’t proclamation of the Word (i.e. the sermon) more of a prescribed worship element according to what we know about early Christian worship practices than, say, singing?

    are we hating on sermons, or bad sermons?

  103. Robb says:

    There is only some evidence of early Christian worship. What we are clear of from sources such as the didache and other early sources is that there was a deep structure to worship that seemed to take a fourfold pattern:

    Dismissal/sending out

    Eucharistic prayer would retell the passion of Jesus but would be improvised around a common structure.

    As for singing, it is thought that early song of the early church did exist such as:

    Holy Holy Holy Lord,
    God of Power and Might,
    Heaven and earth are full of your glory,
    Hosanna in the highest,
    Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord,
    Hosanna in the highest.

    It is also thought by many biblical scholars that the early churches hymnody then made its way into the scriptures. For example, the first chapter of John – the “Hymn to the Logos” is thought by many to have been part of the worship of the Johanine church that was then used as part of that Gospel.

    Other examples may be the magnificat and benedictus.

    However, it is very difficult to be certain of any of this but there is quite a well thought out case for both.

    If you want to read the Didache it is in A New Eusebius. (It’s only a few pages long (the Didache – not a New Eusebius which is a collection of load of early church writings).

    I’ll get my coat…..

  104. Caroline Too says:

    no, your anorak I think, Robb!

    thanks, really interesting

  105. Robb says:

    No prob. Liturgy is my special area of anorak. However, don’t believe a word I say about doctrine :D

  106. jonbirch says:

    “are we hating on sermons, or bad sermons?” for me, it’s the question… are sermons the best and most effective method to getting the job done?

    interesting stuff robb. you should blog more of your learning, it’s facinating stuff.

  107. Mimou says:

    Whoah lots of comments and conversation here :) I only had time to read them through now. I think there’s a place for teaching – Talking ,sharing – I actually think the “right” kind is the more relational, talking one..MEntioned here too… Where you just kind of share your heart. I just like hearing what people think. Then again, I don’t listen to very sermony talks or sermons, don’t go to very high church church. I don’t know if it makes the difference. But I am definitely one for Iain’s suggestion too – I LONG for the church and christian community to be much more diverse, to see a LOT more art..I think God definitely comunicates through e.g. arts and dance. And many other forms I’m sure. We all have our “tastes”, likes and preferences. Or “languages” I should maybe say – different things through how and which we hear God “speak” to us. There should be more variety.

    having said that, I have learned an awful lot by other people sharing/speaking to me.

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