Do you remember that feeling when you were on the receiving end of a parental lecture: That compelling desire to escape, combined with a growing resolve to completely reject all the counsel, advice, and nuggets of wisdom coming from the lecturer's mouth?
I got that feeling the other day.
It came when I was reading an op-ed column in the New York Times. Oddly enough, it was written by a guy in my profession, a Christian pastor.
The author's point was that the problem with Christian congregations is that they want to be "soothed and entertained" in churches that feel like theaters.
Now, I'm as frustrated with the "Big Show" feel of many churches these days as the next guy. But what struck me was what the author holds up as the correct alternative to this. Here's how he describes what a pastor is supposed to do:
"The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways."
"...clergy have seen their job descriptions rewritten. They’re no longer expected to offer moral counsel in pastoral care sessions or to deliver sermons that make the comfortable uneasy."
"...the church exists...to save souls by elevating people’s values and desires."Basically, pastors are supposed to get people to change their behavior. And that is accomplished primarily through sermons or counseling sessions where the pastor instructs and challenges people to act.
I want to say two things about this, then I'll quit. First, the article demonstrates very little compassion for the sinners and sufferers sitting in the pews (or cushy chairs). There is no recognition of the bound-ness, the broken-ness of is churchgoers, the fact that they are doing things they wish they could stop, but can't. Second, he seems to assume that all people need to get their act together is a stern talking to. That if you want people to stop eating a whole pack of Chips Ahoy in one sitting, or if you want them to visit prisons, or if you want them to have elevated values and desires, all you have to do is tell them. A lecture will get it done.
While we may have different ideas about what actually does change people, from where I sit, it does seem clear that lectures never have.
There is an interesting movement away from lecturing (preaching?) in the classroom. Educational researchers have shown that a class in which lecturing is the dominant form of instruction is simply ineffective at teaching. The solution seems to involve a combination of short lectures, discussion sessions, structured exploration, and cooperative group work.
I wonder if church services can benefit from the emerging practices championed by education reformers.
@jim_the_american@xanga - Interesting idea. The biggest problem I see arising from such an atmosphere is that critical thinking and thinking outside the box are not very welcome within the boundaries of the organized church. The rules and regulations have already been decided upon and set in stone. Questioning is tolerated to a point so long as the questioner doesn't question too much or too persistently.
There are definitely some who think that a "good, stern talking to" is all everyone needs. However, Jesus is our primary example, and that is not the method He employed. The woman at the well had had five husbands and was known for being promiscuous. Jesus treated her with love and respect, which was a new experience for her. First He loved her, then he told her she needed to change, and she did. With the woman caught in adultery, He did the same. Instead of joining in with her accusers, He first showed her mercy, and then told her "go and sin no more." God is love, and our first responsibility to others is to love them. When we speak the truth with an attitude and motive of love, it is better received, and more likely to effect change in their life.
@jim_the_american@xanga - I'm a teacher, and you're right. The less we actively participate in a lesson, the less we remember, especially if all of the information is delivered orally. I find myself gravitating toward preachers who use powerpoints or other visuals, because it helps me pay attention. In my own classroom, I use games, activities, manipulatives, stories and discussions to keep my students involved. However, my students are little, and so is my class. Class sizes are controlled so I don't have more than 25 students at one time. Most congregations are much bigger than 25, and the pastor doesn't necessarily have the time or an effective method for including audience participation. Also, for pastors with larger churches who may be broadcasting their messages on the internet, tv, or the radio, interactive lessons are even more difficult because audience members who aren't in the room cannot participate. Lecture-style preaching is most often done because it is best suited to the situation.
@Suhijaquerida - My friend has a rule about teaching that might apply to preaching: Don't treat your classroom like a television audience. If a TV audience can watch a video of your lecture and get its full effect, why even bother showing up to class?
The issue is that teachers (preachers) need to establish a rapport with their students (congregation). Also, the students need to interact with the content of the lesson in order to internalize and understand it. Brains are not empty cups waiting to be filled with coffee.
The more I imagine an interactive environment for "learning" about spirituality and religion, the more excited I get! (I'm not a Christian, and I'm not particularly religious. However, I do see great value in religion.)