Sermons, Sermons everywhere and all the Churches did shrink

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is a wonderful poem about the experiences of the "ancient mariner." Of the memorable lines there is this one:

“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”

Here the crew of the ship is stranded and without fresh water. They find themselves in the ironic position that they are dying of thirst while being surrounded by water. 

This poem came into my head when I came across preacher Skye Jethani's post entitled "Is it time for another reformation?" in which he examines preaching through a economic supply/demand lens. It was an interesting little read and I hope you can take the time to read it in full here.

Jethani opens by reminding that massive changes in the church were preceded by a massive change in communication technology. For instance, Luther's ideas would not have taken off as he did if not for the printing press. Likewise, the church is seeing a massive change on the heels of the advent of the internet. Specifically Jethani points out, prior to the internet, most Bible teaching required you to go to a worshiping community. Thus the Church had the "supply" of Biblical teaching and there was a demand that was met when people attend a worshiping community. 

Even if we assume that the demand for Biblical teaching has remanded constant, there is a glut of supply. Each week I listen to four different preachers through my smart phone, I read two daily email devotionals and am notified every three hours to prayer via my watch alarm. This does not count the physical books, in person interactions and other "analog" access to my spiritual practices. Jethani puts it this way:

This low demand and high supply means the market for Bible instruction has reduced the cost to virtually zero. That’s a good thing, right? Yes, unless you are a church that still expects people to pay the high cost demanded by the old model. Most institutional churches continue to make the preaching act the centerpiece of Sunday worship, and Sunday worship is the centerpiece of most church structures. An audit of virtually any Protestant church will reveal a massive percentage of the institution’s resources (space, funds, leadership) is devoted to the Sunday preaching event and its related activities and facilities. In other words, most churches have inherited a sixteenth century model that is increasingly out of step with twenty-first century realities. 

Prior to asking very poignant questions, Jethani states:

Pastors carry a Reformation mindset that sees Bible teaching as a scarcity which makes their sermons valuable, while Millennials with a digital mindset recognize the abundance of Bible teaching making most pastor's sermons, and therefore Sunday attendance, unnecessary.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem concludes with the hearer waking up "sadder and wiser" for hearing the tale of the Ancient Mariner. It is possible for us to become sadder, but may we also be wiser. 


Reasons why young people seeking old ways of church - commentary

The other day this post, 5 Reasons Why Young People Are Seeking Old Ways of Doing Church. While it is a broad brushstroke, as most blog posts are (including my own), it embodies something for me that has rang true for my experience and those I hang with.

The original post's reasons are:

  1. Authenticity
  2. Rootedness
  3. Mystery
  4. Icon and Symbolism 
  5. Participation

Rev. Dr. Leonard Sweet has argued for a long time that we are living in E.P.I.C times (Experiential, Participatory, Image Rich and Connected). As you may be able to see the five reasons above and EPIC are overlapping one another. In rough terms:

  • Authenticity and Mystery as Experiential
  • Participation as Participation 
  • Icon/Symbolism as Image Rich
  • Rootedness as Connected 

I can make a case that the church I serve is a church that is an amalgamation of these trends all in one place. But my situation is not unique. The interesting twist is that many mainline churches are slow to change and many can make the case that their church is also an amalgamation of these trends. 

The point being that individual churches do not need to feel like they have to change and adapt to the novel if that is not who/what God is calling them to do/be. Being authentic and who you really are is more important to a person my age (and maybe any age) than being something you are not just to try to attract the "young people". 

Rent, Stream, Experience - New Values and the Church (3 of 3)

You may want to catch up to speed by taking 3 minutes to read part two here


It seems silly to me that we have to have science to tell us that experiences bring greater satisfaction than material goods, but thanks science. It is part of the reason why people will go see Santa every year just for a photo. An annual picture with Santa is cute, but 6 decades of Santa pictures is a story.

And this is what makes experiences superior to objects. The story. A story we can tell and share. A story never gets rusty or fades. It is the story that is the result of the experience and while people are seeking experiences, we are all really seeking stories. 

This is where the Christian faith has much to offer with the value of experiences. Christianity at its best is a religion of experiences. Experience God in the birth of a child, experience the transcendent in the corporate singing of a song, experience the Spirit with inspiring preaching, experience the still small voice in prayer. Karl Rahner said, "The Christian of the future will be a mystic, or he will not exist at all." Mysticism is the part of Christianity that values the internal experience of God and it is a part of the faith that is being rediscovered (see St. Mark's in Seattle). 

Christianity is a faith tradition that is not only built on experience of God but also a tradition of story. This is why Christians tell the same stories every year. Much like you would do at your family or friend gatherings, telling stories of the past and using those stories to shape the present. The stories of Jesus shape our present. The stories of God shape our now.

I mentioned in the first post in this series that if Christianity can get our stuff together Christianity can help cultivate these values of rent, stream and experience. Or perhaps we might call them - Stewardship, Justice and Story.

Rent, Stream, Experience - New Values and the Church (1 of 3)

Recently Leslie Bradshaw shared about changing values in American culture. The tweetable line is that younger generations are affecting other generations toward "rent, stream, and experience." (You may want to take just a moment and read this little article to get the background.)

Personally, I resonate with these three values. Aside from the obvious definitions of rent, stream experience, I would submit there are connections to Christianity. And perhaps, if we get our stuff together, Christianity can help cultivate these values because these values overlap with Christian values.

First of all: rent.  Renting means not owning, which is exactly the point of Christians' understanding of stewardship. You and I do not own anything even if we bought it. Everything belongs to God and we all are just borrowing or renting it from God. Christians talk about your very breath (pneuma in Greek or ruha in Hebrew) belongs to God. We are born and the pneuma/ruha (which also means spirit) of God enters into us and animates our bodies. When we die that pneuma/ruha (breath/spirit) returns to the source - God. This idea that God owns all things is true not just for our breath but also for things like money, land, and even life itself. 

While it may be difficult in the "American dream", moving from owning to renting is not a difficult value leap for the Christian.