I have the privilege of being a part of the Worship Committee at my church. (Presbyterians seem to just love committees....) Part of our task is to reassess whether or not our "worship services" truly achieve the purpose of worshipping God, and to work toward such changes as may be necessary to bring our "services" more toward actual worship.
One way in which we are preparing is to read through Dan Kimball's book, Emerging Worship. In it, he details ways in which what he calls "emerging generations" are challenging traditional churches to re-evaluate their worship strategies. In fact, he prefers the term "worship gathering" to "worship service," a term which implies that people go to the service once a week to get "filled up" (like at a service station), yet go their own ways afterward, not worshipping again until their return the following week. At least this far, I'm inclined to agree with him.
Kimball makes very clear that the ideas expressed in the book are not to be implemented without thought, as if they are boilerplates to be impressed on all churches. Each church is different, and each group of worshippers will have different means by which they are fully drawn into the activity of worship. Again, I very much agree with Kimball here.
When Kimball starts talking about the sermon, something about me gets defensive.
I've long been a believer that a sermon; of some shape, form, or fashion; is an absolute necessity at a worship service. I'm perfectly happy to have a cantata or drama fill the needs of my loosely-defined "sermon," but some form of "sermon" must be present. Kimball himself is not arguing for the abolition of the sermon, and is especially careful to maintain a focus on the Scriptures as absolutely essential, but argues that some "emerging churches" may want to do away with the sermon in favor of some worship activity that brings the whole congregation into the process.
Kimball and I may not even desire different things. I certainly agree that the model of sermon that dictates a lone speaker on a stage will not be appropriate for all (or perhaps even many) churches. And insofar as Kimball describes the traditional sermon as a preacher saying "I-am-the-wise-one-with-the-answers-from-the-Bible-because-I-went-to-
-the-power-so-you-need-to-listen", I wholeheartedly agree that this is not a good thing. And Kimball may well be thinking of exactly the kinds of remedies (and he definitely wants a multitude of them. He's as far from suggesting "one size fits all" as it is possible to be) that I'm thinking about (i.e. cantatas and drama, among other things) when he suggests the need to move away from the old model.
But there's still something in me that wants to scream out in protest "you can't do that! You have to have a sermon!"
Although I may well be "liberal" in some matters, I'll readily admit to being "conservative" when it comes to some ideas about religion and worship. I certainly think there will always be some place for "traditional" worship, even as more churches do well to become more responsive to the changing needs of people in a changing culture. Yet, there's some dogmatic part of me that wants to say "some form of sermon (already described fairly loosely, as seen above) must be a part of any authentic worship gathering." If the sermon is lost, I believe the resulting congregation will lose some vital part of what it is to learn about the Christian faith, even if reading the Scriptures themselves (as is also insisted upon by Kimball) is retained.
It's certainly true that I have an interest at stake in this. I am seminary trained to be a pastor. If the sermon is removed from the worship service, a good deal of what I trained for becomes useless. And I definitely value the seminary education as giving me something important to bring to fellow worshippers. But perhaps this has rendered me unable to think through this matter objectively.... I want to be fair to the very important issues that Kimball raises. I agree that the church is generations behind where it needs to be to reach people in our culture. I'm sure that I myself am often "out of touch" with these people, and need to hear some of what Kimball has to say.
But it is a struggle. I need discernment. How do I take the good from what Kimball offers without losing something vital from the "traditional" values?