By Daniel Darling
If you measured church life only from the tweets of some pastors, you’d assume church services are awesome for every other congregation but your own. Phrases like, “Killer praise band,” “Home run sermon,” and “Amazing stage design” fill Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds on Sunday afternoons.
Meanwhile, at your church, the lapel mic stopped working halfway through the sermon, the Scripture verses on the screen were in the wrong version, and the date for the church picnic was incorrect in the bulletin.
Our churches need to pursue excellence—in our sermon preparation, in our music, in our communication. Everything we do should be done well to the glory of God.
But sometimes, pastors and church leaders feel pressure—from the pews and from within—to try to make every Sunday spectacular in such a way that we forget the purpose of our weekly gathering and how God makes us grow.
Here are some reasons for pastors to take a deep breath—and for people in the pews to see Sundays a little differently.
Big moments matter, but small moments are formative
Most of us have big moments that were spiritually life-changing. Perhaps it was a message at a Christian conference or sermon at camp. Or maybe it was a particular sermon our pastor preached.
But our spiritual lives are formed by a lifetime of small moments. We grow, not from one big epic church service, but by a series of weekly, mostly forgettable church services.
We learn the Word, not from one class or one sermon, but from years of classes and sermons. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that the Word grows in us, “line after line, a little here, a little there.” (Isaiah 28:10)
As I think about my own life, I can point to two or three “light bulb” moments, but mostly I’m grateful for the spiritual rhythms of going to church, singing the hymns, prayer, and fellowship.
Those disciplines built into my heart’s spiritual muscles are exercised in times of temptation or trial.
Pastors are shepherds, not conference speakers
I’m grateful for gifted leaders who can encourage thousands at popular conferences. My life has been enriched by hearing these men and women speak. I even help plan these for my organization. And yet what our churches need, week after week, are not conference speakers.
We need pastors. We need shepherds.
Pastors and church leaders, we fail our people when we approach each week as if that one message is going to change everyone’s lives forever. It might. Or it might be one small thread in a tapestry of ministry.
What’s more, when we treat weekly church services like camp meeting or revival, people become exhausted. People can’t come forward every week. There won’t be someone committing to sell everything and go to the mission field every week.
What our people do need to hear—every week—is a word from the Lord. They need the formative experience of worship. They need the nurture of fellowship.
People aren’t always ready for victory
I once heard a pastor say, “Sometimes our people use up all their faith just to walk in the door.”
While pastors have been marinating in the Word all week, some people in the congregation may have had the worst week of their lives. They may come limping into church, having lost a family member, or having just seen a budget they can’t balance, or having received a devastating diagnosis. They need space to lament, to weep, to mourn.
But if every week the Sunday worship gathering is like a revival meeting or a conference, if our worship is always upbeat and victorious, those who are hurting may not hear the comforting words of their Good Shepherd echo from our liturgy.
Our services, instead, should mirror the worship mosaic of Scripture. Some passages offer hope and victory. Others challenge and convict. And still others—like the Psalms and much of the prophets—are words of lament and doubt.
Let’s focus on the whole counsel of God, not only the parts that get our adrenaline going.
The good news for weary pastors and bored church members is this: Sermons will likely be forgotten, but your faithfulness will reverberate into eternity. And there’s no need for an epic moment every Sunday.
Instead, we can let Jesus be the hero and allow the Bible to do its work. Because what people need each week is to simply be fed the Word of God, to experience spiritual community, and to live out the ordinary regular patterns that form us as God’s people.
DANIEL DARLING (@dandarling) is vice president of communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and teaching and discipleship pastor at Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. He is the author of several books, including The Dignity Revolution, which will be released September 2018.