Sermons don’t change lives?

May 4, 2010

I’m currently following the #drive10 hash tag on Twitter for tweets from the Drive ministry conference. I recently saw the following,  presumably a quote:

“Sermons don’t change lives – systems that emphasize and celebrate behavior do.”

My initial response is that I disagree. But, of course, neither tweets nor pithy statements can capture all the complexity of an issue. In the end, I decided that this tweet has a valid point, but there is another important point we need to make sure we don’t miss.

The other point – and, I would argue, the prior one – is twofold. First, all life change is caused by the Holy Spirit operating directly on the soul of the believer (2 Cor 3:18). This means that any view that literally says that we bring about life change in ourselves or others (whether by relevant environments or by systematic discipleship) is pridefully taking the place of God. Second, this life change is always mediated by the Word (2 Tim 3:16-17). Any approach to ministry that removes the Word, or makes it secondary to some person’s teaching of the Word, or focuses on only some parts of the Word, is prioritizing human reason over God’s revelation.   

The statement could be construed to disagree with that, but it doesn’t have to be. If  we understand the statement in light of those prior qualifications, what does it add? What that statement seems to be getting at (or, what I would mean by it if I was the one who said it) is that sermons are not the most effective means for us to facilitate the Holy Spirit applying truth to people’s lives. It is not only our understanding, but also our affections and wills, that must be submitted to the Word. But sermons can tend to make it easy for people to only listen and learn, but not be changed. By contrast, small groups that diligently study the Word are environments where application and accountability can happen. If the leader prioritized all three of understanding, affection, and will, it becomes much harder for a group member to avoid applying the truth in all of these ways.

So, in summary, I would say, study and apply the Word in small groups, because that’s the environment that best facilitates the Holy Spirit producing life change in us.