Preaching and the Expectation to be Fed: Moving Past Self-Feeding to the Heart of the Issue

Once upon a time, there was a land filled with banquet halls. Each banquet hall was different, but one thing they all had in common was that the manager of each hall would invite all the people in the area to come to a banquet each weekend.

“Everyone should attend a banquet each week,” the managers would say. “People are starving out there and they don’t even know it. Invite them to our banquet hall so they can be fed.”

Eventually, some people began to abandon banquet halls, not because they didn’t want to eat, but because they discovered other ways to get a good meal.

The managers would say, “There’s so much more to the banquet hall than just the weekend meal, though. It’s not about whether or not you get fed each weekend. It’s about living and eating healthy all the time.”

And then the former banquet goers replied, “If the banquet hall isn’t all about the meal each weekend, why do you only seem to talk about the weekend menu? Why is the whole banquet hall organized around the meal?”

People will expect to be fed as long as we continue to make dinner the main focus.


We have chosen a specific model for “doing church.” Our weekly rhythm, our staffing, our facilities, our communication materials, and our programs all sound a single message: the sermon is what matters most.

We promote our next sermon series as the reason for people to come back or the reason for our regular attenders to invite friends. We place a unique sermon series graphic on the cover of the weekend bulletin and project it onto the large screens in our sanctuaries. We devote more than 50% of our weekend services to the sermon. Many times, the songs we sing are selected because of their connection to the sermon.

And then, we seem surprised when people choose a church based on the quality of the preaching. “People need to feed themselves!” That’s true. They do. But we shouldn’t be surprised that people expect to get something out of the sermon when we structure all of our activities around it. If we don’t expect them to get something out of it … maybe we should stop treating it as the most important thing.

If church is more about fellowship, or serving our community, or growing together spiritually in small groups (“because that’s the best environment for real growth” we say), we should structure our activities around that. Let’s shape everything we do around the thing that’s most important (if it’s not really the sermon). Or, if we think a combination of those things are necessary, then treat them all as necessary, including the sermon.

We can’t let ourselves off the hook by calling people to feed themselves when we’re providing a meal every week. Instead, let’s take the responsibility to make the meal something good, something that satisfies, something meaningful.

No matter what we do, let’s be aware of—and take responsibility for—the model we’ve chosen and everything that goes with it.


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Steve Finkill

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Mr. Steven Finkill — 04/07/14 12:58 pm

That's exactly what I was thinking, Joel. The sermon hasn't always been the central element of the weekly gathering of Christians throughout the centuries, but that's the model almost all of us subscribe to today. I'm not necessarily saying that the model should change, just that the expectation people have that they should "get something out of the message" comes from the fact that we've made it the central element of our gatherings.

Joel Sprenger — 04/07/14 12:28 pm

With apologies to Marshall McLuhan, whom I don't claim to understand, this article raises a 'the medium is the message' point. Something along the lines of 'by making the sermon the center of the service we are changing peoples perception of content of the medium (the sermon)'. Perhaps our concept Christianity is influence merely by making the sermon central versus for instance making the Eucharist central. Or perhaps I have no idea of what I'm talking about.

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I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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