Feb

18

2013

Colin Marshall|10:00 PM CT

Church Was Great! Let's Not Talk About It

We've just heard the Word read and proclaimed, sung the praises of our great God, and petitioned him for mercy in our time of need. And then we spend our time afterward talking about last night's movie, the game, the hobby, the state of the nation, or whatever. Anything but the great truths of the gospel we've just heard and by which we're saved. Why do we do this?

"Drive-thru church" doesn't help. We have six other commitments on Sunday, so we aim to get through church as efficiently as possible on the way to the next thing. Some of us have just never thought about having conversations about the sermon (apart from pestering the preacher about something). Others know it's crazy to talk about everything but God, yet they still feel uncomfortable striking up "spiritual" conversations. We've never been in a context where this is normal. Sometimes, perhaps too often, we leave the service with no sense of engaging with God by Word and Spirit, and so we have nothing to say to anyone.

For still more, the underlying problem is our consumer view of church---an unsurprising consequences of "what's in it for me" contemporary Western culture. "Church is put on for me by the professionals and their teams," we assume. With this mindset, engaging in spiritually encouraging conversations certainly won't be on the agenda.

Ironically, those with a serving mindset---the antithesis of consumerism---can also find it difficult to get into "God talk" at church. The busyness of serving can keep us from stopping to encourage others and can let us feel we've done enough by helping to organize things.

Why We Meet

But why should we use our conversations at church to encourage one another in the faith? Because that is the reason why we meet.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. (Heb. 3:13)

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25)

The church gathers God's people to hear his Word, respond in obedience, and use our gifts and abilities to strengthen one another in the faith. All believers are involved in building Christ's church. Therefore, we shouldn't see ourselves merely as part of an organization called "St. Hubert's Church," but as servants of God's people, eager to meet the needs of others even if it means stepping out of our comfort zone.

Not the Only Ones

I love our heritage of expository preaching delivered by godly, studious, articulate pastors. But somehow we've inadvertently communicated that they're the only ones (plus a few others on the stage, perhaps) who do the work of encouraging and building. If that's your assumption, read the New Testament (e.g., 1 Cor. 12-14; 1 Pet. 2) again with an eye toward how the whole body builds itself up, with each part doing its work by speaking gospel truth in love (Eph. 4:15-16).

Perhaps some of you are thinking, I may not talk much about God and what we've learned in the sermon, but I do show love in lots of other ways, through caring for people in need and asking how to pray. But encouraging someone isn't only putting our arms around them and urging them to press on. What gives courage is the truth of the gospel. We see a clear example of this in 1 Thessalonians 4:18: 'Therefore encourage each other with these words." In context, "these words" that encourage are the words of the gospel (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

Here's my question for you: Do you come to church expecting God to use you to minister to others, to encourage them in faith, hope, and love through the Word? Are you asking him to provide such opportunities?

What to Ask

So how do we start these encouraging conversations after church? Asking "What did you get out of the sermon?" might work, but often you'll get a blank look or worse. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Pray during the service that God would lead your conversations, and pray for specific people around you.
  • Listen to what God is saying to you through the sermon (or songs, creeds, and so on) and formulate a comment or question to start a conversation. This past week at our church, the sermon was on what it means to praise the Lord, from Psalms 146-150. Since I was thinking about this article (and, I hope, for more godly reasons), I picked out two things to try as conversation-starters after church.
  • With another couple we somehow got into a conversation about their blended family, and I reminded them of God's favor towards the alien, orphans, and widows (Ps. 146). Since the husband is not yet a believer, I was deliberately talking about God's character. I have no idea what effect it had on him.
  • Even if the conversations don't always get off the ground, your enthusiasm for learning the Bible and knowing God will be contagious. And non-Christians will see that church isn't dull and boring but fascinating and life-shattering.
  • These intentional conversations after church will sometimes lead to prayer for one another. Why not stop for a moment and give thanks or petition God for some need?
  • Another way to deepen our fellowship is to ask each other how we came to salvation in Christ. Sometimes we've been in church with people for years without ever learning their story. The other day at church I asked a guy named Phil how he became a Christian, and we discovered God had worked in us in very similar ways as young men. The door is now open to building a friendship with this brother. What a joy!

Family, Not an Audience

The benefits of working at these encouraging conversations go way beyond the few minutes after church. Our gatherings are enriched, and our partnership with one another in the gospel is enhanced. We know each other as God's family, not as anonymous audience members at a performance.

Moreover, I'm convinced we don't "gossip the gospel" with our unbelieving neighbors and friends at least in part because we've never learned to talk about God and our Christian life, even with other Christians. How will we engage unbelievers about God's grace in Christ if we don't talk with our brothers and sisters about these great truths—especially after listening to a sermon together?

If your church gathering doesn't include coffee and refreshments after the service, let me encourage you to consider doing so. You'll set the pattern of staying afterward to minister to others, and, after a while, it will be quite normal.

Too costly? Going deeper in Christian friendship and stirring up one another to love and good deeds? I don't see much cost there.

Colin Marshall is the CEO of Vinegrowers and conducts their training and coaching ministries. Together with his wife, Jacquie, he has spent the past 30 years training men and women in the ministry of the gospel, both in university and local church contexts. He is a graduate of Moore Theological College, Sydney. He is the author of Growth Groups, a training course for small group leaders, and Passing the Baton, a handbook for ministry apprenticeship.

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  • KREEDO7

    Thank you for this article. Sometimes I feel quite alone in a post-service environment. The conversations tend to take every direction EXCEPT something of a gospel related topic. Often times I am hungry for a gospel/bible/christian/sermon related conversation but its like I am uncomfortable. It is possible to be "ashamed" of the gospel in church! Not because I am not up to it, but because of the cold reception I often experience. People who want more gospel centered post-service conversations are always perceived as trying to be "a holier than thou" self-righteous or judgmental or something similar. Would to God that this article is read and shared by many to effect change in our post-service conversations.

  • http://thesidos.blogspot.com/ Arthur Sido

    You raise a critical issue that is rarely spoken of, but desperately needs to be. The traditional concept we have of the church gathering is designed to keep the majority of Christians silent, turning them into passive observers rather than active participants (unless you consider dropping a check into the plate as being "active") in favor of relying on professionals. What we see in the New Testament is a dynamic gathering where every one of the brothers comes prepared, encouraged and expected to participate in a meaningful way (1 Cor 14:26). Indeed we gather together as the church to edify and encourage each other, not to "worship" or listen to a sermon or, for heavens sakes, not to fulfill some religious obligation, but rather we gather to encourage one another and stir one another to good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). We are quick to wave those verses around to guilt people into "going to church" but the purpose of the gathering is often missed. We lament how ineffective Christians are in ministering to the lost and yet we spend those precious hours of gathering doing everything but equipping the Body for the work of ministry.

    • Andrew

      Hi Arthur,

      You say that we are not there to worship or listen to sermons but these very things are given as parts of what God's people gather for.

      Heb 12:18-29, 1 Timothy 3:12-13, 2 Timothy 4:1-5, and on and on.

      Also please don't forget that God established the office of elder for his Church and only those with sound doctrine who are able to teach and who have a maturity of charachter are biblically qualified to occupy it. See 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and Ephesians 4.

      And then remember that Jesus commanded that just as those who ministered in the house of the Lord recieved their living from the people, so also should those who labor in the gospel. 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 cf. Gal. 6:6

      Of course we shouldn't forget the words of James 3:1 either.

      • http://thesidos.blogspot.com/ Arthur Sido

        Andrew, you quote a litany of verses but when you actually read them they have nothing to do with what I said. Paul told Timothy to preach the Word. Amen! Except that not what you are talking of. Timothy was not a vocational pastor, or even an elder as far as Scripture tells us. His preaching was not spending a week preparing a talk to give to the church, it was likely going to where the lost were and proclaiming Christ. Likewise Hebrews 12:18-29 isn't describing a traditional church meeting. Nor is 1 Tim 3:12-13. We so often read these passages through the lens of our traditions and just assume that what we see in our religious traditions must be what the Bible is speaking of because we cannot imagine it any other way, even when the text doesn't support what we have always been told.

        You also should read the entirety of what Paul wrote in 1 Cor 9 because a) Paul was also not a pastor as we understand it, he worked for a living and b) Paul describes being paid to minister to be a stumbling block to the Gospel and he described his reward as preaching the Gospel free of charge. It is tragic that we see 1 Cor 9 as a defense of paid ministry when it actually argues just the opposite.

        Finally as you read the description of elders you reference it is critical that Paul places far more weight on the character of a man than on "teaching" and also teaching in the NT was not monologue sermons as we never see a single example of that in the gathered church anywhere in Acts or Paul's letters. Even Ephesians 4 that you reference speaks of God giving the church elders to equip all of us for the work of ministry, not to be subcontractors that we pay to do the work of ministry on our behalf.

        • David Hoffelmeyer

          Hi Arthur-

          I resonate with what you're saying about the church gathering having more purpose than any one of its parts, and of the danger of professionalizing ministry. But I would caution you against too great a reaction against orthodox Christian tradition. For example, church meetings are certainly not about "preaching", but the preaching of the Word of God is a cornerstone of the life of the church.

          Also, the idea that Paul never took money is fallacious. How on earth did he survive while in prison? It was through the benevolence of other Christians like those at Philippi. To argue that he never took any money as a minister of the gospel is also an argument from silence. He certainly didn't accept money from the Corinthian church, but does that mean he never accepted money from anyone? Keep in mind that many scholars believe Paul's letter to the Romans was a support letter (zoom in on ch. 15-16)!

          While I share many of the very biblical values you touched on above, such as affirming the priesthood of all believers over and against a totally professionalized ministry, I cannot agree with the stark lines you are drawing. I'm open to any exegetical arguments you can raise that explicitly and universally forbid taking money as a minister of the gospel, but I'm doubtful that you can build much of a case.

          In sum, I agree that there needs to be continued reformation in our churches according to the Word of God so that every member is empowered and equipped for service, but I think forbidding ministers from working off funding is picking the wrong fight.

  • Andrew

    Sometimes it's hard to stay - there can be space issues, and it is usually lunch-time!

    What I have enjoyed at our church is using the weekly sermon as the basis of discussion at weekly small group meetings. The pastoral team creates discussion questions for each group, so the whole congregation is chewing on the same meat and God willing are growing together. :)

    • Ryan

      "What I have enjoyed at our church is using the weekly sermon as the basis of discussion at weekly small group meetings."

      I have known several churches who do this and it seems to me a great model. While small group leaders sometimes bemoan the lack of autonomy, it does give the church a sense of unity while allowing people to interact with the sermon in a meaningful way.

      It also allows people to pursue topics that are skimmed over in the sermon. For example, any time any message from Joshua is preached, the ethics of the conquest of Canaan and the God-sanctioned genocide is a HUGE elephant in the room, which often doesn't get touched on simply because the pastor hasn't got time to address both that and his main point. Small groups allow people to hash out those issues.

  • T. Webb

    Colin,

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for bringing up this topic. I know people who can wax eloquent on many a theological topic, but can't engage in "gospel conversation" with other believers at worship. I'm one of them. I wish more of us could do this! I wish more people would talk about this topic!!!

  • Ryan

    I agree and disagree.

    I agree because I do think that there needs to be more conversation about what happened at church.

    I disagree because if I've just had a powerful encounter with God, the last thing I want to do is say "Well, church is over, better go talk to everyone about it."

    This is actually one of my biggest pet peeves. As soon as the service is over, it's like "Okay, clear out, time for coffee and fellowship. Go talk to each other about your jobs and stuff." Sometimes this makes sense - either at small churches, where it's a rented space and you've only got it for a limited amount of time, or at big churches, where there's another service in 45 minutes - but that doesn't keep it from being frustrating. When I've just had the Spirit of God speak to me powerfully, I'm very sorry but I do not want to go "hang out" and "fellowship." I want to spend time alone with God.

    At the risk of sounding cynical, I almost feel as though many church services are constructed around the assumption that no one will powerfully encounter God.

    • Andrew

      "When I've just had the Spirit of God speak to me powerfully, I'm very sorry but I do not want to go "hang out" and "fellowship." I want to spend time alone with God."

      Could not agree more.

      The last two Sundays our pastor has encouraged the congregation not to rush out to the foyer, but to take some quiet time for prayer and reflection right where we sit.

      I thought this was a great idea. Especially since the last several sermons have really moved me, to tears really. God was speaking to me, and I am sure I wasn't the only one. When the sermon was over, I didn't want to get up, I just needed to spend time with God. Oh that every Sunday would be like that!

      • Ruth Li

        i have the same feeling, i am not very into "Fellowship hang-out"in church life, it does not mean i don't like the bro and sis or i don't like to share, but i prefer God's thing to secular entertainment which is expected to build so-called relationship. As is explained in Bible that the churchs are connected to become a whole through God, i care my spiritual growth as well as the fellows' too.

    • Drew Wright

      Ryan,

      I definitely understand where you are coming from. A lot of times it does seem like there is an implicit expectation that the Spirit is not going to move. Though I will humbly admit that I may be perceiving wrongly; a lot of places really do have time constraints or other logistical issues. Overall though, I think we could surely afford more space and time for really delving into the riches of abiding in the corporate gathering.

      However, I also want to point out that we live in a very individualistic culture (by which I am assuming we are both referencing some sort of Western cultural setting) that automatically gears us towards having personal, as opposed to corporate, experience. This is strictly from my own experience- but I find that there is ample time for me to grow in prayer and meditation as an individual throughout my week (and I am trying to cultivate this deeper with my fiance, so pray that this increases for us!) but what is genuinely lacking in my life is the building up of the corporate body. It seems so rare that I have a Gospel-saturated discussion with those who are in my church-family.

      That being said, I think this article is coming up against that "OK, Church is over, everyone go fellowship" attitude; at which fellowship is a code-word that all God-centered attention is at an end. It seems, as far as I can see it, to be speaking against that major break between service experience and general life. I believe its showing the massive disconnect between the spiritual activity going on in the service and the drift into the mundane afterwards. Yes, I would absolutely love to see people spending time in prayer and meditation in the setting of the post-service time; but even deeper I would love to see people galvanized to relish the Gospel in discussion. This sort of edification seems sorely lacking in most contexts (though I do know there is massive potential for it), and I think its something we are really, really missing out on.

      Ultimately, I have no problem with us talking about life, work, family, culture, etc. But what I absolutely DO see as a problem is when those things become more vital and prevalent than savoring the Gospel in our discussion as brothers and sisters in Christ.

    • Jesse

      'I disagree because if I've just had a powerful encounter with God, the last thing I want to do is say "Well, church is over, better go talk to everyone about it."'

      But that's the point- talking about it DOES encourage and lift people up and open up doors. If you're still wrestling through something then obviously finish that first. But by and large we should be sharing encounters with God with others, not keeping them to ourselves as a private matter. Again, generally speaking.

  • Ruth Li

    it is quite the common scene that many people are serving the church but not for God's work, and from these busy work they feel selfsatified with the flourishing members and activities. but a few can really know God's mind and what he really care, and more effort and attention are needed to approach God with ourselves in peace and then help others to know how to get to God too.It seems abstract and hard to deeply understand,but the real worth thing,which can be obtain in life experience and pure petition.

  • D Turner

    At the beginning of our bible study time we share our "fresh bread". This is what God has been teaching us through his word over the last week. This has really helped me to see how God is working in other people's lives and think about how he is working in me and made it more natural to share it with others.

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  • Chris

    Great article! I especially appreciate the What to Ask section as I often find this part more difficult.

    I get that I am now one of those pests you mentioned, but maybe your sentence about "pestering the preacher about something" should lead to another article on asking a pastor questions properly. As it stands, your article seems to be implying that I should be talking about the sermon to everyone but the pastor because only pests do that.

    Thanks,
    Chris

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  • Brent

    I really appreciate this post!

    Been thinking this for awhile now and have felt very discouraged because of it. At a former church that i was attending, i attempted to start conversations like these afterwards, only to receive blank stares and switches in topic of conversation. I finally came to decide that while this church was great at putting on a facade of friendliness, worship, etc., it could not back that up with a meaningful faith. I know some of the members well now and would say this is accurate. It is about the show, not the substance.

    Because this way of doing things is so natural to churches nowadays, they fall into it without challenging the presuppositions. Some such churches are full of great christians who could be getting so much more out of their communities than what they are.

    If we actually believe something, we talk about it, act for it, and share it with others. The way we do church today encourages people to come to a superficial faith, which in turn can perpetuate itself.

    • Melody

      Can I ask how many people that you tried to engage in conversation like this before you judged the whole place?

      I experienced this with people and I did not quit trying until I found a core of people that are always excited to talk about God. I say a core because I don't feel the need to keep searching though I'm sure that there are more.

      • Brent

        Hey Melody,
        Quite a few, but i didn't judge the whole place based on that. I decided to leave based on many other factors (such as a vicious behind the scenes divisive battle)as well. You are right that there very well might have been a core group to connect to that i never did meet, and so while i think my comments about the place are probably accurate overall, they don't reflect every person there.

  • http://www.jasonandkimseville.com Jason Seville

    Colin,
    Great, timely post. I'm not on staff at my church but had a burden for there to be an atmosphere developed where we go deeper--in reflection, discussion, and outreach--with the truth we're getting from the preached Word of God in the sermon. So, I created what we call the "DeeperDocument" that I post on our church website every Sunday night/Monday morning. Here's a link if you care to have a look: http://www.firstevan.org/goingdeeper

    This post is timely because my wife and I are having all the people in our discipleship group (representing 6 different churches) each do something similar with the sermon from their church THIS WEEK. I'm sending them this article now.

    Thanks again!

  • Alec Sands

    I enjoyed this post a lot! If I were to categorize myself (I'm biased of course) into the types of persons, I would be in the group that knows it's strange not to talk about the Gospel but follows suit with everyone else. It was great to read this. It's convicting, and I'm going to talk more about the message/spiritual life after the service! I think starting a small group after the service would be really awesome because then the message is fresh, and then we will have to time parse it out a bit and dig deeper.

    I have definitely fallen prey to the individualistic mindset of our day. Too often my walk with God is mine alone, and I include others in the personal ways that they did in Acts 2. If you have time, pray that this could change for me!

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  • http://eph5v2.wordpress.com Brian Mikul

    Have often thought about this strange activity after church services. Thanks for not only addressing it, but making some practical suggestions as well.

  • http://AnfinsenArt.blogspot.com Carol Allen Anfinsen

    There's never a problem at our church! If you get away without someone introducing themselves, welcoming you and inviting you back, you're invisible. You'll probably receive not only a warm handshake, but a hug. I belong to Church of the Cross on Daniel's Parkway in Fort Myers. Here we practice what we preach.

    Come on down! Love to have you, y'all.

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  • Kevin Braun

    Thanks for this article. I have been thinking very similar thoughts recently. As a result, for the first Sunday in April, we are planning an experiment with an idea in response to this problem. We normally have two services with adult and children Sunday school in between. Instead of adult SS, we're going to have a time of fellowship with "Fellowship Guide" handouts that contain suggestions for conversation and prayer, centered around a Scripture passage (drawn from the prior week's sermon). The guide is meant as an aid to help people get into "God-talk" and "spiritual conversations". I'd like to see us do this one Sunday every other month. We'll see... Perhaps this is an idea that others will find useful.

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  • http://www.iglesiacristianaelredentor.com Jason Boyle

    This article has now been translated into Spanish- please visit the page here and click on the link for this article-

    http://www.iglesiacristianaelredentor.com/recursos/articulos-de-interes/

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  • Cory Qualls

    I got a question I know Yall probably won't believe me but I talked with God. I've had three wise beings visit me and I've no clue on what Jesus went through and since I was told I would go through the same pain as Jesus Christ I would really appreciate any info Yall would be willing to give me. I mean I didn't even believe in God when this all happened to me around Christmas time of last year 2012. So any suggestions or opinions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you and have a nice day.