28 Dec 2014

Done With "Church as Usual"

Submitted by Stephen Winters

Define "church"

I am 63 years old and I am done with traditional church (Actually, I've been "done" for a number of years, but haven't thought of it in those terms before. (see References below)).I'm tired, long tired, of being preached "at" and taught "at", I want to be interacted "with". Enough of having preachers speaking at me, and enough of having Bible teachers teaching at me. Just enough!!!

I have gone to traditional church for over 40 years. During that time I've went to enumerable Sunday School classes, Bible studies, worship services, and heard countless sermons, etc.  I've also listened to Christian radio for most of those years, for 20 some years I listened to it 6 days a week for 8 hours a day. During these years I've probably listened to many hundreds, or thousands, of sermons and radio preachers, speakers, Christian music, etc. In recent years I've begun to realize that I have found no life, no reality in all those years of religious activity. None of all those sermons impacted me in any way. None of them made a difference in my "Christian" walk.

Although I still attend church (on and off) with my family, I'm really one of the "Done's", those who are done with church. (See links below)  Like I said, I still attend church with my family, I don't don't find any meaning or significance in the church service or church programs, etc. I pay the price of "sitting through the worship services" kind of like buying a ticket to see a movie or go to a ball game. I mainly go because I want to connect with other godly people. If I knew of somewhere else to meet and interact with people, I might go there instead.

Now, when "I" say that I am "done" with church, I don't mean that I am angry or upset at traditional church (as I used to be). I also don't mean that I will "never" go back. Rather, what I mean is that I have stopped trying to get any "message from God", or any "Biblical" instruction. Instead, I take it as I find it. I no longer try to see or make it into something that it is not. Rather, I'm there to interact (before and after the "worship service" and other programs) with other people of faith. 

What about God?

Someone might ask, ,"Stephen, if you are 'done' with church, (and they would usually imply "God's" church) then what about God? Isn't "church" (They mean God's "house") where you come to meet God and get to know about God? To that I would answer, "No". God is everywhere and, to those who are truly alive and aware, He makes Himself known through all of creation and through all of our life's experiences. For example, I've heard God speak through my own voice as I was correcting or instructing my child. After I had spoken I realized that those words were for me. In another example I heard God speak through my wife when she gave me an ultimatum, "If you do that, your child and I will be gone!" And there have been countless other examples where God spoke to me through each situation. I don't go somewhere to meet God, rather I live in him every moment of every Day.

" ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’"
Acts 17:28  New International Version (NIV)

Socrates questioning

Searching For Something Else

Now, when I say that I'm "done" with church, I can't stop there. I also have to be "for" something.  I've been listening to a lot of various educational YouTube videos lately. Among them are talks about "peer instruction" and "active learning". These have great interest to me. One of the speakers is Professor Eric Mazur, who has done great work in developing peer educational learning. (See links to his videos below) He used to be a college professor of physics who gave a lot of lectures, and even received high praise from his students. At one point he thought of himself as the world's best physics professor. In retrospect, he called that an illusion. He later found out that his students weren't learning much of anything from all of his brilliant lectures. He tells of how, once he learned the truth about his lectures, he dramatically changed his whole teaching style. He now is a facilitator of his students, who learn from each other. He says that his students learn  2 or 3 times as much as in his former method of lecturing. Nowadays, during his talks to other teachers, he takes a poll. He asks people what are they really good at, pick something that has been important in the career or their life. Once everyone has written that down (and thus committed to it) has has them next to write down how they became good at it. While his poll had 5 or 6 choices, I only remember these, but it's enough to give you an idea.

  • Trial and error
  • listened to a lecture
  • were an apprentice to a professional

From the dozens or hundreds of people in each of his audiences, typically only about 1 or 2% of the of the participants said that they learned their skill from listening to a lecture. Very few, almost none, learned from the lecture. Lecturing is a very ineffective way to try to teach anyone. And yet that is how colleges are set to teach. They teach by lecture.

In Peer Instruction, the focus is on the students instead of on the professor/teacher. This is how it should be. The students learn from each other. As Professor Mazur said, the students who know the lesson have just learned the lesson. It is still fresh in there minds what the struggles of learning are all about. They can much more easily help the other students understand, they can better explain it in a way that makes sense to the other students. On the other hand, the professor usually learned the lesson years ago and knows it very well. He often has a hard time understanding why the students "don't get it".

Let's Look at Churches

Now, let's take that a step further. Let us look at churches.

What are sermons? Sermons are just another version of a lecture. Sitting in rows listening to one speaker may have been needed or have been appropriate during the times when only one person was educated and knew how to read. Then that person could read or lecture to share his knowledge with those in his audience. This may have been a very useful to quickly share knowledge with a large amount of people.

What happens in Sunday School? In many Sunday schools they have a teacher up front "teaching", which is another version of a lecture. In other words, most churches "teach" in very ineffective methods. Beside being ineffective, most of the sermons and lessons I've heard are just plain boring. They are set up to "transfer knowledge" in a very ineffective way where there is one leader/speaker/pastor/etc. speaking to a passive audience. That method may have been necessary or useful centuries ago where most people didn't know how to read or write. But in this day and age most people who go to church know how to read and write. They watch TV, listen the radio, and read volumes of articles on the Internet. They no longer have to be preached to or read to get knowlege.

Where is the primary focus in most worship services? The whole structure of most churches pretty much send the message of, "sit down, be quiet, and listen to the nice preacher and to the performance that happens at the front of the church. Where should the focus be? Upon the body of Chist, upon the people who are normally sitting as spectators in the pews. Instead of being spectators, the congregation should be active participants, they should be learning from and interacting with one another.

The church structure of today treats the congregation as people who don't know anything. They must be taught the  same tired subjects over and over again.

"So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don't need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God." Heb 6:1 New Living Translation

It's time to stop treating the congregation like children, who need to be taught the same things over and over again.

 The focus is on the preacher/teacher, etc.

Applying Active Learning to the Church Setting

When I watched the videos of Professor Mazur telling about peer instruction I get excited. I think of how that could be applied to the church experience. The thought of the people in church (including myself) learning to participate

Some Churches Are Changing

 

References

Why So Many People are "Done" With Church

The Rise of the Done's (People who are "done" with church

Flipping the 40-Minute Sermon (Christianity Today web article)

Interactive Preaching: A Conversation between Two Pastors

An Epiphany for Lecture-Loving Pastors

Church in a Circle website (a website about a more paticatory form of church, similar to Professor Mazur's active learning method)

Peer Instruction for Active Learning - Eric Mazur 14 min YouTube Video

Eric Mazur, Harvard University. Peer Instruction 1 hour 19 min  YouTube Video

Peer Instruction (Eric Mazur) 1 hour 4 min (Implementing Peer Instruction)

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