This last Saturday Challies posted this well-meaning piece (mostly a quote from Expository Learning by Ken Ramey) suggesting some ways that Christians can prepare in advance to engage with the preached word on Sunday mornings. The top suggestion: be home on Saturday night. The reason is apparently largely in suggestion #4, which I'll quote: "Get a good night's sleep so you can be sharp and energetic to worship and serve God. It's hard to listen when you're nodding off."
I've heard Piper and others suggest this sort of thing before and never really questioned it. Seems like its pretty wise advice, doesn't it? But these days I've been listening a lot to some of the missional types, who I suspect would read Challies' post with disdain. And in this case, I agree with them.
Here is the main problem: Saturday night is one of the two nights in our culture where the most non-Christians are the most likely to be spending time with others. So the advice effectively is, "Sacrifice half of our culture's primary social time so you can be ready to listen to preaching."
For many Christians, this will unfortunately not seem like much of a sacrifice because we aren't friends with non-Christians. And "many Christians" is not needlessly harsh there. I remember reading They Like Jesus But Not the Church and feeling the sting of Dan Kimball asking me to count how many non-Christians I was really friends with. Ouch. Not many.
Of course as a pastor this requires extra effort simply because I don't work with non-believers. But I'm confident that the problem isn't just with pastors- we are sadly stuck in our Christian social circles.
The strangest thing about Challies' post is how ironically Catholic the theology is. Pay attention again to the purpose for getting a good night's sleep: "...so you can be sharp and energetic to worship and serve God." Worship and serve? Really? By listening to a sermon? I know we're emphasizing Scripture and all, but it sounds a bit like going to church to get our grace, doesn't it?
Well of course, all of life is meant to be worship, including listening to a sermon. So it qualifies as worship. But this is exactly the point that the advice misses: all of life is meant to be worship, not just Sunday morning. Dare I say that what happens on Sunday morning is in fact not as worshipful as spending our lives reaching lost people?
I simply find it crazy to suggest that what our churches need is more emphasis on listening to sermons. Great preaching is more accessible than it has ever been, even if your pastor isn't a great preacher.
What we do need is more emphasis on living worshipful lives between Sundays, giving ourselves for the hell-bound lost all around us. Using Saturday night to prepare for Sunday mornings ultimately sacrifices living as the Church on Saturday night. Why? So we can make sure to be alert at church on Sunday morning. Why? So we can hear a sermon about what it means to be the Church between Sundays.
So don't be lazy or foolish on Saturday nights- it is good to be alert at church. But all of heaven rejoices at the return of a single lost person. I for one can't remember a passage about heaven rejoicing at a single well-listened to sermon.