Should We Be able to Interupt a Sermon?

In a previous post I described the five ways Christians can evidence emerging characteristics. One of them was to “emerge ecclesiologically.” This is the way I described it:

This characterizes an attempt or desire to return to some traditional elements of the Christian faith that draw upon a more experience based worship. Many times this will be evidenced by a less formal structure of gatherings or formal church time, allowing freedom of expression without the traditional restraints of more program oriented gatherings.


  • Less tendency to have a traditional (post-reformation) church program structure
  • Movement toward house churches
  • Disdain for mega-churches
  • Lord’s supper/Eucharist practiced every week
  • Artwork as expressions of faith
  • Candles and incense
  • Traditional prayers and creeds
  • Prayer walks

Here is a quote that I found interested out of Stories of Emergence. In speaking about today’s typical church service, the author says:

“Today’s modern service is orchestrated so nothing disturbing, uncomfortable, controversial, or shocking occurs. The music is edited to eliminate mediocre musicians or off-key singer. Solo numbers are assigned to the best. Prayer requests are screened or relegated to the bulletin where they can be carefully worded. Testimonies are screened to guarantee they won’t make anyone uncomfortable or go on for too long. They sermon is inviolate. No interruptions are allowed, questions can’t be asked, assumptions can’t be challenged, disagreements can’t be voiced.” (Stories of Emergence, p. 17)

A few questions:

  • Do you think that the church service should be set up in such a way where disturbing, uncomfortable, controversial, or shocking events occur or are facilitated? What does this look like?
  • Do you think that people who can’t really sing should be allowed to perform a solo?
  • Do you think prayer requests about struggles with pornography, sex-addiction, and other potentially embarrassing items should be screened?
  • Do you think that sermons should be interruptable? Or should we just forgo the traditional sermon in favor of round table discussions.

I am interested in what you have to say. Maybe you agree with with quote, maybe you don’t. I think it puts forth some interesting propositions, but what does it look like in the end? And, is the end better than the beginning? How so?

Believe me, I love to think through things such as this. But, to me, it seems that the emergers’ proposed short-comings of the church, as described above, are somewhat short-sited and passionately charged without either a solution nor a real understanding of the reason why things are done the way they are done.

I could be wrong. What are your thoughts. Do we need to change the way church service is done?

21 Responses to “Should We Be able to Interupt a Sermon?”

  1. 1 Corinthians I believe would state we are to voice disagreements or ask questions in private or to the side after the service is over.

    In 1 Corinthians it states that God is a god of order and that there is a proper way to conduct in public as an church and as a member in that church when services are being conducted.

    There are other scriptures that state that a preacher is to be given his due respect. However, the scripture clearly teaches that they are not above rebuke or correction or questioning.

    We are to conduct our selves in a humble and loving manner when we do.

  2. Good questions! In reaction to the mega-church way of running a gathering, what do you actually do with these sticky problems? My 2 cents:

    I’ve been in gatherings where “shocking” things were facilitated. Can we not do that? Also, please, please don’t give people who can’t sing a mic. As for screening prayer requests and other sharing, anyone suggesting that option probably hasn’t seen the consequences first hand…

    I don’t know if there are good method answers to these questions. The formal gathering would have to be pretty different from the ground up.

  3. Don’t change the service if you want it to remain a “service”. I don’t interrupt the mechanic when he’s servicing my car. I don’t take the plates from a waiter who’s serving me dinner. And if I’m showing up to receive (a wafer, a worship experience or a wordy lecture), then I should sit there and receive it.

    Now, if you’re talking about a christian meeting of the ecclesia, I might have a different answer.

    By the way, Anglican & Catholic services have this over most protestants. They have “celebrants” and “respondants”. Just like tennis! One offers the service and the other responds.

    But seriously… No, I don’t believe christian gatherings should go out of their way to invite things that would be “disturbing, uncomfortable, controversial, or shocking”. Then again, the typical formal structure is done to clamp down on all potential of anything that might remotely lead to those things.

    Wall-E illustrated what can happen when we systematize everything. What I saw in that movie was that the company created systematization precisely to remove human error. But they removed the entire human element and created drones.

    On a side note, Michael. I don’t know why but I’m honestly drawn to your posts. Every time I read one, I find myself naturally engaged by your words. Often I’m skimming through my reader and the passage that catches my attention turns out to be you. So I guess you’re stuck with me! ;)

    Anyway, these are my ideas on the topic. What say you in “response”? :)

  4. Hi Michael,

    I find this post interesting. As a penticostal evangelical pseudo emerger ( too long, I know), I believe that there are some things that may have merit on the list. I think there is some merit to screening testimonies. Not because Im worried about the content being offensive, but because some testimonies are given by people who really have nothing to say. I grew up in a Penticostal church, where testimonies were a regular part of the worship service. People were given the opportunity to to tell the congregation about something God blessed them with during the week. Many of them were really great testimonies that encouraged people. Most however were not much more than making comments like, ” Giving honor to God, whos the head of my life, giving honor to the ministers on the rostrum (?), to the pastor, and friends. Truly I thank the Lord for being here, my life health strength….” You get the idea.

    On the issue of soloists being talented, I think its as important to have a person who is qualified to minister in music as it is to have a person qualfied to minister the Word of God. The Bible says that when David played his harp skillfully, the evil spirit left Saul.

    Lastly, I dont know about the questions during a sermon. I see potential problems with it, but I also think there may be some merit for those who either dont attend a Sunday School type activity, or for churches that dont have a time period devoted to Christian Education.

    I think as church leadership however, we should be much more concerned with the direction the Holy Spirit is leading our services. Many churches have such a rigid structure, there is very little place for the Holy Spirit to minister, which is unfortunate because He can do it alot better than we can. When the Holy Spirit is really in charge the skill of the singer will shine regardless of talent, the testimonies will edify the church, and Gods word will minister and touch peoples lives regardless of whether or not people can ask questions or not. Thats the place I want to be as a leader. Not concerned about my program, but in the end, what the Spirit of the Lord has planned for our time of worship.

  5. Michael,

    The idea of an open style of worship and praise can be very appealing. Certainly nobody wants to be accused of hindering the work of the Holy Spirit in any way during a worship service.

    However what often seems to happen is the exact opposite of this. In college I attended a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church and each week they had an opportunity for testimonies. Granted it was a very small church but invariably it was the same two people each week that had a testimony. Each time their testimonies focussed on their latest struggles with the Devil. It was nothing embarrassing or sinful just the Devil seemed to target these people for special torment. For example one week the wife went on for several minutes how the Devil had made her husband turn the wrong way up a one way street. She was convinced the Devil was trying to kill them, but luckily God sent an angel in the form of another driver who stopped and backed out of the one way street so they could go on their way. A perhaps more mundane explanation such as they were both in the 80s and shouldn’t have been driving wasn’t proferred.

    My point is that free worship services, I think Miles was hinting at this, can tend to be dominated by a few people with opinions and theologies that aren’t necessarily shared by others. This perhaps can lead to confusion in some and in worse cases dissension. Not only to mention that it takes up time that could actually be more productively used elsewhere in the service.


  6. C Michael Patton August 14, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    I agree. I approach each service that wasting people’s time is the last thing I want to do. Isn’t time a stewardship that we should make the most of?

  7. I would like to throw out something that has always stuck out to me from the scriptures.

    As I look through the times when worship is mention in the bible it appears to me that it is usually following a revelation of God’s truth. (ex Nehemiah ch9, or in the NT after Jesus calmed the sea Mathew 14, the ascension Luke 24) It seems like our example again and again is that as they were exposed to the Truth of God, and that truth birthed worship.

    Yet our normal service has “worship” leading up to the revelation of God’s truth.

    I would love to know what you think.

    Jon J

  8. Shouldn’t the purpose of worship service be deeper than simply trying to shock, disturb, or present a novelty? The standard of evaluation presumed by the author is itself faulty. That’s why his examples are so muddled.

  9. The message that I get from reading 1Cor. 14:26-40 is that all the
    events of the worship service ought to be done “decently and in order”
    (v. 40). The part of this passage that deals with speaking in a tounge
    tells me that no information should be presented which cannot be verified
    by the hearers. I suggest from v. 29 that those who speak should also
    be open to the judgement of the listeners.
    So should a church member be allowed to interupt a sermon? If I am
    reading the passage in 1Cor. 14 correctly, I would say yes, if it is done
    for edification and not disruption.

  10. Concerning whether the sermon should be interupted with a Q&A time et. al. I believe you have to take in the who the preacher is. Some preachers would be good at this while others horrible. You would need a minister that could think quickly think on his feet. Not every minister can have that ability.

  11. I do not want my preacher to be a “shock jock”, but there are passages in the bible that many find uncomfortable or controversial in today’s world. I expect those to be addressed, the truth in them confronted, and our failings convicted. If the approach is following the bible, I have no issue with how uncomfortable that might make me fgeel at a given time; rather I am grateful to hav pointed out to me where I might be falling short of God’s word.

    Worship should be about bowing down, kneeling before God, submitting to Him. When it becomes about us, any of us, I have a problem with that. The form does not trouble me; but the substance of worship might.

  12. We were part of a congregation for several years where there was open dialogue during a teaching or message. It worked quite well overall, and the interaction resulted in growth and community. The emphasis of the service was placed on that idea of community and of sharing our burdens with each other. So the core time was sharing prayer requests and praying for each other. The congregation acted like a family.

    Particularly regarding the sermon, if the time is not designated as one man standing on the alter preaching, then an “interruption” wouldn’t be of concern. Certainly, if I went to a traditional service today and asked the pastor/preacher to clarify that last interpretation of what Paul wrote to the Galatians, that would be an interruption. But if you do away with the formality, and set the sermon up in a way to interact with the congregation, then you wouldn’t have interruptions but participation from the body.

    Now, you can label the congregation I mentioned above, or even myself, whatever you like. And I know even saying that will make many traditional Christian folks say, “Yep. He’s emergent.” But the bottom line is the traditional way the majority of evangelical Christianity conducts services is very much tradition and very little Christianity. But that’s just my 2 cents.

  13. In the church where I am, we do not have a traditional sermon. Instead, we have what would be considered, in most other places, a testimony time for about 1.5 hours each Lord’s Day.

    All the believers are encouraged during the week to come with some content to share for the encouragement and building-up of the others. Despite being small (<100 people) we do not have one or two dominant speakers. Usually 20+ people share something each week. Their speaking is usually from a combination of the Bible and commentaries with a dash of personal experience thrown in. There are some members who rarely speak (once a year or so.) But, in general everyone participates.

    Each week, to facilitate this, we have a daily devotional book that most of us in the congregation read. Further, we have recently started a reading schedule for a commentary. This is read less widely, but there are a few households who get into this material as well and they have shown great benefit.

    We usually do not have a problem with people sharing inappropriate personal details. The only time I have heard of the elders asking someone to leave was when he was making divisive accusations against another member of the congregation (I was out of town that day.) We do have some people with idiosyncratic interpretations of Scripture, but our general policy is toleration of things that are not outright heretical. And I have watched at least one case improve over time.

    As far as solos by people who can’t sing, our order of worship is a little different. We do not have solo singing in general. Nor do we have a pre-set list of hymns. Instead, during the meeting, one can request that we sing a particular hymn from the hymnal. Then we all turn there and sing it. If no one knows the hymn, sometimes the person who requested it will try to teach it. (This is our unique occasion of solo singing.)

    There is no encouragement of shocking or disturbing things. Rather, there is a commitment on the part of all the attendees to order. We take turns sharing and seldom interrupt. (Though at times, someone will interject a comment while someone else is speaking.) The hymn requesting is also done in a turn-based manner. Similarly, when we pray, we take turns. Occasionally two people will start speaking at the same time, but in 14 years, I have only seen one occasion where one did not stop and wait for the other one to finish. (In that occasion, everyone waited for them to finish, then we continued on as if nothing had happened.)

    However, this type of meeting did not come out of nowhere. Instead, the churches who practice it have been experimenting and laboring since the 1930’s to build up a culture of church practice which was closer to what we saw in the Scripture. We started the all-speaking meeting in the 1980’s and it took several years of practice and training of the congregations for us to be able to carry it out. Now, newcomers can just follow what they see others doing. However, if you have never seen anyone doing it, it would be much more difficult.

    The benefits of this type of meeting are several-fold. First, topics are covered from the life-perspective of several different members. Second, when you listen, you retain only a little. When you speak, you retain much more. Third, there is a need to spend time getting into the Bible during the week in order to have something to speak. Fourth, we do not lose the speaking of those trained in theology – the elders speak also, and can speak for 20 minutes if they like. Fifth, the elders (and the rest of the congregation) can get some sense of the general state of the church from the testimonies – and adjust their speaking to take care of issues that are not clear or that need more emphasis. This is in addition to the normal channel of one-on-one shepherding.


    One might consider that this is only one congregation, and it is not doable elsewhere. However, I have seen this practiced in several congregations in both the USA and in other countries. It is a workable and sustainable model for the practice of church meetings.

  14. Michael:

    I think somehow you are missing the point. Before making those questions to emergers some other questions most be made at first:

    1- Why are emergers trying to modify the present services structure?

    2- Does exist biblical reasons to belive first christians did their services in a different fashion than we do it today? if the answer is yes, does this different approch to services had a positive impact on early church?, do we need such an impact in order to influence our culture today as they did?

    A more profound approach on this issue is needed on your side. I am used to the excelence you display on your posts. What do you think?

  15. Caveats first

    I’m not as smart and educated as most folks on this board. But I am interested in this issue, so take what I say as from a neophyte.

    I didn’t read everyones comments. So, I’m sorry if this tracks over what others have said.

    End caveats.

    Let me back up a bit on the questions. The latest trends in the church, as far as mainstream structures go, are about creating connections and relationships in the pew. I believe church leaders have long known that a Sunday service is a one-way, two-dimensional aspect of Christianity. To accommodate for this we have increased our willingness, or at least opportunities, for people to “get involved” and participate in ministry. We have also adopted the small group models. These are among other things.

    For some these have and are working. But for others they are merely an extension of the same stale structure. They are manufactured or artificial constructs to “facilitate relationships.” In other words, they ain’t natural.

    But man has been built to have three different types of connections — man to God, man to man and man to himself. Perhaps one might add a fourth which would be man to the environment.

    How do we, as Christians, do these? Which, to me, really gets at the heart of your questions.

    The assumptions underlying your questions (at least thats what I’m seeing in them, I apologize if this is not the case) is to start with the service and modify it. Then ask the questions about whether these modifications are good.

    For me the whole paradigm has to be scraped. Yep, scraped. And when I say for me, I literally mean for me. I don’t put this out as a theological position. Its just where I’m at right now. Have mercy on me.

    I start with the believers I have made natural, real and deep relationships with over the years. Yes, some through a structured system of church, but mainly just from meeting people in different circumstances.

    This is my sphere of influence, this is my circle, this is my community, this is the body to me right now.

    We as a group usually do things throughout the year together. We stay in constant communication with each other. And we arrange one-on-one situations as well.

    Through all this Christ is interwoven in all that we do. He comes up in our conversations, we quote scriptures, we pray for each other, we challenge each other, we sometimes have to confront each other and we bare the burdens of each other.

    I have been a believer for 17 years. And it hasn’t been until recently, that I’ve finally started to feel both spiritual and real at the same time. Not with my believing friends (I’ve always felt natural there), but with non-believers. I am who I am. I have a beer, perhaps use a profane word, talk about how hot that chick was. But also talk about my faith without pretense, worry and any facade. No mask. No fig leaf. Just me. Like it or not. I don’t care. I’ve finally been able to share my testimony with people at work without feeling like “I’m doing IT.”

    For me it is about those connections I guess. I really don’t care about that other junk.

    P.S. Wow, I really didn’t expect this comment to go this route. And I’m sorry it went so long.

  16. One of the problems we have in our time is that we do not understand what the worship service or worship is. So it is no surprise that there are calls for something different.

    We need to begin with the fact that a worship service is not intend to give us a warm, fuzzy, content and happy feeling. That may happen and often does when true worship happens. But the main focus, intention, point is to give worship to God PERIOD!!!(emphasis added).

    From the Old Testament to the New you do not find an instance where worship was intended to build up a believer. Like I said before it may be a side effect but it is never the primary purpose.

    I hear it all the time that a christian goes to worship to be feed. Worship is not being feed but going to God and giving to back to Him from what He has provided.

    And since it is for God we need to conduct ourselves in a manner that honors him and as commanded in scripture is orderly.

    I am not in favor of a system that controls every aspect and allows no time or room for what is going on to sink in. As I mentioned before one of the secondary purposes of the worship services is the effect that true worship has on others.

    There needs to be a worship service, a prayer service and a service for study of the bible. And all three need to be in each church. Oh and the last two are never to be pushed to small groups.

    Small groups are important and should be apart of each church but they should never take the place of services that are part of the function of the church.

  17. I am not sure what the Emergent Church is, the last new popular movement I was explained about was the CCM…or Church Community Movement. Now I have attended a variety of churches and not all were designed with the same worship structure.

    Many churches in the south allow for anyone who wants to sing to sing…”he that hath a psalm let him sing”. It did not matter to them who was singing. Then I saw a some churches where there was a soloist, but no one seemed genuinely affected emotionally by the song. I have been in “formal” and “informal” so I can see there are many ideas regarding the proper way of worship. And most were following the teachings of their traditions.

    The two best examples from the Bible are when Solomon dedicated the temple and the singers and musicians were so in tune, the power of God came down as a cloud and it was so heavy they could not stand anymore under it because the power was so great.

    The other example is the Upper Room. Incidentally they had the same number of people in each instance. 120. But the fundamental idea in both was that they were in agreement to worship and unity to worship. Without unity, there cannot be effective corporeal worship as a body. But worship should be an individual part of our own daily life.

    The posting of prayer lists…this is something my church has never done. Our pastor has always asked in church if someone needs a request to be made public, and also if there are unspoken requests. This allows the individual at that moment to make a petition. These are again corporeal prayers. We need to make prayer a part of our daily life, but at least this gives a person an opportunity. We are part of the corporeal Body of Christ.

    Now I know in some churches there are the small groups. This is something I can agree with to a small degree. It should never be a replacement for the appointed time to worship corporeal. But I can very well understand if a person who has job keeps them from being able to be in the regular service. We forget that in our homes…we are small groups and we should in our homes worship and study and converse with God as families should.

  18. was I using corporeal or should the word be corporal? I meant to say “collectively as one body”

  19. When you take the eucharist celebration out of the church, nothing make sense–why are we all facing the same way? What is this supposed to be for? When do we know it is over? Why go to church once a week?

    Growing up Southern Baptist, the Sermon was the climax of the service. Now attending an Episcopal church, the Body and Blood of Jesus is the climax of the service–the sermon is usually a 10-15 interpretation of the Gospel reading, nothing more. And then, just in case someone’s said something heretical, we recite the creed directly following it: “We believe…”

    If you *really* want to inject some controversy into your service, use the Lectionary. Then you have to have read all of Scripture, even the parts you don’t like. It seems like every other Sunday we read Scripture in church that makes everyone squirm. And we don’t get to gloss it over, get to hide it–we sit there and listen and say “The Word of the Lord–Thanks Be To God.”

    The one word that evangelicals and emergents cannot accept is the idea of “obedience”–of submitting yourself to others. Becoming someone else’s slave makes us writhe. Everyone wants to start their own church, everyone wants to design church, everyone wants to write a book about how church ought to be–no one wants to submit to the Body of Christ. No one wants to accept the Church! Jesus’ body is never good enough for us. It’s never acceptable–it’s got too many sinners, too much folly, too many mistakes.

    When Emergent Church folks can wash the feet of James Dobson, when James Dobson can wash the feet of Gene Robinson, when Gene Robinson washes the feet of the third world fundamentalists…

  20. Round tables, Bible study groups, are much, much better, at some point, for many of us.

Leave a Reply