You don’t need to hear the whole sermon each week

Over on Facebook, John Barach says that people need to stop worrying about their children distracting them from hearing the whole sermon in a church service:

I sometimes tell parents, “If God had intended you to hear a whole sermon every Sunday, he wouldn’t have given you children.”

And after all, the sermon isn’t the main thing on Sunday, with some extras before and after. The service is a whole. Even if you’re in and out with the kiddos or distracted by caring for them during the sermon so that you can’t remember anything the pastor was saying, you’re still likely going to be able to participate in much of the rest of the service.

That is, you’re going to enter God’s courts with thanksgiving and songs of praise, kneel and confess your sins, be raised up and forgiven by God through the minister’s declaration, sing (at least some of) the songs, hear (at least some of) the passages of Scripture read, pray (at least some of) the prayers, present your offerings to God, feast at the Lord’s Table, and receive his blessing.

Sure, it would be nice on top of all that to be able to hear more than a few minutes of the sermon without distraction. But even if you don’t, you – and your children – are worshiping God. He didn’t call you to sit through a talk, take notes, track with everything that’s being said, and be able to narrate the whole thing back afterwards. He called you to worship.

And you did, together with your children.

Sermons are good things, and much is to be gained from hearing the exposition of Scripture each Sunday. But we have little hope of growing into disciples of Christ if our formation depends solely on an unhindered intake of intellectual content, not least because most of us do not function in that way. And that, very simply, is why the Church has a liturgy. It is no accident that throughout the ages, guided by the Spirit, the Church has given such careful attention to its liturgy and practices, because these things train us and shape us as followers of Christ. Without devaluing preaching, the wisdom of the Church down through history has been that being at church on Sunday and participating in the liturgy is just as important as hearing a sermon.

What’s more, even when it makes it harder for us to keep focused, by keeping our children in church, we are training them to be worshipers and disciples as they observe and model our enacting of the faith. And what can be more important than that?

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