I have always been struck by the description of the Berean Jews in Acts 17. Verse 11 says, "Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." The phrase that particularly stands out to me is this, "they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
There has been a tendency in churches over the years for the "talking head" in the front of the worship service to command such attention and respect that no one ever questions anything that comes from his or her mouth. Of course, there are certainly people out there who question EVERYTHING that comes out of his or her mouth, but for the most part, there has been a push towards hearing a message which generally is received warmly and to which responses such as "Great sermon" or "Wonderful message" greet the pastor.
Over the past few years, I realized that the best compliment that anyone can pay to me after a sermon is to live out the message that was preached. Sure, it's nice to hear people affirm the preparation and delivery of the message, but if sermons don't result in life change and transformation, I wonder if I am really delivering the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Berean Christians heard the message from Paul and even though he had a reputation that preceded his presence, they still searched the Scriptures to make sure that he was not leading them astray. In other words, they were biblically literate, a change from how some of our churches have become. They wanted to make sure that the message they were hearing was consistent with the Bible.
Honestly, the current state of the church cannot solely be blamed upon pastor or congregation. I am in a denomination that requires and even demands high expectations of its pastors and this can sometimes lead to a haughtiness from pastors, thinking that they are "expert Christians" rather than fellow sojourners, journeying along faith's pathway through life.
At the same time, those who sit in the congregation can sit back and expect that the responsibility of expositing Scripture lies only with the pastor and he or she is being paid to do the hard work of understanding and interpreting Scripture. Elsewhere in Paul's letters, he makes reference to those who are still drinking milk rather than eating solid food (1 Corinthians). Discipleship is not something that is given to us, it isn't a one time thing, it's a journey on which we embark. It takes time, it takes maturation, and it takes accountability.
When was the last time that you heard a sermon and went back and checked to make sure that everything you heard was consistent with Scripture? Did you expect the sermon to be the end or the means to an end? Was the sermon the appetizer to the full course meal which you would feed yourself throughout the week or was it equivalent to an all-you-can-eat buffet where you fast for a few days and then gorge yourself enough to last for days afterwards?
I want whatever message that God gives me to bring to a congregation to be a message that whets their appetite, invoking a desire to search the Scriptures and grow deeper in their walk with Christ. Depth doesn't necessarily come as a result of sermons, it's what we do with the sermons that we hear, afterwards. Food for thought....in more ways than one.