I grew up in church, which meant a lot of time spent listening to sermons. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good lecture now and then. I’ve heard many inspiring sermons during which I learned something which felt really relevant at the time.
However, given the large number of sermons I’ve sat through in my life, “many” doesn’t really add up to much.
In other words, I’ve wasted a large number of hours sitting in a pew, half-listening to yet another discourse on the same old stuff.
On the other hand, my current spiritual practice includes monthly attendance at a discussion group for local pagans. Even when we discuss topics we’ve covered before, the content is different. It’s discourse, an exchange of ideas, not a lecture. The point isn’t that one person knows a lot and the rest of us are there to absorb what that person deals out to us. We’re there to exchange ideas, ask questions, challenge each other’s ways of thinking, share our experiences.
A spiritual practice centered on wisdom being preached by a leader to a group of followers who seek understanding made much more sense in cultures which existed ages ago. It makes a lot less sense now, when literacy and access to documents and information is at an all-time high. Very few learning experiences these days are structured as lectures with no interaction, and socially significant rituals even less so. So why do we still conduct worship this way?
I would bet that one of the driving forces behind people leaving traditional churches comes from the fact that churches fail to have actual dialog with members and therefore fail to understand what they want to get out of their church membership. Preaching is a one way form of communication. Those who are expected to listen will only do so for so long if they don’t feel they have an opportunity to speak up and be heard. And those who only talk and never listen will find themselves with no followers and will fail to understand why, because they didn’t hear what people had to say as they left.
I have always looked to spirituality as a way to improve myself, to learn new ways of interacting with the world and expanding my understanding. Showing up once a week and sitting in a pew, listening to someone else tell me how to think and live is about obedience and indoctrination. It’s not the path towards understanding. It’s not the path towards becoming more.