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A plea for Sunday evening services

July 2014 | by Roger Ellsworth

We are living in very dark and critical times. We need answers. The Bible alone contains the answers we need. It tells us why we are the way we are, and what God has done in and through his Son, Jesus Christ, to change us.

We need more of the Bible. We need it in large doses. This makes me wonder why so many pastors and churches are so determined to provide less and less of what we so urgently need.

Why are we cutting back on services that provide the preaching and teaching of God’s Word? Would we approve of a doctor cutting back on essential care for his patients? The primary manifestation of the cutting back mentality here in the United States is either the complete elimination of Sunday night services or the exchange of preaching on those nights for other activities.

One sermon?

Surprisingly enough, preachers themselves often lead the way in doing away with Sunday evening services or in replacing preaching with something else. One of the reasons that is increasingly given is that the pastor can effectively preach only one sermon a week.

Charles Spurgeon, Archibald Brown and Martyn Lloyd-Jones would be shocked to hear this, as would a multitude of other bygone pulpiteers!

Someone has come up with this formula: For every minute that the preacher preaches, he must spend at least one hour in preparation; so, if the preacher preaches for 30 minutes, he must give 30 hours of study to that sermon. And if the pastor must devote at least 30 hours each week to the preparation of one sermon, he, given all his other pastoral tasks, simply cannot adequately prepare two or three sermons a week.

It sounds reasonable if we accept the formula, but why do we accept it? What is the basis for it?

Many of today’s preachers argue that it is a mistake to cite, as I have done, the preachers of long ago. They insist that preachers today are much busier. And the question that begs to be answered is: busy doing what?

If pastors would get into their studies earlier, reduce the amount of time they spend ‘surfing’ the internet, stop attending time-wasting meetings, lessen the amount of time they spend chatting with cronies and minimise their time on ‘Facebook’, they might well find that they can produce more than one sermon a week. Pastors and church members are good these days at cluttering up their lives with unnecessary things and dignifying it all with the word ‘busy’.

Family time?

Another common excuse for the ‘one sermon a week’ approach is that pastors and church members must have time to spend with their families. Indeed they do! But we must never use our families to excuse ourselves from giving priority to the God who gave us those families.

Furthermore, on what grounds have we decided that Sunday evening should be reserved for the family? Why not choose another evening or two? I fear if we could peek into the homes of many pastors and church members on Sunday evenings, we would see ‘family time’ for what it is: Dad glued to the TV, Mom out shopping and the youngsters in their rooms ‘texting’ their friends. We would do well to remember that the family, as important as it is, can itself be an idol (Matthew 10:37).

There is yet another excuse for the ‘one sermon a week’ approach, namely, that most church members simply will not attend on Sunday evening. My response is: let us preach to those who will attend!

If pastors would give priority to the Sunday evening service, instead of ‘going through the motions’, they might find that they have more hearers than they originally expected. If individual churches think that they cannot muster enough attendance to sustain a Sunday evening service, let them band together with other churches for that purpose.

The attendance would be better, and the pastors of those churches could lighten the burden of sermon preparation by sharing the Sunday evening preaching.

I spent 50 years as a pastor, preaching on Sunday mornings and evenings and teaching the Bible on Wednesday evenings. As I explored the Scriptures during those years, I often found myself saying, ‘There is so much to cover and so little time to do it’. Cutting out preaching and teaching on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings reduces by two-thirds the opportunities to cover the vast riches of the Bible.

Some pastors and church members explain their lack of interest in Sunday evening services by saying, ‘We don’t have to have them. The Bible doesn’t command that we have them’. But the question is not, ‘Why do we have to have them?’ It is rather, ‘Why don’t we want to have them?’

In light of the Lord Jesus taking on the cross the wrath we deserve for our sins, why don’t we want more of the things of God? In the light of the cross, why do we view worship as a burdensome duty instead of a delightful privilege?

We sorely need God to graciously send a mighty revival to his churches and pastors. Heaven-sent revival would cause us to earnestly desire both God’s house and his Word. Revival would change our ‘We don’t have to’ to ‘We want to’. Let us be praying for revival.

One hour?

In addition to giving congregations more opportunities to hear the Word of God, Sunday evening services help us keep the Lord’s Day holy. If we meet only on Sunday mornings, we will soon find our Sunday afternoons to be filled with many thoughts and activities that are unrelated to God.

In a recent article entitled ‘Why I love an evening service’, Tim Challies suggests that the Sunday morning and Sunday evening services provide ‘bookends’ for the Lord’s Day, and, in his words, ‘having these bookends around the day encourages the best uses of the Lord’s Day, while discouraging the less significant uses. Knowing that you will have to leave the house before the football game ends does wonders to uproot any real desire to watch football’.

One of the most urgent needs of this day is to recover the teaching of the Lord’s Day, which we have turned into the ‘Lord’s hour’ — spend an hour in church on Sunday morning, and you can be through with God for the rest of the day!

We may well ask why God’s day should be shorter than the other six? Why are we so eager to be quickly done with the things of God and so eager to return to the things of the world? Is it because we actually love the world more than we do the Lord?

And what about the world of unbelievers? Would it not be a powerful testimony to them if they were to see church parking lots filled to capacity on Sunday evenings? Conversely, does not the sight of empty parking lots and unlit church buildings on Sunday evenings cause unbelievers to conclude that there is no need for them to take Christianity seriously, because even Christians don’t take it seriously?

Roger Ellsworth

The author is a pastor and conference speaker, who has authored books for Day One, Evangelical Press and Banner of Truth.

 

 

 

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Evangelistic