Recently, Thom Rainer shared a few reasons for the possible demise of the Sunday evening service. Yesterday, Tim Challies chimed in from his perspective, suggesting that it could be linked to a diminished view of preaching, our amusement culture and the growth of amateur and professional sports, among others. But there’s one other reason I’d like to suggest:
A diminished view of discipleship and leadership development.
This has been a growing problem not only in the church but in the culture at large, despite it being one of the most oft-cited practices of good leaders (and all who’ve read a book on leadership said, “Amen”). Younger potential leaders need guidance from seasoned leaders—to learn from their experience (both positive and negative). And seasoned leaders do their most important work when they’re investing in those coming up behind them and ensuring that there are strong leaders to take the reins after they’ve retired or moved on to another opportunity.
Yet, despite the common knowledge that developing leaders is a good thing, this is missing in the cultures of many organizations—including churches.
This should never be. After all, we see a pretty strong emphasis on this kind of development in the New Testament. Although, you’re not going to find a verse saying, “older leaders, thou shalt raise up younger ones,” what you will find is Paul exhorting older men and women to invest in younger ones (Titus 2:1-6), Paul shepherding younger men like Timothy, whom he calls his “true child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2), appointing elders (Acts 14:23) and tasking his protégés to do likewise (Titus 1:5).
Going a little more broadly, this kind of investing in others is part and parcel with the great commission itself—we are to go and make disciples, teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded. This necessarily requires the older (or more mature) to train and teach the younger.
Factoring all that in, rather than think of it as leadership development, maybe it’s more helpful to see it as discipleship.
Back to Sunday evening services for a moment: what both Rainer and Challies mentioned is that many pastors simply don’t have time to prepare two different sermons for each Sunday. This is very true. The responsibilities pastors carry are great, and one of the most important is their proclaiming and teaching of the Bible. But no one says senior pastors have to be the ones preaching on Sunday evening.
Sunday night services are a prime opportunity for the training of younger preachers—men who have shown some aptitude, but need experience to both identify their strengths and confirm whether or not a calling to pastoral ministry exists. It’s also a positive way to disciple the congregation as a whole. By having someone else preach, even someone who isn’t super-experienced (and may preach a lemon or ten), the congregation is protected from developing a cult of personality (you don’t need to have a big church for this to happen). They’re learning to be discerning, as well as being reminded that they’re trust is to be in the Word, not in the words of a messenger.
These are just some of the practical values a Sunday evening service brings. While I don’t attend a church that has one (we meet in a public high school and it’s not included in our lease agreement), I have been invited to preach at other churches for their evening services. And every time, it’s been a really positive learning experience and (thankfully) the congregation leaves encouraged. The more I do it, the more I am grateful for the churches that continue to hold these services.
Now, obviously, the solution to the leadership development and discipleship issue isn’t just “bring back Sunday night services;” that would be far too simplistic a thing to suggest. But what it should make all of us consider is how are we intentionally investing in and discipling younger potential leaders—and, honestly, whether or not we’re doing it at all.