One of the challenges of being a pastor, or teacher, or someone who speaks in front of a large group is to figure out how to best engage everyone in that event. This includes whether one is preaching, or teaching, or lecturing. So for example, when you preach, how do you engage the whole audience, and help them enter into the proclamation of God’s Word? I know that is the work of the Holy Spirit so I will not assume that I bear all of that responsibility. But as preachers of the Word we have to consider how we communicate at times. Or as a teacher in a classroom, how do you not just simply lecture, but engage the students so that they feel empowered?
I have been thinking about these things a lot. I have thought aloud about this subject here as well as in some minor areas of other posts. And I don’t have any set in stone answers.
I suppose that part of my wondering on this subject is that I have been in “summer mode” with my college group, which means we shrink from a couple hundred students to about 20-30. That has drastically changed the dynmaic and has allowed for more “dialogue” in the teaching moment (I know we could distinguish between preaching and teaching, but that’s not where I am going at this point). So now I’m faced with the question, that when we do return to our school year and I preach on Wednesday nights, how do I simply not just “lecture” or “teach” or “proclaim”, without providing opportunities for students to engage, to feel empowered, to ask questions.
College is a time of life where a lot of things are up for grabs, especially in regards to one’s faith, and if I do not provide opportunities for them to wrestle with that and to ask questions, etc., then they will simply do it somewhere else, and possibly in a community that does not care about God or His Word, or who does not hold some of the same values.
I know that the word “conversation” has sort of been the butt of some jokes as many joke about the “emergent movement” and whether it is a “movement” or a “conversation.” And some of this has taken away from the value of the word conversation and it’s importance in life, especially in the college community that would love to do nothing more than sit around with friends and converse.
So how does one proclaim and teach and converse the Word of God with others? What does that look like? These are some of the things I am wondering about as school gets closer and I have some ideas, and I am excited about this year, but it is always a challenge. And what is really the role of the college ministry? If they attend church on Sunday and hear the proclamation of God’s Word from the pulpit, then should the Wednesday night group be more teaching? Should it be more conversation, or should that be for their small group Bible studies midweek? Or should it be reserved for my coffee time with students? I don’t think there is one answer to this. I think God has given us a lot of freedom to proclaim His Word and to share the gospel in a variety of contexts and ways (I Cor. 9:19-24).
I greatly enjoyed coming across these words from Karl Barth, spoken in 1963. One has to remember the context of his life at this time as well. He was 78 years old and he had already published hundreds and hundreds of works, written over 700 sermons as well as written the Church Dogmatics, which is 14 Volumes of small print..over 6 million words, and 9,185 pages. That’s nine times as long as long as Calvin’s Institutes and almost twice as long as Aquinas’ Summa. So maybe he was ready for conversation. He also seems to be speaking of lecturing here, and not preaching.
I believe that the time of long lectures, when someone spoke for an hour and the audience was condemned to sit and listen to whatever they were given, is…perhaps over–not just for me but for everyone. What we need in theology and in the church is–Oh, I don’t want to use that wretched word again–“conversations”. What I mean is simply that we should talk together and try to arrive at answers together, instead of someone trying to present something to other people as though the Holy Spirit has dictated it to him in person.
So the question for me is more about what a midweek college ministry should look like? Teaching, preaching, small group, conversation.? Or all of the above? Or various types of these communications at different times and in different formats over the course of the year?