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.
I posted that quote by Karl Barth back in August of 2006 when I was really wrestling over the topic of preaching. And I’m still wrestling over this topic.
You can see some of my thoughts on this topic below:
- Thinking Out Loud, Dialogue in Preaching & A Word from Karl Barth
- Preaching, teaching, lecturing, dialogue or conversation?
- The Myth of Expository Preaching
- More on expository preaching
But it just seems like I can hardly sit through a sermon these days. This is probably more a statement of my own heart and disposition right now than it is anything about a sermon. But maybe also, I’m just tired of the way we have been preaching sermons for years and years. My students are probably pretty sick of the way that I go about preaching sermons as well, that’s why I have been wrestling over the topic for years.
But what you have is a vicious cycle that continually reinforces itself. You have the tradition of the typical expository sermon, presented in three steps or points, coupled with the expectation from the audience to hear that same method of presentation. But while this cycle continues, I often get the sense, and often hear the conversation, that both the preacher and the congregation are wanting something different. We just don’t know how to get out of the cycle. Or maybe we do, but we just don’t have the courage to try something different, take some risks, fail at some things. So what you have instead, is people literally bored out of their minds every Sunday while someone up front speaks at them in a very non-engaging style. And what you probably have as well is speakers and pastors up front bored out of their minds as well.
As I mentioned before, my former student, Brian Kiley, who is now a college pastor, has been posting some fascinating stuff on the topic of preaching. Read his posts Am I a Speacher? and Implication vs. Application. In these posts, Brian is reflecting on Doug Pagitt’s book, Preaching Re-Imagined.
Drew Sams is trying to figure this out as well, as he is in the midst of a blogging series on the use of story in youth ministry.
I’m obviously a firm believer in preaching….I’m just wondering if we need to change some of our methods. I know I need to. So let me leave you with another quote from Barth about the power of preaching.
This is why the movement of the Word as preaching was so crucial to his interpretation of the Word as threefold event. By the logic of his doctrine of the Word, it was only as Christian preaching that the Word remains ongoing. The Word becomes present as preaching in the same way that the Holy Spirit makes God present to us. That is, just as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, the Word as preaching proceeds from revelation and scripture. Barth’s point was not that the revelatory and scriptural forms of the Word cannot be made present. Rather, just as the Father and Son are made present only through the movement of the Spirit, the Word as revelation and scripture are made present “in, with, and under” preaching and only through preaching.
By “preaching” Barth meant more than Sunday sermonizing or even the general ministerial work of pastors. Preaching included all forms of genuine Christian witness, including, “whatever we all ‘preach’ to ourselves in the quiet or our own rooms.” It included even the work of theologians, insofar as they understood and practiced theology in a ministry of the Word of God and therefore a form of preaching, he argued. (The Barthian Revolt in Modern Theology: Theology Without Weapons, pp.78)
I would love to hear your thoughts on preaching? What do you think? Is it just me, or are you feeling the same thing?