The Context
Last week I posted a blog, Becoming A Heretic on Church Ministry. I was playing off what Seth Godin says in his new book Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us. You can find my review of the book at Leadership Network.

Godin says:

Challenging the status quo requires a committment, both public and private. It involves reaching out to others and putting yourideas on the line. (Or pinning your Ninety-five Theses to the church door). (pp. 49)

and later in the book, Godin says:

Religion and faith are often confused. Someone who opposes faith is called an atheist and widely reviled. But we don’t have a common word for someone who opposes a particular religion.

Heretic will have to do.

If faith is the foundation of a belief system, then religion is the facade and the landscaping. It’s easy to get caught up in the foibles of a corporate culture and the systems that have been built over time, but they have nothing at all to do with the faith that built the system in the first place.

Change is made by people, by leaders who are proud to be called heretics because their faith is never in question. (pp. 84)

My Thought
I wrote in that post that,

In the next several posts I would like to challenge, raise questions, debate some areas of Church ministry that need some unorthodox thinking in them. Maybe we need more heretics in our midst to help us re-think/re-imagine how the Church could be.

These are areas that I have struggled with a long time as I know many of you have, many of you are beginning to, and others will just think, well, that’s heretical thinking. I’m simply bringing them up to raise discussion and conversation, not because I have all the answers to these. That’s why I want your input.

The Sermon
And so I want to begin with The Sermon. At the time I was especially thinking about the sermon as it has traditionally taken form…a man on stage, engaged in a one way dialogue, speaking at an audience for about 30-45 minutes, without much or any participation or involvement of those in the pew.

My issue with the sermon does not lie in the sermon itself. We see very well known passages of Scripture were sermons are preached (i.e. Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount, or Peter at Pentecost, etc.). Nor are my issues just with the pastor…this is the way we were taught to preach and teach. But as a body of Christ we have also pressed upon it certain expectations–entertainment, education, passive observation, charisma, etc. We have essentially become theater goers that sit in our chair, expecting to be entertained, then afterwards giving our praise or criticism based upon the “performance.”

Now remember. This is my attempt at raising some questions that I am struggling with, not necessarily ones that I have answers for. But in the process I hope to stoke some of your own thinking and responses and learn from that. It could be my own issues and projections, which some of it is. It could be my feelings of not being engaged, which may say more about me than the person, or the sermon.

But some of my feelings and thoughts come now, in a season where I just finished preaching at least 2-3 times a month for the last 7 years. And now I have a lot of questions.

I began to wonder, is this what the sermon is meant to be? Can we not re-imagine it in a new form?

Kierkegaard on Devotional Addresses and Theater Going
In the magnificent book by Soren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing
, Kierkegaard says the following, taken from Chapter 12: What Then Must I Do? The Listener’s Role in a Devotional Address.

Now forget this light talk about art. Alas, in regard to things spiritual, the foolishness of many is this, that they in the secular sense look upon the speaker as an actor, and the listeners as theatergoers who are to pass judgment upon the artist. But the speaker is not the actor — not in the remotest sense. No, the speaker is the prompter. There are no mere theatergoers present, for each listener will be looking into his own heart. The stage is eternity, and the listener, if he is the true listener (and if he is not, he is at fault) stands before God during the talk. The prompter whispers to the actor what he is to say, but the actor’s repetition of it is the main concern — is the solemn charm of the art. The speaker whispers the word to the listeners. But the main concern is earnestness: that the listeners by themselves, with themselves, and to themselves, in the silence before God, may speak with the help of this address.

The address is not given for the speaker’s sake, in order that men may praise or blame him. The listener’s repetition of it is what is aimed at. If the speaker has the responsibility for what he whispers, then the listener has an equally great responsibility not to fall short in his task. In the theater, the play is staged before an audience who are called theatergoers; but at the devotional address, God himself is present. In the most earnest sense, God is the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to: hence here the customary audience is wanting. The speaker is then the prompter, and the listener stands openly before God. The listener, if I may say so, is the actor, who in all truth acts before God.

Oh, let us never forget this, let us not reduce the spiritual to the worldly. Even though we may earnestly think of the spiritual and the worldly together, let us forever distinguish between them. As soon as the spiritual is looked upon in worldly fashion (an observation for which one has the same foolishness to thank as that which would look upon the prompter in a play as more important than the actor) then the speaker becomes an actor and the listeners become critical theatergoers. In the same way, from the secular point of view, the devotional address is simply held for a group of attenders and God is no more present than he is in the theater. God’s presence is the decisive thing that changes all. As soon as God is present, each man in the presence of God has the task of paying attention to himself. The speaker must see that during the address he pays attention to himself, to what he says; the listener, that during the address he pays attention to himself, to how he listens, and whether during the address he, in his inner self, secretly talks with God. If this were not done, then the listeners would be presuming to share God’s task with him, God and the listeners together would watch the speaker and pass judgment upon him. So it is with the true relationship of speaker and listener in a devotional address.

My Thoughts, Questions, Ideas
I know that preaching and teaching are two very different things, but I still have questions, thoughts and ideas that may cause the blurring of these lines a bit.

  1. Team Preaching Approach: I really like this model of preaching. It does several things.  It allows for different voices to be heard within the community.  It allows the listeners to develop the discipline of hearing others preach who have different delivery, content and ability.  It can prevent the cult mentality that often develops in churches where everything revolves around the one preacher…his/her cult of personality.  This is best seen in the drop of attendance at some churches when Pastor A is not preaching.  This is just not beneficial for the congregation, but also for the preachers.  It gives the preachers a longer period to prepare for a sermon, allowing them to do other things in the church community than sitting in solitude preparing the sermon all week.  It also protects the pastor from I think an inflated sense of narcissim that can often develop when they alone are the voice, or the object of the congregation’s preaching and spiritual development.  There is a reason that pastor’s are significantly off the chart on the MMPI when it comes to narcissistic behavior and thinking.
  2. Participatory Body: I believe that there needs to be more participation among the congregation on a Sunday during the worship service.  There are automatic concerns about time frames, what to do with large churches.  But participation can take on many forms.  More people (who aren’t on staff or leaders) could participate in the prayers or stories that surround, or are a part of the sermon.  The pastor could elicit more responses from the congregation in the form of questions, or thoughts during the delivery (Twitter is being used in some churches in this area…I think this is fascinating). People from the audience can participate in scripture reading or reflection upon what has just been preached.
  3. The Elevation of the Sermon, and the Need to Focus on Other Elements: How is it that the sermon has become the central focus of everything in the life of the Church?  Is not the music, the prayer, the service, the small groups, etc. part of the communication of the gospel in the life of the Church.  Most worship planning meetings begin with the sermon and everything revolves around that.  The question usually begins with, “How can we fit music, and prayer, and videos around the sermon?”  God’s Word is vital, but isn’t the sermon only one way to communicate God’s Word, and if so, how has that become the immovable piece of worship planning?  What would it look like to revolve the preaching of God’s Word around the music, or stories from the congregation, or prayer that day.  Rather than just simply beginning with the sermon.
  4. Sermon Time/Length: This is just so subjective of an element, but worth mentioning. Because there are some sermons you can listen to all day, and others that go 20 minutes too long.  But I wonder if we cut our sermons shorter, we could allow for more response and participation from the congregation.  They could gather in groups even after the sermon is delivered.  Too many times things are cut short or left out due to the length of the sermon.  How many times have you seen such important things as prayer completely taken out at the last minute cause the pastor went 45 minutes leaving no time for anything else?  I’m guilty of doing it myself all the time as well.
  5. The 3-5-7 Points, How To Sermon: I wonder if we as preachers have helped condition people to often not think for themselves.  They are so used to coming to church and hearing advice on how to do something, that anytime we leave the how to steps out they are paralyzed.  I wonder if we have gotten away from the mystery and some of the parable style teaching of Jesus that often makes you scratch your head and say, “What?”  Giving how to advice and laid out steps does not lead to transformation of people’s lives in my experience, at least not internally.  But rather, engaging them in God’s Word and allowing them to wrestle with the meaning and action for their own lives is powerful.

Those are just some thoughts I have.  I’m curious if you have any feedback, questions, concerns, ideas, etc.

Ultimately, I have begun to wonder if the pastor, in his/her preaching is rather a facilitator of some sorts, rather than “rock star” leading the show?  How do we as preachers best facilitate the congregation, engaging them in the participation of God’s Word, and walking them and us in a path of humility, rather than a sublime ego feeding, entertaining experience?

I have a lot of work to do in this area myself. It’s hard to re-think and re-imagine something you were taught one way, and have done pretty much one way for 7 years and more. Sometimes it’s just easier to do what we have always known, rather than struggle through transition, changes and the unknown.