I have just returned from a very lively Away Day. The attendees included several friends from the past when I used to be minister in central Cambridge. What thrilled me most were the young people present - three from Southend and another from Woodbridge. To see their animated faces was a delight. Afterwards the Southend trio came up to share their excitement about preaching. 'How much we need good preaching today!' said one. Oh yes!
I had a couple of lecture slots and a sermon to preach. In the first session I opened it up as I mentioned in my last post. I anticipated a range of concerns including:
personal, communication, congregation and culture. Actually, these proved to cover most comments.
A very interactive session began, unsurprisingly, with congregation - the difficulty of knowing a congregation when itinerant, or of knowing a group too well to be able to challenge small groups who need encouragement. How do you cope with breadth when a congregation has university theology professors at one end? (Treat them like hungry sheep, says I!) Because lay preaching is often itinerant there must be 'research' about the congregation if at all possible. Mind you,that's true for all of us when visiting another pulpit. Communication emerged strongly too as preachers expressed concern about being relevant, having appropriate illustrations and using technology properly. Questions of body language when delivering sermons opened up into debate, including the value of preaching without notes with connectedness. Culture change emerged in concerns about the lack of bible literacy, the changing communication styles and emphasis among young people on authenticity. Said one young person: 'When a preacher seems to be honest and vulnerable then it connects with us." And that led to observations about the need for personal integrity.
Were there surprises? We spent some time on the lectionary. About half those present were lectionary preachers which allowed us to consider some of the pros and cons of lectionary preaching. Of course, lectionary preaching not only keeps lay preachers fresh (preventing continual reuse of favourite sermons) but means the local church has a more balanced diet through the year. Other issues, like biblical interpretation were also raised.
I was encouraged by the serious intent in my afternoon session as we developed issues further. Actually, I witnessed serious intent throughout and felt much encouraged.