Before the week has gone I must mention an exhilarating experience in church last Sunday. The scheduled preacher was unable to preach so the music group opened up the service for anyone to speak about God-experiences in their lives. The music leader confessed he was apprehensive about whether any would speak (and some of us wondered about length, content, etc. etc!)
To our surprise seven people spoke clearly and effectively about their lives. One works with Street Pastors in the tough work of caring for troubled people in central Cambridge 10:00 pm - 4:00 am. She described her work and encouraged us to join her. Another told a remarkable story of a day when she was nearly killed by a herd of cows. Psalm 91 had begun the day in her Bible reading notes, and to her utter amazement was repeated after her ordeal by others who had no idea at all how this particular text was sharply relevant it was to her! Psalm 91 was then read: 'If you make the most High your dwelling- then no harm will befall you'. A couple of speakers shared particular texts which had challenged them, one was connected with a song we sang. Another, a Malaysian academic living in Cambridge talked about the previous evening when he had difficulty finding somewhere for a quiet meal in a Chinese restaurant only to discover (to his delight) he was seated next to someone just visiting Cambridge that day. He had not seen him for 10 years since they had been in seminary together. He marveled at a genuine God-incidence! Yet another spoke about an 83 year old lady who had just told him how she longed to know what God wanted her to do next, and how her father had been actively doing God's work well into his nineties.
With vitality and realism each story was told, honestly, eagerly and with embedded Scripture. Afterwards at least two other people said to me that they had stories to share too. It raised (at least) two important questions for preachers:
1) Just how many stories of God events that past week could have been told by that one congregation? They had truly witnessed God at work in genuine life experiences.
2) How wonderful it would be to collaborate with the congregation on the way of sermon preparation so that appropriate stories would form part of the sermon? How much would these genuine life experiences of hearers help ground the gospel.
Of course, my students know this is exactly what I push in my teaching and the new project A New Kind of Preacher!