Friday, February 26, 2010

Reflections on dialog

I look forward to debriefing with the churches' worship renewal group in a few days time. So many thoughts have gone through my mind. Where should I begin? Actually my first reaction was that we had experienced a lively, interactive bible study together. In fact, a couple of people said it seemed like a well-organized bible study helped by preparation the previous day.

So, if it seemed like a bible study - how different is that from preaching? Frankly, much speaching can seem like one person doing a bible study anyway! Is there any significant difference between bible study and preaching?

Perhaps it's wise to ask first what constitutes biblical preaching. When I wrote 360degree preaching I began by asking myself what preaching's main characteristics are. I ended up with four. (You may disagree with the ones I chose but they at least give some criteria).

PROPHETIC - means the "today-ness" of divine reality when Christian preachers respond to Scripture rather like Old Testament prophets did when they heard the word of the Lord and said: "Listen to the word of the Lord." Of course for contemporary preachers this means high responsibility for declaring God's revelation given in Christ and in the Scriptures. Preachers are therefore God's sent-persons whose sense of "call" involves total commitment to preach. Paul's apostleship was tested and authenticated through changed lives of his hearers (2 Cor 3:1-3). I understand preaching therefore involves a God empowered spiritual event.

TRANSFORMATIONAL - Read the New Testament and you see amazement or antagonism are outcomes of preaching. Never neutrality! Individuals are transformed as in Acts 2:37,41. But long-term effects are also seen in the building of communities. 1 Cor 14:3 see three outcomes: building up, encouragement and consolation. God uses preaching to change lives and form communities.

INCARNATIONAL - Preachers are themselves important because through their own words, experiences and flesh good news is told. Preachers must therefore stand under Scripture and the Lordsip of Christ and also in the contemporary world to embody God's Word in their words and persons.

DIVERSE - nearly 33 Greek words in the New Testament can be translated preaching. They include heralding, evangelising, teaching, arguing. Dialog (Acts 17:17; 18;4; 19:8; 20:9; 24:25) can mean converse and discuss with others. These express a rich variety of preaching practices and warn about making generalizations about what is right or not.

Doug's Progressional Implicatory Dialog immediately connects with the last point, doesn't it? Just because it is so different from our normal experience we must be very careful not to reject on those grounds. Increasingly preachers are using dialog in different ways to involve more worshipers in listening and interpreting God's word. One of the strongest aspects of Doug's visit was the fresh experience of working and listening together. It was wonderful.

But what about the other three descriptions of preaching? How did Progressional Implicatory Dialog relate to the prophetic, transformational and incarnational aspects of preaching? I'm still working on this. Any other insights?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Doug Pagitt (4)

I imagine that most readers want to know what happened on Sunday! How on earth did the "Progressional Implicatory Dialog" work out?

Three congregations joined together to fill the sanctuary, with music led by the contemporary service leaders (- so some songs were new to the traditional crowd!) After gathering with praise, an extended time allowed people excitedly to greet each other. My wife and I happily joined in. Both pastors spoke in the first part of the service and helped set the scene. But I could sense apprehension. After a time of confession, more singing and offering prayers of the people, we reached the moment for the "sermon."

Winsomely Doug introduced himself - imagining us asking questions about him like - will he yell at us and when this will end? He walked right up the center aisle in the middle of the congregation. He explained we were going to share a "sermon pot-luck." That the 70 who had met the previous day were helping him preach, with five people especially ready to join in, but that anyone would be able to share. I was interested about what Scripture text he would use. In the bulletin Acts 2:42-47 and 1 Pet. 2:4-10 were the set readings - would he use just these verses (because of time limitations!)?

NO. He divided the church into two, and asked people on one side to read through the whole of Acts 2, and on the other side - 1 Pet:2. So much happened! Each of us will remember different moments. One stand-out memory is when Doug explained he first heard the Acts 2 story in 1983. He asked (in sequence) how many first heard it in the 80's, 70's, 60's 50's, 40's, 30's....hands kept going up. Then he asked about the 90's and the 2000's. A baby caught his attention - 2010! he said. And then, a man stood up and said he had only been a Christian a short time and heard it very recently. "I'm a baby Christian" he said. "Just look at the continuing hearing of this story" Doug exclaimed. "And it's being told today!"

Each time a set of verses from Acts 2 came on the screen a different person would read. It was open to's a long chapter and many voices were heard (including my wife's!) After each section Doug invited insights about those few verses. Some similar points were raised from the previous day. One of the five was invited to stand and shared his comment. He wondered at Peter - such an ordinary man in contrast to the clever people thronging Jerusalem, yet empowered by the Holy Spirit to claim that Joel's OT prophecy was now being fulfilled. One after another identified key points as the chapter unfolded - the abnormal nature of the Pentecost event, the birthing of a new community by the Holy Spirit , and the qualities of new life together were all emphasized.

After 30 plus minutes on Acts 2, Doug suggested that maybe time was up and we should close without considering 1 Peter 2. Objections were made and so, for another half hour, the same process followed through this chapter. The other four speakers all shared. I was amazed at the number of people who had not been present on Saturday who participated throughout.

The hour plus passed rapidly, with Doug continuing to draw connections between the two chapters, and gently shepherding responses.

I am sure everyone had views about what happened! Let me share some of my surprises

1. The amount of sheer Scripture text we read out together, and then worked through. Personally, I felt to have dealt with one chapter would have been enough....yet there seemed real desire to work through the whole two chapters.
2. The degree of participation - yes some were more used to sharing out loud, but there was desire from so many. As someone said later: "You couldn't doze off...something was happening all the time. I have never been so involved in a sermon!"
3. The skilful leadership - Doug allowed every single person who volunteered to speak, without any sense of hurry. He guided the flow, interjecting from time-to-time, reinforcing points made. And at the end he kept asking: "Does anyone else want to share?"

Afterwards over lunch we shared overall responses - positive lessons and questions that we had. I joined with Doug in trying to answer questions raised. Among the positive lessons I heard many echoed my own surprises. A list included -
It was an opportunity to weave Scripture into my life
The Word was made alive and real
Different voices gave different view-points
Freedom to talk and bring questions
Wider personal experience (rather than just the pastor)
Trust in the Spirit
Like Pentecost we heard many voices.

But were there also some worries and concerns? I'm still reflecting! I'll post some more shortly.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Doug Pagitt (3)

Having enthusiastically set out some reasons for "Progressional Implicatory Dialog," Doug then moved us into our third session to put it into practice. The 70 of us present were going to model what happens in his own church (every week for the past 10 years). Our dialog would prepare the "sermon" for the whole church. In Doug's church this happens on Tuesday night prior to the following Sunday.

Church leaders had given him two passages of Scripture: Acts 2:42-47 and 1 Pet. 2:4-10. I guess they may have expected him to choose one or the other!

What happened was extraordinary! He not only took both passages but insisted that we engage with Acts chapters 1-3 and the whole letter of 1 Peter. He read 2 Tim 3:16 describing how Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, and said: "We must let the Bible speak for itself." He emphasized the responsibility of being hospitable so that what others say is received for the benefit of all.

The room was divided in halves. Sitting at tables of 5-7, we were told to read out loud around our tables (all tables reading at the same time) the whole of these chapters - some 8 in all. Each person read as much as was comfortable, and then someone else followed on.

Having read right through these chapters, Doug then engaged us with those issues that emerged as important. First, with Acts 1-3 many people spoke about aspects that struck them - from describing it as Luke's second book, with explanation about the significance of Pentecost, to personal responses about, for example, how the many different languages in Acts 2 resonated with many voices reading out loud. Many large/smaller points were made. Second, with 1 Peter 1-5, many people shared what was important for them.

All the time, Doug was moving between the two sides of the room and connecting these two passages - particularly in the person of Peter (so prominent in both) and in the contrast between the birth of the church and 1 Peter's context of suffering.

I didn't count how many people spoke. Of course, everyone spoke around the tables. But I estimated between one fifth and one fourth had interacted out loud, and all of us were heavily involved. Over 2 hours just sped by.

I was not alone in wondering just how this would translate into the following morning's sermon. At the end of the session Doug asked for 5 volunteers who would be willing to share in the preaching next day. At the conclusion he met with them. However, he said it would be open to ANYONE to share in the preaching the next day!

I said it was extraordinary. Why?
1) Such huge chunks of Scripture were involved. Never had I been in a situation where 8 chapters were being considered at once.
2) Participants were so willingly involved. Fortunately, the church has already undertaken bible work like this so some were prepared. But the quality of sharing - its seriousness and openness was startling.
3) The promise that the whole preaching event the next day would be open to anyone? Just how could this work?

I have a busy teaching day today, but I'll post on the Sunday service shortly!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Doug Pagitt (2)

After introduction to his big critique of speaching, Session 2 began movingly with Doug's own faith story, when a friend took him to see a Passion play, and he realized this story of Christ was to do with his own story. He emphasized how important it is for us to relate our own stories to God's narrative. Indeed, at one point he described preaching as the "narration of communal experience." Several times he also highlighted how church should be the place for questions and openness to others' stories. All the time we were nudging closer to the third session when we would be involved in progressional implicatory dialog ourselves!

He identified four necessary qualifications for undertaking this dialog.
1) Priesthood of all believers - realy means that through Christ we can all approach God with confidence. He warned about how easily we exclude others.
2) Trust people - he challenged why there is a lack of trust among ourselves, when God trusts himself to thousands of people using their first names throughout Scripture. Sure, being open to thers runs risks, but believers (of all people) should be willing to trust others out of conviction that all can contribute.
3) Role of pastor - he questioned the "expert" view that sets pastors apart. Telling us how Calvin wrote the Institutes aged 19-24, he asked how many churches would have even allowed him to serve in any capacity until he was much older.
4) Prophetic - he retold Nathan's confrontation with David as a classic confrontation which worked by implication. David got the point!

Again, some immediate reflections:

1. Does the priesthood of all believers displace the need for some to be called and gifted in specific leadership positions? (Eph 4:7-13). While not dimishing responsibilities of every member to take their part as members of Christ's body, are some - like preachers/ prophets/teachers - not identified for leadership?

2. Trust - perhaps this is missing in many congregations. I guess power struggles often mean people are wary of losing control and are unprepared to risk trusting others. The more I think about it, the more I recognize how much genuine trust among people demonstrates love and maturity. It is very significant evidence of spiritual formation (grown by the Holy Spirit) and it doesn't happen naturally. It really doesn't. So, people being willing to listen to God's word with openess together requires commitment to Scripture's authority and spiritual sensitivity to others.

3. The role of pastor always needs examination. No pastors should assert themselves over others, increasing passivityof the priesthood of all believers and smothering possibilities of body growth.

4. Prophetic - one of the most interesting aspects because prophetic preaching has authority only when grounded in biblical understanding of how God speaks through his messengers. Its transformational power (Isa 66:11) is often characterized by content and style, as it confronts people with social justice issues. It's rarely comfortable to hear, as it probes, disturbs and energizes people to be different. I like a quote from Walter Brueggemann - it is "the evoking of an alternative community that knows it is about different things in different ways...prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate despair so that new futures can be believed in and embraced by us" (The Prophetic Imagination page 111).

Giving empowerment to everyone to speak must never endanger the primary voice of God's word addressing humankind. Personal stories and individual's devotional responses have legitimacy, but should never be at the expense of God's word challenging and transforming his people in often difficult ways, should they?

Over 70 of us had gathered to hear Doug...after supper we prepared to put his ideas into action. More in my next posting!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Doug Pagitt (1)

I promised I'd share more about the bold weekend with Doug Pagitt. There's so much I could say about him and his presentation. Tall, big, dynamic, full of humor, personally disclosing, highly approachable, continually interactive, and technically assured, he led three memorable sessions yesterday.

I expected his presentations to be attractive and polished but I was surprised by how much he wove together. On screen we met his family -with the adoption of two of his children acting as a powerful metaphor for his vision for the church. Of course, we saw his church family too and, throughout the sessions, were introduced to different members and their stories. And to keep things moving we encountered video Desperate Housewives, Bruce Springsteen and a surprise encounter with a gorilla.

Let me briefly review his first session. His main focus was on the kind of church communities we are seeking to become, and the role that preaching takes in the creation of such communities. So, community building was primary and preaching was examined in light of whether it was working to build community or not. While emphasizing how crucially important preaching, he warned that it's not working! It needs to be released from the bondage of the speech-making act.

He lamented that much preaching is SPEACHING = speech-preaching that, bluntly, doesn't build communities. Many think that preaching's problems could be fixed if only there were better hearers, methods, preachers and content. However, Pagitt says that speaching doesn't work because it has a relationship problem. Speaching expects preachers to have all the content and then to TELL the hearers whom, it is assumed, have heard nothing themselves from Scripture, and have no insights to contribute. Speaching therefore means stand-alone preachers, with minimal relationship with hearers totally failing to listen to Scripture together!

To counter this, Pagitt proposes a "Progressional Implicatory Dialog" by which preachers engage in a process with hearers that listens to God's word together. Rather than one person applying the Bible to life in a generic way, dialog enables preacher and listeners together to draw out implications for their living together. He made it plain that he wanted us to spend much time in the Bible together in the next sessions.

Of course, he gives much more detail about these ideas in his book Preaching Re-Imagined.

At the end of this first session I had several reflections:
1. Is building church community the number one issue for today's church? I want to say yes. Because in today's individualistic and selfish culture, the vision of people belonging together in Christ as brothers and sisters to glorify God and serve their neighbors is almost lost. However, community formation involves much more than just preaching - it involves how we worship together as gathered communities (which involves preaching of course) and then live that out as missionaries during the week. It calls us to mature together in our character and mission.
2. Does the church suffer from speaching? Sadly, I have to agree that too much current preaching fails to engage people actively in hearing God's word.
3. Is speaching's main problem a relationship problem? I think other problems also afllict current preaching. I have written elsewhere about the lack of holistic engagement with Scripture, poverty of Holy Spirit power, and poor pastoring. But Pagitt is right that failure to engage with others in listening to Scripture does endanger its power.
4. Is it fair to lump all solo preaching as speaching? The more I reflect on preaching the more excited I become about its range. Just recently I have written about how community formation requires preaching that is: evangelistic, doctrinal, celebrative, liturgical, narrative, pastoral, leadership, prophetic and missional. Each kind of preaching has a significant role at different points of building community, and we must be careful not to squeeze them all into one box.
5. Just how much does the preacher/leader's personality count? From the start I realized we were in for a treat because of the winsome and skilful way that Doug dealt with us all. Without a doubt his modeling was of a high order. But, what about the rest of us called to preach?

I will move onto Session 2, shortly. As you can tell, I was really stimulated. Some of you reading this may well have been there. What were your reflections on this session? And any others reading along - please chip in with your views!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Bold Weekend Ahead

Over the past few months I have been working with leaders who are interested in renewing preaching and worship within three congregations in Oak Lawn. They received a Lilly Grant (through the Calvin Institute of Worship) to investigate how there might be greater participation of the congregation in the planning and actions of worship. On taking the claim "we believe in the priesthood of all believers" really seriously! They have asked: "Wouldn't it be wonderful if more people could participate in sermon preparation and collaborate in its outcomes within worship and community life, Sundays through Saturdays?" Oh, yeah!

This coming weekend the congregations are taking a bold step. Doug Pagitt of Solomon's Porch, Minneapolis is coming to conduct a workshop all Saturday afternoon and early evening, followed by a joint Sunday service, when he will model his new way of preaching. Doug has written a provocative book: Preaching Reimagined, in which we calls for a different kind of preaching that helps create communities. He is unhappy with much traditional preaching - speaching he calls it - because he claims that it just doesn't build communities. Rather, he want to encourage "progressional dialogue," developing healthy relationships between presenter and listeners with open discussion during the sermon.

I have never met or seen Doug in action but will be involved on a panel with him, as well helping guide the Sunday congregation in their responses to his visit. Recently, I challenged the church not only to come to the whole weekend event, but to come with openness asking: "Are there things here we can learn from, and even some things we might do ourselves?"

It's going to be a bold weekend, especially for the traditional congregation (the largest Sunday crowd). I look forward to telling you something of the outcome. And I promise to go with openness myself!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Snow and an Earthquake!

Please forgive the absence of postings recently. One or two friends have asked about my health! No, I am chugging along fairly healthily but with a more than usually busy February, which has bogged me down.

However, a couple of happenings deserve mention, though many of you have shared the first - SNOW! Carol and I traveled down to Muncie, Indiana, last week in order for me to speak to the students at Taylor University in their main Friday chapel, conduct a pastors' conference on Saturday, and preach twice at First Baptist Church, Muncie on the Sunday. Snow was forecast but we managed the journey in sunshine. However, on the next day, scheduled for my university visit, the storm (that created havoc in the mid-west through to the east coast) began throwing snow at us. We drove carefully to the campus and were welcomed by a wonderfully enthusiastic (non-compulsory) mass of students. All the time, snow was falling. Later I taught in a class "Participating in Expository Bible teaching" with the chaplain. Driving back through ever-thickening snow we wondered what Saturday would bring. Waking early to prepare for the Pastors' Conference I saw snow a foot deep, driven into deeper drifts by the wind, piled up around the house. The conference was canceled! All the plans that we made came to nought! It wakes you up to how easily our plans can be overturned. We are so vulnerable in many ways.

The second wake-up call was of a different order. In the early hours of last Wednesday morning I was woken out of deep sleep by the whole house being shaken. Instantly I knew it was an earthquake...though I had never been through one before. It was extraordinary in its suddeness and power - shaking everything! Of 3.8 magnitude (which is minute compared with Haiti) its epicenter was in the next county to ours. Apparently we live on top of the New Madrid Fault so earthquakes may occur again.

It is sobering to remember human limitations in the face of great natural forces. And amazing to know that God, whose name is majestic in all the earth, cares for us. We really marvel: "What is man that you are mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:4)