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!

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