Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Preaching Truism (4)

I was struck by the comment to my last posting:
Tragically, some audiences have arrived at the mistaken conclusion that the spiritual depth of the message is determined by the pattern. Thus, a sermon in a more exegetical format is deemed to be filled with spiritual depth and insight; whereas ...a sermon filled with narrative is often deemed to be shallow, empty. If we are going to stretch ourselves as preachers, we must find creative ways to educate the church.
This led me to another truism: (4) Many congregations fall into one preferred pattern of listening. Again "fall into" does not mean laziness (though it can be!) but rather the habit formed over time often influenced by previous preachers or a church tradition that has developed. As an itinerant preacher I am always grateful for descriptions about the kind of church I am visiting and its expectations. Sensitivity is a must for visiting preachers! Yet, sometimes the details are rigorous. For example, "The sermon lasts between 40 and 45 minutes and you need to supply a fill-out form for the congregation to use." I have actually been corrected by one church because I did not follow the rules accurately enough! Is there a danger that a congregation can become too prescriptive of style and even a little bit self-righteous that their sermons are more biblical than that other church down the road? That spiritual depth is assumed because of the package? That biblical preaching is only acceptable in one mode? Can congregations become so comfortable with one pattern that they miss the newness of God's word? Yesterday, in class, one of my students said that he belonged within the preaching style of his sending church. He has to follow the "teaching verse-by-verse style" otherwise he is unacceptable at home. This led to discussion about how congregations sometimes put preachers in straight-jackets. I think some of us preachers are happy to oblige! But how best do we respond to the rich variety of God's communication in Scripture? I agree with the opening comment: "We must find ways creative ways to educate the church about different ways of doing biblical preaching!" How would your congregation respond?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree that as sad as it might be, churches do fall prey to a preferred style. Thus, if the preacher is to move in a different direction, some critical steps must be taken. 1) Think strategically. While many pastors plan their preaching schedules, how many of us plan our strategies? 2) Begin by meeting the congregation's expectations from the outset. Moving too far out of the box will only create discomfort and has the potential to reduce the credibility of the preacher. This is particularly dangerous for pastors who are young and have recently graduated. Start at the place where the congregation resides. 3) Find ways to creatively communicate with the church about what you are doing. Talk to your leadership. Inform your staff. make a point of the "shift" during the announcements. Patience and communication are key. Agree???