What It Ain't...
When I hear people criticizing the concept of preaching with dialogue, 99 times out of 100 what I am hearing bears little relationship to what I have personally seen and done in this area. Somehow, the straw man of a group of people with little knowledge of Scripture, sitting around in a circle with everyone expressing "what it means to me," no right or wrong answers, and certainly no expectation that anyone would proclaim anything has crept in...
I really, really want to kill that ridiculous mis-characterization.
In part, that's why I want to spend some time processing this concept on the blog this week. As well, I tend to be a verbal processor (remember that term- it will be important later), and want to suss out some thoughts and concepts in my head.
But first, let's get medieval on that straw man, eh?
What preaching with dialogue is NOT.
1. Not a small group discussion writ large
First off, preaching with dialogue is different than a small group discussion, or at least it should be. The goal is not so much that everyone be heard. The goal is that we as a community listen to God. However, we recognize that God may speak through a number of people on a given morning- through the observations, their experience, their prayers. We try to make room.
Secondly, it's not necessarily an "everyone is exactly equal" kind of thing with all voices being given the same amount of weight and time. Let's not underestimate the power of the lapel mic. The person doing the preaching still maintains, due to social conventions, seating arrangement, sound system, etc a good deal of power in the situation- power that should be wielded carefully and well, but power nonetheless. It's just not the free-for-all, hippy gab-fest/rap-session that some critics would like you to believe. In fact, despite my best efforts, people at evergreen still seem to want to raise their hands most times they have something to say. Now, how "decently and in order" is that???
2. Not a pooling of ignorance
One of the criticisms that gets me the most is that preaching with dialogue is really nothing more than a glorified chat room and simply a pooling of ignorance. What a load of shitake...
Here's my question- are you teaching your people anything? Do they hear about the themes of Scripture, about certain doctrine, about the person of Jesus from those teaching them? Do you have theology discussions, both online and off? Are you encouraging them to read- both the Bible and other books? Are they learning?
So, if you are doing all of that, and they are, in fact, learning... is it possible that they might, just maybe, possibly, have something worth saying on a Sunday morning? Not 30 minutes worth... but 30 seconds? Doesn't everyone have 30 seconds of insight worth sharing, something God's been teaching them about the topic of the morning, an insight they had as they studied the passage in preparation for Sunday, an experience where they learned the character of God and the attribute that you are discussing that morning... something?
The whole idea that we have an educated class that do all the teaching and an illiterate, bumpkin class that do all the learning would be laughable if the necessary underlying assumption wasn't that the teachers were so bad at teaching that the people never learned anything.
Don't get me wrong- there are people who don't know Jesus from a hole in the ground. Allowing them to say something in response to an open-ended question on Sunday morning is a beautiful thing. Trust me, I've seen it happen. When someone who is not yet following Jesus feels the safety to say something in front of a large group of people? That means (most likely) you've done a good job creating a welcoming environment. But allowing them to monopolize and go on and on is foolish. You can do one without the other.
There's definitely a role for teachers in the community. There's definitely a place for one person to present information to the rest of the community. But doing it in the context of a more participatory time actually helps retention and engagement with the information, as opposed to hindering it. We've figured this out in every other venue but Sunday mornings at church.
3. Not an abdication of declaration
Somewhere, the idea has arisen that there is a fundamental disconnect between dialogue and declaration. Apparently, you can only do one or the other.
I think this might come as news to Jesus, Paul, and other preachers we see in the NT.
In the context of declaring "This is what God is saying to this community, to you and to me", asking some questions that elicit a genuine response and actually listening to the answers, and perhaps even responding to them, within the larger context of something you know you want to say that morning is anything but an abdication of declaring the Word of God.
In fact (and we'll talk about this more when we get to what preaching with dialogue is), preaching with dialogue is a great way to get the people to declare the Word of God to themselves and to each other, a beautiful thing when it happens.
4. Not an excuse for laziness
This is a concern of mine when it comes to preaching... Whereas at one point I needed at least 5 pages of text for a sermon, sometimes more, now I find myself needing to limit that. Occasionally, I hit 5 pages, but generally four is my max and sometimes a good solid three.
If I were a lazy man (ahem...), I might be tempted to view that the wrong way... to use the dialogue pieces of the morning less-than-thougtfully... as filler, rather than as something that genuinely moves the community toward the place where I feel God would have us be for that morning.
So, all that to say- preaching with dialogue is not and should not be a way for you to do less preparation, less work. In fact...
5. Not easy
This is a skill that is learned, slowly, over time. It's not easy. Learning how to ask the right questions, how to place them, how to word them, how to keep the dialogue productive and on-track...
And since they don't teach this in Homiletics 101 (at least not when I took it), it's something you learn by doing... and it's one of those things that seem so easy when you think about it, and yet so hard when you try to execute it.
Tomorrow, more on what preaching with dialogue is.