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Enlarging Your Voice – Congregational Collaboration In Dialogical Preaching
I am the pastor of a community that loves to talk! My first year involved tensions with some parishioners who wanted to limit my Sundays in the pulpit in favor of hearing from other parishioners. This was not the wish of most members.
Before my arrival, the congregational practice was for members to provide leadership through preaching for at least half of Sundays. This is a community that takes its image of community leadership very seriously. I was aware and even enthusiastic about this identity before I arrived, but I did not have a clear understanding of the concept of co-preaching.
Carrying out the preaching service on most Sunday mornings is central to my understanding of pastoral service. As a result, I wasn’t willing to share the stand as much as some wanted. At the same time, I was struck by the importance of the voice of the community in worship. This voice is expressed in much of the singing, prayer and other sounds of worship. Worship in my community is largely planned and led.
Theological inquiry occurs in many ways as part of the structured life of the church. One of the most persuasive ways is in small study groups. Whether it is Bible study or book study, this format provides opportunities for dialogue. Through the give and take of questions and discussion, the depth of learning seems to deepen. I find myself stimulated and enriched.
In the process of preparing the sermon, I found myself grappling with some of the same topics and questions that characterized the discussions in our small groups. I have occasionally shared these questions directly with the community. Once they realized that I really wanted to hear from them, they began to respond with enthusiasm and depth.
I began to be more open in my preparation for opportunities, in a given text or sermon topic, to these types of questions and was really disappointed when they didn’t seem to come up. Although part of my initial motivation for framing sermons this way was to let this congregation talk, because they love to talk, I soon found that this approach really helped me hear them and often confirmed my sense of where they were theologically, socially, and even politically.
I stopped trying to guess what the community was thinking. I didn’t really need more. I began to clarify my thinking at the same time that I deepened my connection with them as a community. My motivation in my sermons went from trying to impress the community with my knowledge and eloquence to trying to meet them and at a common point, clarify understanding and encourage growth.
This approach works very well with the congregation I pastor. The reason for the work is probably the result of two factors: the community and me. I enjoy the interactive process because it really helps me get consistent feedback to clarify my thinking and focus my message. Sermon preparation often involves anticipating questions that may arise in people’s minds. That way I really get to hear the questions. I still do all the preparation I ever did for a more traditional sermon. This approach only provides an additional dimension.
The second reason it seems to work is the community. There are communities that are content to be quiet and listen to the preacher. The community I serve is not passive, by and large. I find that the dialogic approach engages them. They seem to learn a lot more with this approach.
I find that the process of sermon development involves discerning the key questions that arise for me from a particular biblical text. It’s definitely not unique to me. Clarifying the questions focuses the entire sermon. What I started to do was to pay attention to these questions with a thought about which of these questions the community should face itself.
Sharing the questions helps the community. They have the opportunity to see the core issues as I see them and then deal with them as I did. For those who respond aloud during the sermon, they benefit by expressing their opinions and by being heard. For those listening, they benefit from hearing a different voice than mine, and often, from a different perspective than mine. The community benefits from hearing something from a complex community voice. There is a sense of empowerment in the opportunity to voice opinions and hear colleagues voice their opinions. Anxiety tends to be reduced because the shared views are known. They are more likely to be shared and heard by the body as a whole and less likely to be reserved for conversations in the parking lot after the service.
Sharing the questions and listening to the responses helps me. I usually have an idea of how people in my community think and feel about certain issues. Hearing them share in the context of an interactive sermon usually confirms my thoughts. Every now and then, it opens up a new insight for me that I can incorporate immediately or reflect on for future use.
The process of conducting an actual discussion in the context of a sermon is much like teaching a class. It is important to conduct the discussion so that the greater focus of the sermon is not obscured while being open to the thoughts and insights of the community members. One of the most effective ways I have of managing the discussion is to be the one who recognizes and calls each speaker.
Normally we don’t make microphones available to individual speakers from the community, so I listen to each speaker and repeat what was said. The repetition process gives me a certain amount of control, although the fact that many people are able to hear the original speaker requires me to be accurate in my repetition. I use pastoral conversation skills to listen and then repeat what I heard. The restatement gives me an opportunity to frame the comment to help clarify how it fits into the overall context of the sermon. It’s helpful for me and the rest of the community as well. This may be extremely helpful for the speaker. I usually check with the speaker, whose comments I paraphrased, to see that they agree with what I said.
The use of interactive sermons is not a panacea. There are times when this is not appropriate. There are those who don’t really like the discussion, for whom it interferes with the flow of the sermon. There are many times when a more conventional approach to the sermon is the better choice. I tried, on occasion, to force dialogue into the sermon when it really didn’t fit. Sometimes I asked wrong questions or confusing questions.
Making these decisions is far from an exact science. I find, in my environment, that the community generally appreciates the opportunity to participate even when my questions are unhelpful. When it doesn’t seem to work, I have to deal with my anxiety. When I can keep my anxiety low, really listen, maintain a sense of playfulness and openness, discussion time flows much better. It is more helpful.
My anxiety is the key. The best way for me to keep my anxiety at bay is to be as clear as possible about my questions and my reasons for asking them. When I’m clear about my reasons for asking, I can listen to what people are actually saying while worrying about how it might fit into what I’m saying. Connections seem to happen more naturally. The results are very encouraging. I find my intuitive sense of what the community thinks is validating. Sometimes it is fixed. In the end, my community, which likes to talk, feels heard.
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#Enlarging #Voice #Congregational #Collaboration #Dialogical #Preaching