Saturday, February 03, 2007


    As with most Saturdays that come before a preaching Sunday for me, I find myself wondering if there isn't a better way. What is this thing we do called "preaching?" Who came up with this idea of a pastor standing in front of the congregation for 15-20 minutes (or more), reading from a prepared text, offering up one person's reading and (possibly) spirit-inspired interpretation of scripture? I know that the notion of the 3-point speech (so beloved of clergy) goes back to Plato, so it's hardly a biblical approach to passing on the faith.

    So, I'm intrigued by this week's gospel lesson that depicts Jesus teaching the people while he sits on a boat out on the water (not pontificating from a pulpit-on-high). At one point, he incorporates an object lesson of sorts by challenging Simon Peter and the other fishermen to put out on the lake and go fishing. In my educator days, this is what we called active learning: involving your student body and soul in the act of meaning-making. Would the lesson of the abundance of the Kingdom hit home so hard if Jesus had simply talked about it rather than let them it experience it for themselves?

    I know some folk who are particularly good at providing active learning "sermons" for youth, and most would agree that youth are not much for passive learning experiences. They want to be part of the action -- they want to interact with the lesson. My friend and colleague Jacob offers such interactive talks in his youth group worship times. My brother Barry has been offering keynote talks at church camps for years and they are full of illustrations, questions, Q & A, visual props, and audience participation -- and the youth eat it up. Why do we not take this same approach with sermons in the Church, where we are surrounded by folks with a wide diversity of learning styles? We know based on brain research that the more actively we are involved in an experience, the more we learn and retain and the more connections we make in the brain. Given all this, we can assume that the one person getting the most out of the speech-based sermon is in fact THE PREACHER!

    I suspect that the emergent church is way of head of the curve from the rest of us on this notion of interactive preaching. More on this later, but here is an interesting article (and links to others) that raise some important questions on the issue.