Preaching to Touch Head, Heart, and Hands
Jamie Arpin-Ricci more from this author »
Several people have asked me what preaching looks like at Little Flowers Community, so I thought I would give you a little glimpse into my process.
I write my sermon notes using Scrivener, which I also use for several other writing projects. I do not write my sermon out in full. I write the outline in point form, only reading directly for quotes and Scriptures. This allows for the necessary flexibility that our approach requires (more on that later). I typically spend several days in study, prayer, discussion with others, etc. to shape the content and direction of the message.
I generally set out the entire “order of service,” which begins with our shared meal, followed by some singing (usually) and prayer. Before I begin to share, we read three Scriptures—an Old Testament text, a Gospel reading, and something from the Epistles. People volunteer to read these, generally ending up from very different translations. I try to choose texts that speak to the theme of the message, though sometimes I will use the lectionary text for that Sunday.
Unlike the traditional sermon in which I would give a direct teaching for a length of time, our approach is shaped by the Anabaptist conviction that the community of faith is the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship. Therefore, my role is also to facilitate that process of community discernment. However, I do still utilize my teaching/preaching gift, at some times more directly than at others. It is still important that I bring the pastoral gifting that God has uniquely given me to this process.
A significant part of my facilitation role is to ask generative questions. This is not as easy as many people think. Questions need to be simple enough for very different people to understand, while still requiring people to push into the deeper implications of what we are discussing. One way I do this is to intentionally include questions that touch on (what we call) the "3 Hs": Head, Heart and Hands. In other words, I ask questions that challenge our understanding and push us to deeper knowledge, I ask questions that help us discover God's heart and how our own emotional responses are critical to faithfulness (e.g., the lack of contrition when repenting is a very telling reality in our churches today), and I ask questions that require us to consider the necessary changes to living into God’s truth with our lives in tangible ways.
Another critical part of that process is helping facilitate responses to the questions. All sorts of challenges come up, such as the endless run-on responder, the off-topic responder, and the inappropriate public confession responder (just to name a few). Further, because we have people who often live with mental illness, some responses can be very, very difficult to deal with. However, I am committed to resisting exercising too much control on such discussions, as our conviction about the Spirit’s work through community make some risks worth it. Over time I have become somewhat adept at diffusing such situations. Good times!
Again, I still bring content to the message—Biblical background, cultural context, stories, and illustrations. However, the direction of the sermon is meaningfully shaped by the people who enter into conversation. My recent post about my sermon “Strength in Weakness” demonstrates this well. The result of this sermon is our move toward developing a defined discipline for community confession. That was not my goal when writing the sermon but was clearly a product of the Spirit at work among us.
After the discussion winds down (usually about 45 minutes or so), I close with a prayer, we do some community updates, then I give a benediction. After that, we hang out for dessert and coffee, sometimes until as late as 11:00 PM. Not every Sunday is like this: other people preach regularly, we do evenings of personal sharing and prayer, we do Lectio Divina together (which is similar in process, but I hold back much of my teaching/preaching gifts), etc.
I hope this helps give some insight into our community and how we engage in preaching/teaching. Are there any other questions you might have? Feel free to ask!