“Teaching” is NOT the same as “learning.” It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into your sermon—if people aren’t listening, engaged and paying attention, they will leave the building without remembering or applying anything. They may be sitting still and trying to look attentive, but if it’s going in one ear and out the other, you’re wasting their time and your own.
Instead of blaming them for their short attention spans and lack of commitment, why don’t you try something completely “out of the box”—and let the congregation preach the sermon next Sunday? After all, they’ve set aside 30-40 minutes of their time to learn from God’s Word, and you have the skills and background knowledge to help facilitate them to be involved in the process.
What long-term good does it do them to sit passively and watch you do all the work? Why not take the risk of letting them listen to God’s Word, to the Holy Spirit and to each other, and let God speak to His gathered people?
So, how do you do it? How would you go about helping the people in the pews preach God’s Word to one another? Try these simple steps, and see how it goes…
1. Let them choose the title.
Ask them to look up the Scripture passage on their phones or in their Bibles, and come up with a good title. Let them discuss ideas with their neighbors before calling out suggestions. Give out small prizes and encourage everyone who speaks up!
2. Give them the tools.
This is your chance to give them everything they need to explore and interpret God’s Word. Take a few minutes to tell them any background information and context which will help them understand what they are reading. Use visuals and symbols if needed. Give them the clues they need to do their own detective work—give them enough, but no more.
3. Ask the right questions.
Let them discuss the passage in small groups, using open questions such as “What stands out to you?”, “What do you learn about God?”, “What do you think this meant to the original hearers?”, “Is there something here for us to apply?” etc. Let them feed back to the larger group with a roving mic. Affirm their answers, and get excited about their insights.
4. Apply it.
God’s Word is most potent when we live it, not just listen to it. Ask people to consider whether there is anything they have learned or are going to act on. Let them share their commitments with one another and pray for one another.
5. Listen well.
Pastors have been trained to talk, not to listen—so it’s very easy to fall into the trap of arguing with people or showing off your superior ideas and insights. Instead, listen to God’s people with respect and love, encourage them for their contributions, and invite the “least of these” to have a voice, a value and an impact. Let God “use the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong.” You’ll be surprised at the insights shared by the most unlikely people.
God designed us to learn best when we explore, discuss, think about and problem-solve concepts, rather than when we listen to people talking at us. If we allow God’s people to get their hands on God’s Word, they are more likely to understand it, remember it, apply it and get comfortable having spiritual conversations. It may feel like an enormous risk to move from monologue preaching to letting God’s people have a voice—but it’s a risk worth taking.