I think the following is a fair statement:
One of the most individual things done in churches these days is preaching.
To be kind, this seems unfortunate. While I do not generally think that sermons should be a free-for-all, I also do not think that sermons should be the result of one person sitting quietly in a study (or Starbucks) reading scripture, studying it and then telling the whole community what he or she thinks.
One of the questions we began asking about a year ago at The Well was “How can preaching be less an individualistic activity in our community?” I will be honest; I couldn’t be more proud of where we are a year later.
Every Tuesday, about seven of us sit around a table in Starbucks and do three basic things:
1. We give feedback to the person who preached the past Sunday.
Sometimes this is positive feedback and sometimes this is negative feedback. But it’s always constructive. The first few months this was hard, but the more trust we’ve built with one another the more helpful this feedback has been. Each week we are able to say “this worked well” or “this made sense,” or we say “this totally bombed” or “this point felt like it came out of nowhere.” We are able to critique content as well as structure. I can honestly say each and every one of us has become a much more effective communicator because of this!
2. We read and discuss a book or article that somehow relates to preaching.
This might be a theological article. It might be a book on preaching. It might be something we agree with or something that we don’t. This has been so helpful; we’ve learned to sharpen each other and be sharpened by an outside voice, and it has stimulated some amazing discussions — many better than any I had in seminary.
3. We do exegesis together of next week’s text.
This is usually the most exciting part of our time together. In our group, we have some fantastic minds around the table (tons of experience and quite a few higher ed degrees). It used to be that my only other voices came from commentaries; now the voices speaking into the text are people from my community (who, by the way, might just be writing commentaries someday!).
We meet for about two hours, and it’s become some of the most fulfilling two hours of my week.
Now let me give some credit where credit is due. We blatantly stole the idea from our friends Geoff Holsclaw and David Fitch at Life in the Vine in the Chicago suburbs. At the same time, we’ve totally adapted what they did to our own context. Scott Jones is the Teaching Pastor at The Well now, and he’s led this group in some pretty awesome ways.
I share all this for a few reasons:
1. I kind of want to brag on my community. Sue me, but I’m proud of the people I get to serve with!
2. I hope it's encouraging and sparks similar things in other communities. I talk to pastor after pastor who feels so alone in his or her sermon prep. This needs not be the case. While you might not be able to have the size of group we have (seven is about the limit, I think), there are surely one or two more people you could find to join you in something like this each week.
The sermon does not need to be the most individualistic thing in your church.
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