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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.

Todd is the lead pastor at The Well in Bucks County, PA. He also runs a webdesign company called 343design, and is a partner at MyOhai, a consulting firm that works with companies and non-profits to define their mark, orient their culture and activate their mission to their world.

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Talk about it...

Tim Burns

commented on Feb 25, 2013

Good thoughts on community. Btw, I grew up in Bucks County. Be blessed!

Mercia Lee

commented on Feb 25, 2013

Thank you - it sounds good. A church I used to attend also involved members of the congregation in this 'analysis' of the whole service including the sermon. Each week a few members were asked to be involved - they were given an A5 clip board (so it wasn't too combersome or distracting to others) on which was a feedback sheet they could fill in as the service progressed. These were then read, discussed and prayed about at the meeting of the minister and elders during the following week. It may have seemed a brave thing for the leadership to do but the comments helped develop adapt and modify the service.

James Crall

commented on Feb 26, 2013

It just makes you wonder how much greater a preacher Martin Luther would have been if only he could have read this article...I can just hear Spurgeon in heaven "Yah I missed that one ", Too bad up till now this "Bad thing" of One man without the help of your "community"? Is that what you call it? Did not occur to God's men sooner...You are kidding us ...Right?

John Sears

commented on Feb 28, 2013

@ James - Sarcasm? Really? Anything but excellent or gentle.

James Crall

commented on Feb 28, 2013

you're right ...I'm so ashamed of myself...This sarcasm overtakes me when I am "in the flesh"...or when I read something that is so patently stupid!

Bill Williams

commented on Mar 1, 2013

@James, please forgive me, I mean no disrespect, but I am quite alarmed and saddened by your comments. Instead of offering a clear argument as to why you disagree with this article--and thereby edifying those of us who read the comments section--you resort to sarcasm. And then when someone calls you out on that, you respond with more sarcasm, and throw in some name-calling as well. Now, surely you are free to do so. But do you honestly expect such childish, immature comments to be taken seriously? Please, don't misunderstand me, this isn't meant to be a personal attack. I don't know you, and I'm sure in reality you are likely an intelligent, thoughtful man. That is why I urge you to be more careful with how you express yourself. If you disagree with the article, consider something like, "Here are the reasons why I believe the article is wrong..." As it stands, what you have written must surely be beneath you. Have a blessed weekend!

Mercia Lee

commented on Mar 1, 2013

Your comments James, seem really sad to me and make me wonder why you find Todd's article 'patently stupid'. What is stupid about wanting to serve God in a thorough, collaborative and prayerful way? Mighty preachers of old lived in their own time and preached accordingly. So today's preachers should use modern day God given skills to reach today's audiences. Everything moves on, including preaching, and that doesn't in my view dilute God's message in any way. If only more preachers and church leaders would prayerfully evaluate and analyse their effectiveness... A question 'Do you think anyone is blessed by critical sarcasm?'

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