Friday, July 03, 2009

The Preachers New Clothes

Jonny Baker 's provocative thoughts on preaching, "Throwing a hand grenade in the fruitbowl", has just been published as a Grove booklet. The pdf has been up for a while, but I've only just got round to reading it! Here's a snippet from the first page:

Since I was asked to write this chapter on preaching I have been asking a lot of people when the last sermon was that really inspired or challenged or changed them. The responses have been interesting. A lot of the people have pulled a face and laughed as if to say 'are you serious?' - it's as though they can't even imagine the possibility of being inspired or hearing a brilliant sermon. Others have remembered a transforming preach but a typical answer has been that it was one or two years ago....

Something has got to change. Maybe it’s time to think the unthinkable. For too long we have behaved like the 'well adjusted' courtiers in the famous story of the Emperor's New Clothes saying nothing, propping up the status quo, smiling politely with our vested interests in tact (whether as preachers or as listeners), or simply too embarrassed to say anything.

Allow me to be the antisocial brat (as Marshall Mcluhan puts it in his retelling of the story) - the Emperor 'ain't got nothin' on!'i. Preaching is invariably dull. It is boring. People are sick of three point sermons beginning with P. People aren't listening. People don't want to be preached at. They don’t want to be told what to think. Like so many other areas of church life we're stuck in a time warp. It isn't working. Maybe it's time for a rethink.

- We have confused means and ends. Baker is right: we need to go back to what we're trying to achieve by preaching, and then ask whether a) that's what we want to achieve and b) whether traditional preaching is the best way to achieve it.

- I think the last paragraph above overstates things. There is still a place for public speaking - look at Obamas speeches, or the ever-increasing popularity of standup comedians. However, it's important to be clear about what these examples are trying to achieve, and in neither case is it purely teaching/education.

- What did Jesus do? There was a mixture of teaching and practice, because he was interested in disciples, rather than students. The church leans heavily towards 'students' - catechism, a verbal statement of faith (creeds) which is basically doctrinal and cerebral, lecture/theatre-style buildlings and presentation, and a rhythm of life centred around a weekly event where people gather, watch/listen, drink coffee, and then disperse again.

- It's hard to challenge preaching because many of us leaders have so much invested in it. If you've been preparing and delivering sermons for 10, 20, 30 years, the last thing you want to hear is that there is a better way of doing it. But we have to lay our egos down long enough to ask the question and listen to the answers.

There's a lot here to get people thinking. Might print the whole thing out for all our preachers to discuss over a pint (or equivalent).

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