In a few weeks, my latest book will be released. "So Much Older Then" (Energion Publications) centers on a series of eight sermons I delivered last summer at my former congregation, the Congregational Church of Union, Connecticut, United Church of Christ. What made that sermon series different from others I have preached in the past is that after EVERY one of these eight sermons, I turned to the congregation and right there, as part of the worship service, we held a conversation about what I said in the sermon and how people in the pews happened to view the topic I addressed that day.
Over the course of my career as a pastor, I have most certainly delivered a lot of sermons. For most of them, the methodology is pretty much the same- I speak, people listen. However, several years ago, I tried something different in my former church in Union. If you have ever been in that beautiful sanctuary, you will probably be nodding here as I say that this worship space is very comfortable, intimate and might even feel a lot like home. It occurred to me that this would be the perfect setting to try something more dialogical than that to which the congregation had been accustomed.
Every time I tried it, which may have been three or four times a year, the response was good. People spoke, asked good questions and gave their perspective. It struck me that a full, eight week series dealing with some of life’s most profound questions might evoke an excellent response as well. With that in mind, I crafted this series with which we would spend our summer Sundays in that church. As you will gather from reading this book, I am sure glad I did.
In writing so short a piece about this approach to preaching, I want to convey four points:
1. It is not a gimmick! I firmly believe that preaching this way on occasion gives people in the congregation a unique opportunity to interact with the Bible readings of the day AND to let their experience PREACH to others in the congregation, including the pastor! In my view, it is a great way of living out what we say we believe-that God can touch ALL of our hearts and that we are ALL in this community called church together, NOT only those ordained, such as I !
2. While the space we shared in Union is quite conducive to this, I also firmly believe that this can also be done well in other settings, including churches that are much larger. One simply has to be creative and work hard at creating the best possible space within which this can occur. In my little sanctuary at my old church, we did not need microphones. In other places, we might.
3. While I have written a book about this approach to preaching, I also want to be clear that for a large number of the sermons I preach, I’ll preach in the traditional way- I talk, others listen. Having said that, I believe that the process of sermon preparation and delivery works best when the preacher is engaged in an openness to a multiplicity of approaches within the sermon- sometimes song, other times silence, at still other times some drama ( I could tell you some experiences with that too!) Preaching is too important to be relegated to the world of habit and routine.
4. Finally, even when those sermons are delivered traditionally, I encourage pastors to set time aside after worship, at least once in a while, for people to stick around and talk about the sermon. This is an important process for preacher and congregant alike.
I hope that if you read my book, you will offer some feedback. As you know, I write frequently for this space and really welcome your comments. I am excited about the process I describe within it and am thrilled with how those sight Sundays developed. I thank those members of my former church in Union, to whom this book is dedicated, for their participation and for the ways in which they preached God’s Word to one another...and