When is the last time you had a really good conversation? I am not necessarily talking about a one-time conversation that had a definite start and an end; but rather, a conversation that lasted over days, weeks, months, or even years. The kind of conversation that continues to walk through life with you - sometimes making you cry, other times invoking anger, while other times comforting, and still other times inspiring great excitement and motivation? It is the kind of dialogue where we ask questions of many people, we listen to others, we sometimes offer our own perspectives, and we ruthlessly try to come to some kind of discovery of truth. Even now as I sit here in my kitchen – hungry, unshaven, and likely smelly – I am thinking through some of the major conversations that I am involved in currently and wondering how these have been infected, impacted, and eclipsed by previous, parallel, or even future (presupposed) conversations. It seems to me that the more and more open-ended conversations I have the more and more I will be able to integrate a consistent worldview that spans through all area’s of my life. What does this mean? It means that learning is slower. It means that our teachers are all around us. It means that we might be surprised, shocked, intimidated, and even offended by where, from who, or how we discover some new bit of truth.
If there is one thing that really bugs me (and there certainly are more), it is when I am “talking” with someone and they talk so fast and furious that they completely dominate the “conversation” – leaving no room for anyone else to engage. It is kind of like the annoying girlfriend that answers all the questions for her boyfriend and then answers all of her own questions too! Boring, irrelevant, annoying. Come to think of it – this sounds a lot like what preaching has become.
Could you imagine if all of your conversations followed the same method as preaching?! I would rather be trapped in a small elevator with two old people making out! It just does not work; it is not right, it feels weird, and can get very awkward for the outsiders! What would happen if every day my wife had to listen to me share a thesis with supported evidence, witty rhetoric, cute little antidotes, and application to her life? I have a suspicion that she would accuse me of not knowing or caring about who she really is and that I am on a bit of a power trip. Yet we, as preachers, consider this form of communicating God’s word to be foundational to the community of believers? How can this be? It seems like we are in some way doing an injustice to our church communities to not allow them into the communication and conversation of God’s word. I learn best in dialogue – not monologue. I think most people are the same; it is a mystery to me as to why anyone has put up with this for so long!
So what does this mean for our church communities? To be honest, I am not that sure. I would not suggest that we abandon preaching but I would suggest that maybe there are better ways to preach. The whole point and idea of preaching is to help people become more and more like Jesus, right? I am starting to formulate some ideas and thoughts of how we can be a spiritual learning community together; it involves risk, it involves involving other people, it involves macro-evolution, it involves dialogue. I am just trying to continue the conversation…