Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Death of Sermons?

Communication, as we in the church know it, is under attack.

As a communicator I am constantly trying to learn how to become more effective in preparation, truth telling, story telling, persuasion, stimulating thought, conversation, and delivering compelling anti-conclusions. I genuinely enjoy studying and looking for seemingly unrelated bits and pieces of truth to link together to shape worldviews, beliefs, and lifestyles and I love the challenge of trying to find the language that speaks most relevantly to the people I am communicating to.

One of the aspects of church liturgy that the emergent church has called into question is how we, as communicators, most effectively communicate this life altering story of Jesus Christ to the emerging generation. On one extreme, there has been an almost violent reaction against the didactic “pastor as authority” teaching that has been so prevalent in churches for centuries in favor of conversation, dialogue, and narrative/experiential learning. On the other extreme, we find young pastors deciding against the 20 minute seeker-friendly sermons in favor of much longer and indepth teaching that moves the listener from theology to doxology to biography.

My personal response to this has been to take a little bit of the good from each of these to create a method of three part preaching that I don’t actually do very well. The upside is that I have the space and time to be constantly experimenting with how it actually could work. I have begun writing my definitions and ideas for these three parts but, before I post it here, I’d love to read your thoughts on this. Following are three numbers, six pieces of punctuation, and six words that make up the calcium malnourished skeleton of this teaching idea.

1) The Prologue.

2) The Dialogue.

3) The Epilogue.

If I had to get an idea across and these three are the variables of how I accomplish this; how should I do this?



Dave Wood said...

Romans 10:14

How can they...?

The truth is in the telling. The proof of God and the secret to effect multigenerational preaching is in the testimony. Nothing more... With the living word pulsing through you allow the truth to ooze out. If you have little life and word pulsing...Shut up... and wait until you do.

The verse ends with how beautiful are the ones who bring good news. (Dave paraphase) and that's it...good it good news to you at the moment you open your mouth?

Moody said it best for me

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”

Whether Bell of Graham, Moody or Sunday... the method changes but the secret is not in the's in the spirit.

Jer...goooood question.

Anonymous said...

Jer great post... In a way it feels like you are writing this post as a prologue. it makes me want to read what you are going to write next. we have talkd a little about this three part preaching method, but it will be nice to really read about it and see the effects that it will have. hurry with the next part(s).

Dave Wood said...

try this on for size

Derwyn said...

I think that the idea of the sermon being no longer relevant is a red herring.

Picture this: a guy is on stage and addressing a crowd of people. He's not wearing a suit, but is dressed tastefully. He's got a headset mic so he can freely wander the platform and makes use of PowerPoint to help get his point across. He's on TV weekly, at least, and people tell their friends about him and buy his books. When he comes into town, people intentionally work attending his presentation into their schedules.

He's not a pastor, but a motivational speaker. You know, Stephen Covey, et al.

The way he communicates is with authority.
His public presentations are primarly lecture-style.
He speaks as one who knows what he's talking about.
When he involves the audience, no one would think that he's actually asking them for help to work through his material.

Why is this form of communication acceptable in our society, but we tend to think that it is no longer acceptable in our churches?

People are not rebelling against the method so much as they are rebelling against the message. Jesus communicated in a variety of ways, yet people still rejected his message; they said "no" to God while looking him right in the eye. I don't think we can even begin to suggest that Jesus' method was faulty...

I think there is a lot of freedom in how we approach the communication of God's truth. We just need to ensure that we don't inadvertently fall into the trap of believing that everyone would say "yes" if only our method was better.

Markimus said...

I really want to 'weigh in' on this but I am not sure where to start.
1) The prologue - Must always be the question. Tapping into appreciative inquiry... the questions that are being asked withut being asked amoung the people we want to communicate to. Do diligent research on our 'audience' Knowing your audience.
2) Dialogue - is the confirmation with your audience that there is a 'same page' communication. An AHa of yes I know what you mean. Repore with your audience is never assumed even if you do this on a weekly basis. In direct sales theres is an approach that every day you start you start broke. This approach is how we need to approach our communication.
3) Epilogue - Let the story be owned and rewritten and revisited by all who participate. This is done best by finding a variable that comes from the first two exercises. Its unique to how you process the first two steps.

I am not sure if we ever should assume that people are simply just rejecting the message. Many times people reject simply because it does not meet them where they are at... or shall we say irrelevant. Are people against preaching today... if its irrelevant then they should be and rightfully so. I think many times the unwillingness to create tension for people to work through makes the whole process a bore.

jeremy postal said...

Jabin - glad you are looking forward to more! Good times shredding today...

Thanks for the response so far guys; Derwyn you helped me craft my very first sermon (Isa. 34 I think) so I am extra grateful that you have weighed in! I appreciate that this is something that people might actually want to talk about.
I know, as you do, that there are a lot of really crappy preachers who, are completely preaching from the heart and out of the spirit induced passion in them, but who still have a difficult time connecting with audiences. That is why I asked a QUESTION OF METHOD.

I certainly do appreciate the fact that there are concerned citizens advocating Christ-centered speaking and Spirit-led-Good-News-telling, however, from this point on in the convo lets assume that that is a given. Sorry I wasn't clear with that earlier guys! :)

I'm not sure people are reacting against the message as much as we like to think. It is good for our ego to say that people react against the message and not the method. I think that alot of times people never even get to the message because the method is so non-engaging to them.

Assuming that people are reacting against the message and not the method also gives us a big fat ticket to being lazy and never getting creative with how we communicate.
Every sport has its washed up athletes. You know the ones: stars of their day but now they are just taking it easy and collecting a pay check. If communicators are not constantly trying to figure out how to communicate better then they might be the washed up pro collecting a salary that could go to someone who will put the work in.


I'd love to hear some more thoughts on prologue, dialogue, and epilogue. What kind of time line could this be used on?

Dave - You're EPIC.
Mark - Merry New Years!

Derwyn said...

Yeah, I was thinking after my post that I should have clarified why I answered the way I did. I've have heard so many complaints against preaching itself from those claiming to be relevant, and then what they propose to be necessary for effectiveness simply amounts to making the gospel a commodity with a good ad campaign...

So in exploring the method, I think your proposed outline has got legs. It is similar to the idea put forth by Chris Wiersma at District Conference a couple years ago. However, I think we have a lot of flexibility in how we communicate; trying to find the "right" way to do it is chasing a shadow.

Once again, consider Jesus. He did sermons, parables as illustrations, parables as tension-filled unresolved thought-provoking dialogue-encouragers, OT exegesis, emotional appeal, small group discussion, socratic interrogation, hellfire and brimstone, and name-calling.

So, as Mark already observed, Who is your audience? And what is the setting you've got?

For me, my methods have evolved during my time in preaching ministry. I'm not going to say that I've arrived at this point, but I can say that I'm exploring less and choosing which approach to take more. When I change the way I speak, it's because of the situation: where I am and who I'm trying to reach. My default setting happens to be the exegetical style a la Mark Driscoll, but it's not the only way to do it.

Paul & Wanda Moores said...

I'm in a little late on this one but am I understanding correctly that you are saying:

1. The Prologue - I would call the question
2. The Dialogue - I would call the conversation
3. The Epilogue - I would call the application

If this is quasi accurate, I would say most people buck #3. They don't want you applying it for them. Help me ask the right question, help me understanding the facts concerning the question, but I'll file it in the right place in my heart's filing cabinet.

This thought just came to me, maybe #3 would be best accomplished in a typical preaching setting by testimony; having someone who's experienced the truth being discussed, telling us about their experiences. It helps humanize the truth as well as utilizes the power of story.

Boomer said...

You know what I hate...manditory small group time where I am obliged to discuss a given topic. Not that I hate discussing, but I hate the manditory and forced nature of it. If there was some way cause each person to become interested w/o the dialogue and epilogue being a known part of the presentation.

For you Jer, I think you should come up with some kind of controversy, which you seem to have the knack for in order to facilitate natural conversation. Then while you observe and take part in the dialogue, you create and decide what is important for an epilogue.

However w/ all this stuff I think this mostly concerns those who aren't church regulars. For those who spend time and may have even grown up there, they've grown accustomed to the talking head.

If anyone can do it, it's gotta be you.

Dave Wood said... jove I think the man is on to something. I loved how you built your premise on understanding where people were coming from first. Then the style simply matches who is listening.

Derwin...I echo your frustration the reduction of the communication to a comomdity...about the ad campain of the gospel... "move over Norman Vincent Peale"

We as communicators live in the world between extremes to be effective...the world between focusing on the method vs the message...the words vs the life...the truth of the entire gospel vs the lies of just enough truth that the listener will venture a step closer our soul lover.

Jer... I love your question but if you are defining yourself by the question you maybe trying to nail jello to the wall. But by all means keep asking the great questions... it forces all of us to find our own application.

Rob Petkau said...

Great post!
Another angle...
I can't count how many sermons I've heard... if they had all been life changing communications - I'd be amazing by now!
Having said that - some messages were life changing for me.
So as a speaker - I prayerfully look to how I can serve up something that will be the MOST useful to the Holy Spirit's agenda for each person in my audience (part of the method). This makes me ask myself... Lord, how can I present this so that... the part of a person who WANTS to dive into this subject will be engaged.

I think this is what happens Jer, when you stir up a controversy, or Boomer draws someone into a compelling story. So the "method" is really... any and all methods that engage the part of a person who WANTS to grasp the Word. To foster that part of the person and to help him/her drown out the noise.

jeremy postal said...

Dave - what exactly do you mean when you say "I love your question but if you are defining yourself by the question you maybe trying to nail jello to the wall."