Read a book while it is being written, write a sermon as it is preached

Sylvia Hartmann is an author who is writing a book. Not a big deal, loads of people write books.

But Harrmann is using Google Docs to write her latest book, The Dragon Lords. Which means that everyone who clicks on her link to the manuscript - found here - at a certain time of day will be able to see her literally type each letter and watch the story unfold before your eyes.

You will be able to read a book as it is written.

What a great idea and what a great way to read/encounter a book.

To me this is an example, in part, of what it means to have a dialogue sermon.

In a dialogical sermon, there is a primary focus for the conversation and the preacher functions like a guide. As the focus is presented then people are asked to contribute to the creation of the sermon as it is being preached. Where most people will see a conversation others, with the eyes of Gospel, will see a sermon being preached.

For me, the metaphor of a journey does not "work" well to describe the spiritual life, but it does work well for describing dialogical sermons.

The preacher is the guide who asks the community to walk with them for a while. As the community walks together, people will notice that there are other paths to walk down. Through the conversation people may walk down paths and even run along rabbit trails. This can look or feel messy or even as though we are "not going anywhere". The guide has faith that the community will discover together where God is calling them to walk.

Other than helping the community move along the path(s) of conversation, the guild is also the one who is trained to see other paths and trails that the community has missed. Because of the guide's training and education and experience, the community trusts the guide will show them things they otherwise would have missed. (This is why sermon preparation for a dialogue sermon can be much more rigorous than a traditional monologue sermon, because you have to be on the look out for the non-obvious of you will not be able to point the overlooked trails out.)

When an author invites people to read a book as it is written it can be a scary thing for the author because of the level of vulnerability the author puts herself in. Hartmann is allowing many people to see her process, her edits, her mistakes and even provide feedback and input into the creation of the story. She is open to what the community has to say and is able to discover what the community's gems are and integrate them into the story.

Frankly, if that is not a way to do a sermon, then I don't know what a sermon in a community would look like.

How the church could talk about every hot button issue of all time

In case you have not read the last post, I would encourage you to do so not only to see where this post is coming from but also to see a bit of the irony laced within it.

When preachers preach sermons designed to fill a need, like the best ways to "invite people to church" or "have a conversation with an atheist", preachers are ultimately doing the congregation a disservice.

What these sermons are really doing is providing fish for people to eat, which will fill them up and make us feel good for a time, but when we grow hungry again we come back to the source (the preacher) for more food. You may have heard it said, "Sunday is where I get fed" or "Worship is where I am filled up." The concern is that these words are really too true.

Are we setting up sermons to be places where people come to be fed? Is the sermon nothing more than a dish that is prepared by the preacher only to be served up on Sunday morning?

Rather than preaching sermons that fill a need, preachers need to preach so that people walk away with a fishing pole and bait, not just another fish for the day. 

Take for instance the idea that preachers preach about the homosexuality issue. This is a specific issue, so specific in fact that once the church decides on what the "answer" is to the debate, the answer they come up with will not help in any other conversation.

The church may preach they are against homosexuality for a set of reasons - they understand scripture in this way or "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" sort of argument. The church then can check that issue off the board as now they have the answer to the homosexual conversation.

But then there is a new conversation - what about transgender people or people who are born one sex physically but are another sex mentally? The "answers" from the homosexual conversation are not helpful in this new issue/conversation and the church must start a new conversation. Thus the problem with application preaching.

However, if the church were to preach their understanding of, say Anthropology, then the answers that come into focus can be applicable to other questions.

If the church understood that in Christianity, all people are created in the image of God and all people matter to God and that God called all creation very good. If we focus on how Christianity and Anthropology intersect, then we not only come up with answers to the homosexual conversation but also to the transgender conversation.

Anthropology is not something that is easily "applied" into our lives through three points and a poem. When we preach to these larger ideas then we give the congregation a bit of credit for actually having the brain to think through their own answers to specific issues. When we preach to the larger ideas we are teaching people how to fish. 

3 keys to manage you money and becomes more attractive to the opposite sex - sort of.

There is a lot of focus these days on what is being called "application preaching". That is preaching that focuses on things to apply into your life, such as three keys to healthy relationships or ways to manage money or any other how to sermon series you can imagine.

The thought is, and it is not a bad one, preachers need to say something that is relevant and something that people can walk away with and implement it into their lives. And because everyone has access to information through the internet, preachers do not need to focus on sharing information but how to apply that information.

According to Bob Farr and Kay Kotan in their book, Renovate or Die: 10 Ways to Focus Your Church on Mission, application preaching begins with the need of the congregation rather than a prescribed scripture (often called the lectionary).

Here is the rub that I have. Starting with a need and then giving the solution sounds a lot like an infomercial.

Preachers can then find needs that need to be filled. Yes, it gives people something they can walk away with, but it also creates a co-dependency that is really unhealthy in the long run.

The preacher gives you the solution to a need in your life, then when you have another need we then turn to the preacher and ask them to teach a series on that new need. It works for preachers too because then people will return looking to have their needs meet.

You have heard that when you give someone a fish they can eat for a day. Giving people fish everyday creates a co-dependency. You need me for fish, I need you to make me feel like I am doing good in the world.

I thought preachers are supposed to teach people to fish? I thought we are called to liberate break unhealthy co-dependent relationships? I though we are called to empower people and give them the tools to figure out how to address their own needs?

Martin Luther was angry at the Church for a number of reasons and one of those reasons was people had an unhealthy co-dependency with the church. The church was the only place where you could hear the Bible and it was read in a language you may not understand so you had to listen to the priest tell you what it said.

To combat this co-dependent way of doing church, Luther decided to translate the Bible into German and print the thing on the press for all to have.

If preachers are preaching to fill the needs in your life, then how are we doing anything different? I would propose that preaching is different. It is not a sales pitch in order for you to come back next week.

That is what blogs are for.

So come back in two days and I will submit a response to "application preaching".

(Hows that for co-dependent!)

Scripture as a diving board or the water in which we swim

One of the things that comes with being a preacher is that you are asked to listen to a lot of other preachers. I am not sure why this is the case, but people tend to tell me of a preacher they like and one that I "must listen to".

There are a sorts of preachers out there. In school we learned about a number of styles and archetypes. I can argue the theological underpinning of a 'dialogical sermon' until the cows come home. I can tell you about the "Lowry loop" and the difference between inductive and deductive preaching. 

No matter how many preachers I hear I continue to find there are two types. There are those who use scripture as a diving board and those who understand scripture as the water in which we swim. 

You can spot a diving board preacher rather easily. This is the person who reads scripture and then jumps to the point they want to make. They are found in the mainline and are most prominent in the "Bible Churches" I hear. Anytime someone gives you a dozen of verses from a half-dozen books over the course of a sermon, you are dealing with a diving board preacher. Anytime you hear a preacher who uses scripture as a jumping off point, they are diving.

Those who preach and understand scripture is not a jumping off point to deliver "keys to a healthy marriage" or "three steps to your best life now", these preachers understand scripture is the pool we swim in.

These are the preachers who are more story driven, more interested in delving into the richness of the scripture that they are not really interested in overlaying moralistic or "practical advice" on the scripture. They are far more interested in swimming in the text, even willing to tread in the water and not go anywhere. These preachers sometimes do not have a "point" because the verses read do not have a direction (see the end of Jonah).

Perhaps the church could use a little more swimmers and a lot less divers.