Bible and Preaching, bible study, Biblical Hermeneutics, Christianity, Church, collaborative preaching, conversation, dialogue, feedback, John S. McClure, preaching, preparation, Presbyterian, Religion, Roundtable Pulpit, sermon
I wrote a little book about “collaborative preaching” some years ago, and have been gratified by the number of folks who have adopted this method, and for all that they have taught me over the years.
Collaborative preaching is preaching that involves an intentional effort to involve others in both sermon brainstorming and feedback.
The Sermon Roundtable. As a collaborative preacher, you will form a small group of lay persons (what I call a “sermon roundtable”), including those from within and outside the church. This group meets each week with you to discuss biblical, theological, and experiential materials for the upcoming sermon.
It is important to keep the group small: usually 3-4 members. It is also important that the group changes regularly – every two to three months – so that an “in-group” dynamic doesn’t take over, and in order to add diversity to the insights that are provided to the preacher.
The Tag-Team Approach. One of the best ways to accomplish this constantly rotating group rhythm is through a “tag-team” approach. Each group member joins for a designated length of time. When a person leaves the group, it is their responsibility to “tag” someone to take their place. The goal is to seek someone who will “shake the group up a bit,” adding a new dimension to the biblical interpretation and theological ideas in the group. This might be someone younger, or older, or of another race or ethnicity, or from outside the church, or of another faith, or of no faith.
Change Group Locations. Another way to add richness to the process is to meet in different social locations so that sermon messages are not constricted by the worldview of your congregation. Sermon brainstorming might take place, for instance, in a public place such as a library or shopping mall, or at a women’s shelter or homeless shelter.
Your Task, Should You Accept It. Your primary task is to begin conversation about the biblical text, and to take careful notes. When you prepare the sermon, you will make use of aspects of both the form and message of the collaborative brainstorming process.
Face-to-Face is Important. Of course, collaboration could make use of technologies such as Facebook, blogs, bulletin boards, etc. But the genius of this method comes, in many respects, from its embodied, face-to-face quality. Much of what you can take into the pulpit comes from actual group dynamics, including bodily postures and attitudes: leaning in, hesitating, following, dodging, getting a footing, interrupting, re-framing, etc. I say more about this in the book.
Why Do It? The goals of this type of preaching are many: educating congregations on what sermons are and how they function in the community, increasing ownership of the ministry of proclamation in the church, teaching the Bible, widening preaching’s audience, promoting a public form of theology in the pulpit, and symbolizing a collaborative form of leadership in the church.
Beyond these goals, those who use this method testify to three surprising results:
1. Sermon preparation time is shorter. You would think just the opposite. If the groups are small and kept to about one hour, it is amazing how many new ideas for preaching can be introduced.
2. It is harder to avoid tough topics and prophetic issues. Again, you’d think just the opposite. But if you lead in a truly open-minded way, people will usually raise the tough issues. Most people want to hear their preacher deal with these topics.
3. Your “authority” in the pulpit will increase. Again, this seems counter-intuitive. But, as Jackson Carroll points out, authority in a late modern context is largely a function of relationships, and this method of preaching builds relationships around the pulpit.
A Couple of Videos. If you are interested in this method, or just want to know more, I’ve prepared a couple of small video presentations about it.
Phil Snider said:
I find myself consistently referring emergent-y kinds of folks to The Roundtable Pulpit, as well as Rose’s Sharing the Word. The ethos of these books is so similar to what many of them are trying to do ecclessially and liturgically, and they tend to be grateful to know that they aren’t having to think through all of this from scratch, but that there are scholars already part of the conversation. So thanks for helping pave the way yet again!
John McClure said:
Thanks for your generous comment, Phil. You and people like you seem to keep this book in publication and in use, which is gratifying. It has been fascinating in recent years to see the revival of interest in it – which is likely due to the emerging conversation.
Matthew Kelley said:
The collaborative model is especially useful in the emerging conversation because it challenges traditional, top-down notions of authority in the church. A pastor cannot claim to be the sole authority on biblical interpretation when they open themselves to having a word proclaimed to them by those they serve.
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