We have been discussing the role of dialogue within the context of the sermon. Craddock has argued that the preacher should inductively lead a person to make their own conclusions about the text as it applies to their life. In essence, he argues that this brings the hearer into a form of dialogue with the preacher even though actual dialogue may not take place.
Pagitt has taken this a step further and seeks to “re-imagine” the sermon as a discussion rather than a declaration. The sermon in this case does not rest on exegesis but on group formulation although Pagitt attempts to claim otherwise (Preaching Re-Imagined, 54; 185-89). The representative works of progressional dialogue and inductive preaching are so full of straw argumentation that one would think that folks who regularly hear good expository preaching are never allowed to discuss the sermon. One could get the idea that questions about an expository sermon are forbidden and always considered out of order unless one embraces a postmodern rationale that says the best direction is no direction.
While discussion is excellent even essential at the right time, we should still remember that preaching is a “live” event in which the Word of God is to be heralded (2 Tim. 4:2) not discussed. Additionally, an argument could be made that the moment of the preaching event itself is the defining moment and everything else (application, discussion, etc.) is simply part of the necessary ongoing response. Jonathan Edwards made statements along these lines when he wrote, “The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by the impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered” (Works of Jonathan Edwards, 4:397).
So how can we positively dialogue “around” an expository
- Have a plan: The reason why some may balk at the idea of sermon discussion is because we’ve all been in groups where the level of involvement never gets past the narcissistic “what this means to me” style of dialogue. Have purpose and intentionality when forming discussion groups. There should always be a knowledgeable facilitator who can bring out the best and help move things along.
- Create Discussion times: There can be discussion/application groups that meet for Sunday School or at other times in homes. We encourage our church members to invite visitors and fellow believers into their homes on Sunday nights for fellowship and discussion around the Word. One of our families makes it publicly known that there is always lunch available at their house for anyone who wants to come on Sunday afternoon (and there’s always someone there). We have some family in our home most Sunday nights.
- Know Your Congregation: A good sermon will raise questions and provoke natural discussions. Pastors should make themselves available and not hide away from their congregations. One way I do this is to meet with the men of my church over lunch once a week where anything can be asked or questioned.
- Cultivate Sermon Accountability: Meet with people who will speak honestly about your sermons and genuinely help you become more effective. All of my elders do this and I also have fellow pastors in other churches who challenge me. Video yourself once in a while and force yourself to watch it (you will learn a lot).
- Pay attention to the craft of sermon construction: An expository sermon does not mean that there should be no mystery or “a ha” moment of discovery. Inductive homileticians like to point out that there is no discovery or building of anticipation in expository sermons. There’s no reason why this has to be the case. Work hard on transitions and “plot development” especially when preaching narrative (which is the majority of Scripture). Maybe we can develop this more in a later post.