Preaching and the evangelical left

Bet you didn’t know that there’s a Festival of Homiletics. Well, there is, and according to Tony Jones, the usual program consists of sermon-lecture-sermon-lecture. Yeah, not my idea of fun. Apparently, though, they’re mixing things up today in Atlanta. Because it’s “Emergent Preaching Day!” On his blog Jones says, “We live in the most highly educated society and the most highly participatory culture in the history of humankind. Everything around us has changed: the clothes we wear, the way we transport ourselves, how we communicate. And yet, 99% of preachers stand up on Sunday morning and deliver a monologue. A soliloquy. And their churches decline. And they wring their hands. There is another way. There is a way of participation and inclusion and dialogue and conversation.”

Sounds like a great idea, especially if you’re into the concept of the “priesthood of all believers.” Some friends of mine from Keller Park Missionary Church in South Bend (where we lived during grad school) do participatory “sermons.” This was also the style of many progressive evangelicals who lived in intentional communities in the 1970s. Here’s an excerpt from my chapter on the Christian World Liberation Front:

As part of the growing Jesus Movement, members pushed against old denominational allegiances and experimented with Pentecostal and contemplative modes of worship. They nurtured the language of the streets, dismissing legalistic fundamentalism in favor of a freer, more spontaneous faith. Men arrived at prayer meetings wearing beards and blue jeans. Women wore peasant skirts. When meetings finally got started—epidemic lateness and socializing characterized their gatherings—members raised their arms and sang enthusiastically. They played guitars instead of pianos and organs. They sang “Kum-ba-yah, My Lord” and “Pass It On,” songs inspired by both orthodox doctrine and a countercultural style. Instead of sitting in pews, they perched on folding chairs or sat cross-legged on the floor. Leaders eschewed formal sermons in favor of more casual “teachings” or group sharing that often veered in tangential directions. For the celebration of communion, CWLF served Spanada wine—not grape juice—in Dixie cups. For countercultural evangelicals from conservative evangelical congregations who “just wanted to stand up and scream at the top of my lungs” at the “repetitious absurdity” of formulaic evangelical congregations, these new styles were refreshing in their end run around traditional worship forms.


2 Replies to “Preaching and the evangelical left”

  1. Although it’s not the only reason for their growth, the fastest growing church in America is the Latter Day Saints and they have no formal clergy. Instead using average members to deliver sermons. Giving everyone a chance to expound on the scripture and gain experience speaking to others about their faith. Many nondenominational churches also employ group discussion in their weekly small home meetings. Not exactly the same as you’re referencing (although I love the idea) but other options used by growing congregations.

  2. Leo Hartshorne has a book on collaborative preaching from an Anabaptist perspective that I keep wanting to get my hands on. We tried for many months to be more collaborative/dialogical in our preaching at Houston Mennonite. It worked to a degree, and people expressed love for it. But the cultural inertia of “church” was against us in so many ways. The idea of people “bringing something to worship” is so radically different than what many have experienced for decades, where we “get something from worship” that it is hard to overcome.

    Over time, even though we did more teaching and placed more emphasis on dialogue, it weakened, becoming less helpful. We dropped it really all together for a long while, and are only recently trying to re-integrate it in some new, softer ways.


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