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Practicing Congregation: Preaching Practice, by Tim Moore
by Tim Moore
Will the sermon survive the 21st century?
Communication in all sorts of venues has been significantly changing during the past generation. From video conferencing and Power Point, to social media and interactive discussions, the way we teach and educate continues to evolve. Research on how well people retain information indicates that the spoken lecture is the least effective manner of communication. Add visuals; add hands-on experience; add interactive components to spoken communication and the retention percentages increase significantly. Yet, the sermon has remained relatively unchanged since the Reformation.
In addition, the Church is in the midst of a shift from belief to practice. This means people are more interested in how to live the faith, than in what to believe about the faith.
More than ever it is a challenge to make the sermon engaging, especially where churches and pastors remain stalwart to preserving the monologue sermon. Here are some ideas that have helped me over the years. Perhaps you could add to this list.
Aim to make the sermon transformational instead of informational. Teaching how to pray is better than information about prayer. Sharing real life, everyday methods for ministering in Christ’s name is better than explaining the doctrine of the Priesthood of the Believers. Inspiring the congregation to practice the faith in a new way is better than persuading them to accept a particular belief.
Show don’t tell. Rather than explain concepts or beliefs reveal them with stories.
Unveil the tension in a biblical story. The plot of every good story hinges on conflict (and the Bible is good story). Suspense keeps people listening.
Focus on asking great questions more than on giving great answers. Curious questions allow the listener to explore scripture in her own mind and heart – during worship and long after the sermon has been preached.
Leave the sermon open ended as much as possible. When some strings are left untied, it invites the listener to draw his own conclusions. And it honors the reality that the answers lay in the listener’s interaction with the Holy Spirit, not from the preacher’s mouth.
If your congregation isn’t quite ready for video clips, or social media interaction, or Power Point sermons, maybe the text of preaching can at least shift from teaching beliefs about the faith to showing how to practice the faith. Perhaps your congregation would benefit from a discussion about the aim, purpose, and communication of the sermon in worship. It never hurts a pastor to hear what the congregation wants from a sermon.
Tim Moore holds the title of writer-in-residence at Sardis Baptist Church, Charlotte, N.C., where he was pastor for 19 years. Tim and his wife, Magay Shepard, are the proud parents of teenage triplets, Abby, Hannah and Michael. He holds degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary, Alliance partner Andover Newton Theological School, and Mars Hill College. He returns to the Alliance board, where he served in the early 1990s.