Pastors - A Request for Input

I had an interesting experience the other night in our small group.

I made a comment about all of us being products of information overload. In order to support the point, I asked them to share the general topic of discussions they were a part of, heard, saw or listened to in the media, etc. I was surprised at how few specifics they were able to recall. I wondered at first if it was reluctance, but these folks know each other well and are not afraid to talk to each other. The more I've thought about this, the more I'm coming to suspect that what I fear happens with our preaching and teaching (in one ear and out the other) happens with everything else too.

One of the topics that frequently runs through my mind is how to extend the benefits of our preaching and teaching beyond just Sunday. We used the general text I've preached on during my recent series on Proverbs 1-9 as the basis for our small group discussions. I usually write the study questions on Sunday night, after I've preached that morning, and distribute them to our group leaders. My hope is that as we review the theme again mid-week that it will help to solidify what we studied together on Sunday.

This is hardly a novel approach - churches have been following this for years. But I am wondering - and would very much like to hear from others in ministry, especially preaching pastors - what you do to extend the benefits of your preaching and teaching. When you consider the time we spend (or should spend!!) preparing a sermon during the week, wouldn't it be great to get more from it than a 30-40 minute chunk of time?

I know that God's Spirit is the one who performs the work of teaching our people. But we also have our part to do as well. What are some ideas that you have used - or would like to?

I have no clue how many pastors read this blog. I may be the only one! [grin]. If you are a pastor and are reading this, would you share this with some other pastors and let's see if we can generate some feedback on this subject. I think it will do all of us some good.


Milton Stanley said...

Peter, What you're already doing with giving discussion questions to your small groups is one of the best reinforcers I've experienced.

At the first church where I preached, I handed out brief sermon outlines with blanks where eight or ten of the key words should be. Members of the congregation filled in the blanks as I preached. The congregation enjoyed this, but I didn't. I felt it turned the sermon into a quiz more than a word of transformation. I don't know.

At my most recent work, I printed out my sermon text before each Sunday morning service (but preached from an outline) and made copies available in the back of the auditorium after services. That worked pretty well, particularly for the hard-of-hearing. Most members, however, had no interest in taking a sermon text with them.

One thing I like to do is to have an integrated preaching and teaching program in which Sunday school, Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening lessons are inter-related. This doesn't necessarily mean they all have to be on the same subject. In every sermon I preach and lesson I deliver, I try to make reference to a previous lesson from the past week. One of the benefits of this method is that it works even with someone else's teaching or preaching (e.g. "Like Bill mentioned in Sunday school this morning. . .").

With teaching and preaching series I've tried announcing the chapter the week before and asking everyone to read it ahead of time. Some folks do.

Probably the best way to make our lessons "stick" is to involve the congregation in the discussion. This is my training as a school teacher coming in here. When I teach Sunday school and Wednesday nights, and sometimes when I preach on Sunday nights, I ask a lot of open-ended questions and wait for the congregation to reply. That helps them begin thinking and sharing. Even on Sunday mornings, when the congregation sits there silently as I preach, I ask a few rhetorical questions and try gently to challenge their thinking on discipleship.

You're right, Peter, that the avalanche of words and images from the commercial culture causes us to ignore and filter most of what comes our direction. Still, I think the best way we can get through to people is simply by the power of the Word of God. The Word will do its workings in our hearts whether we remember with our minds or not (of course, it's much better if we do remember, thus this discussion). Our dependence on the Word for real transformation is why expository preaching is so critical to strengthening and equipping disciples.

Milton Stanley said...

One more point. I've found that a single lesson rarely has dramatic impact on anyone's life (although at times it certainly does). The cumulative effect of biblical teaching and preaching, however, changes the lives of those who submit themselves to the transforming power of the Word. The focus of preaching and teaching, then, shouldn't be so much at delivering the one dynamite sermon as much as in faithfully, consistently, holding out the Word of life to the congregation and inviting them to join God in his Kingdom. The Word does the changing, not the preacher.

I've invited visitors at Transforming Sermons to join in this discussion.

Rev. Rick Hill Jr, D.Div. said...
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John Schroeder said...

What a great question. I did a full post on it here

Adrian said...

Great discussion, will add to it over on my blog

passthebread said...

I am a preacher by gifitng BUT discipleship is far more than preaching which sems to be really the root of your question. HOW do we really learn? I thnk the answer is community. I have certain sayings I say over and over a again:
"The gospel is an arrow downward"
"Morally Beautiful Community"
"Discipleship happens in the home"
"The 'oikos' is place where you live"
"Keep a porous border between church and home"
I use the word "affection" in my language. All these phrases mean a lot to our people. It is the community culture. The key is that this language is part of the community life. brad

Doug Floyd said...

I am always amazed at how Jesus left his listeners puzzled. The word "misunderstood" appears throughout the gospels. One would think that if Jesus was sucha great preacher, he would do a better job of making his point clear. Unless of course that wasn't his intention. It may be that Jesus wanted to leave his litened a bit puzzled and asking their own questions. While I believe in expoudning upon the text, I also believe the sermon should not solve everything. At times, it might be helpful to provoke more questions than simply provide lots of answers.

Aristotle suggested a principle of rhetoric similar though not identical to this. He called it an enthymeme. This is a form of argument that implies the premise or conclusion--inviting the listener to fill it in. It can stir an emotional response that connects the affection to the rational argument ecnouraging a deeper level of indentification between the listener and the argument. (To all the rhetoricians, please forgive and correct if I've mistated this--it's been a long time.)

What it the implied premsie/conclusion acts as an irritant or catalyst that constantly troubles the listener until they find some resolve? This might be one way to help us think about sermons that may be a little risky but also might invite a great involvement from the listener.

Andrew said...

I am not a pastor, although my degree is in Church Ministry. I firmly believe that for a sermon to "stick" in the minds of the congregation, the pastor must at all times be honest. So often we hear sermons that are terribly misleading to the congregation. "Trust in the Lord," he might say when he himself is having a hard time trusting. "The Bible says," she proclaims while the congregant sits helplessly and hopelessly in the pew. Sometimes preachers rely to heavily on the cliche, the Christianeese if you will. The sermon notes are great, but will often end up in a pile. The small group discussions throughout the week are fantastic, but only if the issue is important to the individual. But the sermon where the preacher demonstrates their own humanity, their own doubt and misgivings, those are the sermons I will remember.