Monday, February 22, 2010

The Communal Word

Every Lenten season, my church holds soup suppers on Wednesday evenings, which consist not only of a meal but also a program exploring some topic or other related to the Bible, faith, theology, etc. I think that this is still a fairly typical practice in many churches.

I myself try to offer something unique during these suppers. One year I put together a program called Bible Stories You Won't Learn in Children's Church. Another year we discussed some of Rob Bell's NOOMA videos. I think that they have to be something other than what is usually offered over the course of the year, as this time warrants something deeper; something special.

This year, I'm taking a cue from Doug Pagitt and using a practice that his faith community, Solomon's Porch, observes: communal preparation of the sermon. An explanation of this practice can be found in his book Church Re-Imagined. On Tuesday evenings, a smaller group from Solomon's Porch gets together and talks about the scripture passage that Doug has chosen to work with that week. They react to it, ask questions about it, reflect on it, and Doug takes note of the conversation as he prepares further later on.

I'm adapting this to more of a mainline context. My plan is to present the three non-psalter readings from the lectionary and invite discussion on each of them. Maybe we'll get to discuss all three, maybe the group will end up only discussing one of them the entire hour. It depends on what they feel like talking about.

But essentially, I won't know what I'm preaching on until late Wednesday evening...hopefully. This will be a stretch for me, as usually I have an outline by Wednesday evening and it drives me nuts if I'm still working on that piece on Thursday or Friday.

All the same, I think that this will be a good practice. I think that inviting more voices to the sermon preparation process will be a point of learning for me, and the group will hopefully be energized by being able to contribute to the worship moment in this way. I can get out of my own head, as it were, and not only share what I'm thinking but hear from others.

Pagitt's argument in favor of doing this practice is imagining the sermon as a true dialogue from start to finish, rather than a monologue consisting only of the preacher's thoughts. To varying degrees, I think that preachers have individual church members or groups within the church in mind while preparing the sermon, but this practice takes it all the way "back to formula" and begins there with a microcosm of the church contributing from the get-go.

I hope that this goes well. I think it will.