the role of the congregation in preaching.

In the 1960′s, the concept of the “professional minister” really took off.  Ministers wanted to be taken as seriously as doctors or lawyers.  Even in my tradition, we started dressing slicker and preaching more refined sermons.  The style that came in the years following was almost unbelievably polished.  Scripted sermons, memorized down to the syllable, where by the time you preached you could hit the play button in your head and it could come out exactly the same no matter where you are.

That is pretty much the opposite of what I do.  My metaphors for preaching are more like jazz music and love-making (though not in a weird way, I promise).  But I do see preaching as being just that interactive.  As I covered in the first entry on preaching, I’m all about diligent preparation, and I do believe that putting in your time in the trenches there brings greater fluidity in delivery.  I’m not a “I open my mouth and the Lord will fill it” kind of Pentecostal.  But at the same time, no matter how much I’ve prepared, the same message is going to come out very differently depending on who I’m speaking to.

In preaching 3 times every weekend at Renovatus, this is always the case.  To be attentive to the Spirit involves being attentive to the audience, sensitive to what God is doing in them, what they are receiving or rejecting.  That doesn’t mean being dictated by the audience, either performing for them or pulling back if something gets an icy reception.  But being aware.  I can feel it when I need to punch harder, or nuance differently.  When I’m really resting in God, preaching is like surfing, like riding waves.  I want to be aware of what He’s up to at any given moment, where I need to drill down or let up.

I like it when a congregation preaches with me.  I really dig that, and can roll with it.  If I don’t get a lot of verbal feedback, I’m okay too.  You wouldn’t believe that, because I make comments about it when people are quiet. But that doesn’t mean I’m upset or having a bad time because they aren’t getting down.  Sometimes I do that more when I’m feeling really comfortable, and preaching involves a sort of flirtation.  The point is that I’m in tune with them.  And I do adapt based on what I feel God is doing in the moment.  I could never be that preacher who just hits the play button, and at least for me personally don’t understand the appeal of having a message packaged that tightly.

I do have some funny instincts.  For example, if I do feel like the crowd is not just quiet but perhaps really struggling with something I’m saying, like I’m hitting a wall, I’m inclined to swing exponentially harder.  I don’t know if that’s good.  But if I smell blood in the water, I get more voracious not more timid.  That has gotten me in trouble a time or to, and I don’t claim the Spirit is in that.  I’m telling you how I do it.

But I do think the Spirit is at work in the congregation as much in any given moment as within me, so that requires being attentive and listening even and maybe even especially while I’m speaking.