I like Doug Pagittâ€™s idea of â€œimplicatingâ€ the audience in the text and sermon. That is, he argues that â€œapplicationâ€ is an insufficient term to describe the full intention of what the Bible wants from us as we hear the Word. He suggests the Bible, and the sermon as the working out of the Bible in a local setting, implicates our lives in the story of the Bible.
Pagitt also contends that â€œspeachingâ€ is not the best way to do this. I agree. What I disagree on is that Pagitt seems to suggest (in my read of his book) that progressional dialogue does a better job of this because it permits the audience to be implicated by participation both in preparation of the sermon and in the delivery of that sermon at the weekly gathering.
Hereâ€™s why I disagree. Pagitt operates with a â€œspeech-onlyâ€ model of what the local church and pastor do. Here is a major issue: in my experience, most churches do not rely on the sermon on Sunday to do it all. In fact, if one factors into the formula of the â€œspeachingâ€ act the manifold other opportunities many local churches have for â€œimplicatingâ€ the church in the Bibleâ€™s story, then I think we have much less of a problem. For instance, most churches have small groups, some of which are directly based on the sermon itself â€“ and extend the sermon and the Bible into the lives of the people. Most churches also have Sunday School programs that extend the Bible into lives. And most churches encourage all kinds of other acts of implication: personal Bible study and prayer, coffee times with others, regular fellowship with others at the table in homes, reading books and listening to tapes and listening to radio and TV.
In other words, I am wondering if Pagitt has been fair to â€œspeachingâ€ by isolating the sermon from the rest of the ministry of the local church, while for his own church he includes all it does to show how it implicates one another in the sermon and Bible study.
Having said this, I agree with Pagitt that the issue is implicating ourselves in the Word â€“ and it leads me straight back to my previous post on this book where I proposed a fuller model for ministry called Outcome-Based Church Ministry.
Preaching is a cultural oddity according to Doug (48) — and he is right. It is a mixture of public speaking and intimate soul care. (Or at least it has the potential for being those things.) But one-way communication is in and of itself not that much of a cultural oddity. Television is one-way communication — likewise with radio (even in talk radio very few members of the audience participate) and film. Business leaders give speeches and people pay big bucks to hear motivational speakers. A portion of our educational experience involves being spoken to. And there are times when that is desired.
I am all for making preaching more directly interactive (It’s not either/or but both/and — speaching and interactive). However, in some settings speaching communication is going to be more effective than interactive communication. Most people would not have the patience to participate in a congregation where the sermon was each week a free-flowing progression of ideas — where every person has permission to speach at you in the name of interaction. It would drive me crazy.
I do a fair amount of interactive stuff and sometimes I squirm when people with half-baked unprepared ideas feel they have to ramble on and on just because we have opened up the microphone. If we did that every week I suspect that the church would dwindle to the pastor and the five or six people who every week think they have something to say.
In reality all communication is interactive. It’s just so at different levels. As Scot points out, the speaching event is not the only form of interaction taking place in the congregation. There is Sunday School and small groups, etc. (Doug has attempted to deal with this broader context in his book Church Re-imagined). What is perhaps missing in this whole dialogue is a discussion of liturgy and why the sermon is most often a speaching event.
I would argue that the whole collective worship experience of the church is in a sense the dialogue that Doug yearns for. The sermon is but one small part of that dialogue.
Historically the collective worship of the church has centered around two main events — the public reading of the scripture and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The sermon is a response to the reading of the scripture. (Many churches mistakenly treat the reading of scripture as the preparation for the sermon — but until modern times it has been the other way around.)
The sermon event is unique in that the speaker isn’t suppose to responding so much with his or her own ideas but he or she, directed by the Spirit, becomes the voice of the church — and not just the local church but the church catholic. This is why we expect our pastors to be trained not only in biblical studies but also in historical theology. We’re not really wanting new and novel — or progressive approaches to the gospel but we are humbling ourselves to listen to what God has said and is saying.
In a sense, then, that sermon becomes the broader voice of the church in a broader dialogue. It is the saints in all places and at all times checking in with that local body. If we understand the catholic context we see that preaching is a lot more complicated than just listening to what the Spirit might be saying through a few members in any given congregation — regardless of how interactive the sermon is or isn’t. So at least one of the outcomes of the sermon should be to hear and respond to the voice of the church catholic.