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In light of Jim Belcher’s response to Doug Pagitt’s own proposal for “progressional dialogue,” I want to weigh in with what I suggest is my own proposal for a Third Way.  I have been in contact with a few persons who wanted to know what I thought about Belcher’s response to Pagitt so here goes…

First this: I will critique both Belcher and Pagitt for what they have not said, and I infer from what they have not said to the conclusion that they have not emphasized what I think needs to be emphasized more (and that will be my proposal below). 

I think Jim Belcher’s proposal is still traditionalist, and all the terms folks find for preaching they don’t like – one-way, etc – is critique of bad preaching and not critique of traditional preaching. There is an important place for public declaration; there always has been and there always will be.  Jim believes this but the problem with the traditionalist approach is bad preaching, not preaching. Jim and I agree on the importance of preaching and the need to avoid bad preaching (who doesn’t?), but his approach remains traditionalist (more later).

But Pagitt’s proposal, which has progressive features in it and a hermeneutic that needs more definition, is also still too traditional for it is locked too much into what happens on Sunday. I take his suggestion of community discussion of a text to be a step forward, but his “progressional dialogue” model (as I recall from reading his book and blogging about it when it came out) still appears to me to be too directed at what happens in the “sermon” (call it “progressional dialogue” or something else) in one setting. Yes, he advocates participation of the church in the sermon, but it is still focused on the sermon (as far as I know).


A genuine Third Way will get beyond the Sunday morning
sermon as the primary form of spiritual formation and education in a local
church, and neither Belcher nor Pagitt seem to approach preaching through the lens of a larger formational program with clearly defined outcomes. A genuine Third Way will form a well-rounded and adaptable formation
program that guides all sermons, all teaching, and all activities in the
church. Sermons will be seen as one part of the formational ministry of the church. In other words, Third Way preaching is rooted in the overall outcomes of the church. 

If you want to read a book that will rock the pastor’s and church’s world, but which is very clear and will make all kinds of suggestions, I recommend Maryellen Weimer: Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice
. I have been suggesting for some time that the biggest shift will come in churches when they take education (especially for adults) seriously. We can tweak sermons and Sunday services all we want, but the only real substantive shift will occur when a larger vision for formation and education are shaped by outcomes.

What is most needed is a complete spiritual formation
approach to the entire church and for each person; outcomes need to be
formulated by the leaders and the church so that the whole approach is embraced.
Within the overall approach to realizing outcomes, which I would say are loving
God, loving others and a life of holiness, sermons play a role and sometimes an
important one. But serious formative changes occur when the individual and
the group participate in, activate, and integrate what is being taught. (By the way, that last sentence requires pages of discussion.) And
these formative changes take place within a set of outcomes. And, perhaps most
importantly, they take place with spiritual directors, pastors, teachers and
friends who come alongside to help a person.

The biggest issue here is not preaching; the biggest issue is the weight given to preaching in the overall mission of the local church. Emphasizing the weight of preaching is the Third Way.

All of this, of course, within the parameters of the work of
God’s Spirit through Word and Eucharist, which means respect for the
Great Tradition of the Church. There is no Third Way preaching until we get beyond the Sunday morning service as the primary form of education and formation in the church. 

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