Reclaiming a Communal Expression for Preaching
At the Oak Gardens church in Dallas, Texas, we are currently ramping up for our summer and fall life group ministry season. This is our second season doing life groups and we have grown from three life group leaders to twelve. During the first season, with three life group leaders, our time of training, pastoral coaching, and community building was manageable and orderly. Conversely, during our current season with twelve life group leaders, I am noticing that it is more challenging to make progress working through the curriculum that is centered on Scripture. The majority of my current life group leaders are passionate speakers who love to engage in our conversations. As much as I love the passion and the engagement that occurs during our dialogue, sometimes it can become a little chaotic with leaders interjecting their thoughts while one is speaking. It appears that my leaders have a lot to say when discussing Scripture. In my last article, Is Preaching THAT Necessary?, I confronted my first (Christian) love—preaching. I defined preaching as a form of articulating Scripture from the standpoint of a woman or man standing behind a podium traditionally every Sunday. Preaching behind a podium on Sundays is necessary, but the current climate of Christianity in North America in relation to the limited picture we can glean from in the New Testament Scriptures, causes me to question if there is something missing. As a lover of pulpit preaching, I have noticed that there is some sort of an enabling supposition that subconsciously occurs within the Christian pattern of our institutional churches. The basic pattern of “coming to church” every Sunday to worship and hear a sermon leads me to wonder, how can we assure that the listeners are owning the message, wrestling with message and applying the message as opposed to simply listening, responding by saying amen, patting the preacher on the back, and going back to living life as usual?
In 1 Corinthians 14, the Apostle Paul addresses various topics and concerns that need to be addressed with the Corinthian church. In verses 29-33, Paul presents a bird’s eye view of the chaos happening in the Corinthian church as a result of multiple prophets speaking at the same time. In this block of Scripture, there appear to be at least two groups of people being addressed. The first group are those who receive prophesy and share a revelation, while the second group are the ones who weigh and discern what is being said. Paul addresses the first group who need to create a format that would allow two or three prophets to speak one at a time. I can imagine these prophets being as passionate as—or even more passionate than—my life group leaders who love to share and engage in the conversations. Like a shaken soda can that bursts out of its shell once an opening arises, so is one who is filled with the Spirit of God and has a thought to share. Perhaps Paul is communicating to the church, “Wait a minute. I know you are excited, but we still need some order.”
The second group is just as important as the first group. The second group are the listeners who discern what is being said. So as the two or three prophets share a revelation, the listeners have an opportunity to weigh in, ask questions, affirm the message, and perhaps even offer pushback and challenge the message. The listeners are not passive in the preaching/prophetic moment, nor are they forced to digest the message. Rather, they are actively engaging, sharing, growing and contributing to what was being proclaimed. This provides accountability for the prophets, meaning one could not just stand behind a podium and preach any narrative without the listeners engaging and challenging the rhetoric. Whether the listeners have a seminary degree or not, they are filled with the Spirit, and it is the Spirit who helps them discern what is being said. What has happened in most of our North American churches is a massive group of Christians being forced to digest sermons without the space to articulate concerns, questions, and even disagreements.
In conclusion, I Corinthians 14 paints a picture of communal proclamation. The Apostle Paul addresses chaos, but he does not denounce community. The Apostle Paul addresses the need for decency and order in worship, but he does not eliminate the organic free expression of prophecy. Communal proclamation may seem chaotic, but God has a habit of speaking into chaos. After all, when God speaks, order takes preeminence in the presence of chaos. Church leaders, let’s think of creative ways to reclaim a communal expression for proclamation.