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Transformational preaching…

Some excellent thoughts coming from the discussion in the last two posts (1 and 2) on preaching. I’m going to continue discussing preaching as valuable in postmodern contexts where we still have an audience. However, I believe this must not be reduced to the transfer of information, which it often is. If it does not lead to transformation it is a waste of all of our time. I’ve been guilty of this when I’ve spoken in the past.

Preaching through questions

I see preaching as a genre of communication of which there are many methods. It does not have to assume only the traditional role of an expert communicator pounding truth into their listeners. With postmodernity no longer subscribing to authority figures having all the right information, a more helpful form of preaching may be one where instead we “raise the right questions”. Although this may seem like a counter-intuitive way of delivering truth, if the gospel is in fact true, if we continue encouraging people to ask the right questions and seeking, the person of truth is where they will ultimately land. This process of discovery facilitates learning and more convicting answers for the postmodern audience.

A preaching dialogue?

Although the form of preaching can seem like a monologue, effective postmodern preaching cuts through the superficiality of the postmodern conversations and can actually launch a dialogue at the deepest levels. When a postmodern preacher can properly exegete the culture that it is communicating in, through the monologue one can actually draw out things that the listener dares not ask out loud. By being aware of the internal conversations of the audience, a preacher can have a very effective dialogue through the preaching monologue. This cultivates a sense of safety and understanding for the preacher. Taking this one step further, the conversation when effectively facilitated can become a trialogue where both the preacher and the listener together interact with what God maybe saying through the Scriptures, the Spirit, or even Creation itself.


Another form in which preaching can take shape is through storytelling. The language of the postmodern culture is image rich and desperately lacking a coherent storyline. God’s story is “an intranarrative” connecting all people can be very appealing. Although a single grand story may appear exclusive, what if we invited people to universal story that can incorporate their own story? Are there ways in the preaching moment where we can allow people to immediately begin participating jointly in the greatest developing story ever told?

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • perelandra January 17, 2007, 9:28 am

    Yo Lon,

    Matt from Japan here… Just a quick comment that popped into my mind after reading this post – Jesus’ teachings were parables! If we look at the parables, we find that they were all three of the things you mentioned above…(i think) being; Storytelling, Dialogue and Questions. Can preaching incorporate more parable”ness” – Ie. Preach the Truth, in a method the people understand.

    Peace out

  • Mad Max January 17, 2007, 9:54 am

    I’m enjoying reading your thoughts on preaching, Lon.

    How would you describe the difference between teaching & preaching? Is there one?

  • Lon January 17, 2007, 1:36 pm

    You’re right on Matt… we need to continually rediscover contextualized parables and share them alongside of our own lives.

    and Sam, that my friend is an excellent question. I’ve struggled with that one myself. My thoughts so far on teaching and preaching

    – for the most part the scriptures seem to use the two words interchangeably
    – However they do seem to be at times used as separate and distinct terms. I think the differences are very subtle however.
    – the nuances from my perspective are fairly simplistic. as i said in the post preaching is just one type of communication. or tool in the pastors toolkit as Alex mentioned.
    – preaching seems to me to be more invasive through the scriptures. not necessarily in a negative way. but it’s often to an audience, and invades a space, ie. synagogues, temple courts, samarian villages… it may not be proclaiming something that the people want to hear, but it is in truth and love nonetheless.
    – teaching seems to imply that there are learners, those who are seeking to be stretched or to grow…

    – so maybe in the words of st. francis, preach always, if necessary use words … to teach?

    that’s my quick take off the top. anyone else want to have a go at it?

  • snakesanddoves January 19, 2007, 3:55 am

    I’m just catching up on your threads, Lon. Been out of the loop!

    Questions? Yes – a good place to start. I think that is one of the best reasons for being embedded in real life is so we can know what the real questions people are asking are.
    Storytelling? Yes too. Our questions emerge from our own stories of life lived in real life.
    Trialogue? Yes – perhaps these days as much as ever the only way. I don’t buy the sense of the Manic Street Preachers’ album title “This is my truth, show me yours”, but there is a need for us to share how we see God and experience God and ask others what they see and experience and then we may trust that God meets us each in the overlap of conversation. I guess 1 to 1 or 1 to 200 the third person of the trinity will be looking to get the word in. It’s good to talk (usually!).

  • eric January 19, 2007, 12:06 pm

    Hey Lon, I’m catching up to. Lots of great stuff here. Personally I believe preaching is alive and well in America. I’m not talking about the church per se, but I see all of the T.V. talks shows & Talk Radio as a form of preaching. And American’s pay lots of money to go to conferences every year. I’m in the HealthCare Industry and there are ton’s of conferences that companies/hospitals spend $600.00 + just for the ticket alone to send their employees to be inspired, motivated and taught. I just recently went to a PlaneTree Conference in San Diego and one of the speakers was Tom Kelly author of, “The Ten Faces of Innovation” (great read by the way.) And he preached/taught a great message on Innovation.

    Obviously, followers of Jesus have the ultimate message. You know verse that says, “My people perish for a lack of knowledge” I think intuitively we all know that. So humanity is hungry for knowledge. They have this great hope that if we could just figure it out. It being life and all it’s complexity, then maybe we can keep from perishing. All this is just to say that Preachers\Teachers will always have an audience regardless of their message.

    Here is something I’ve been struggling with. I recently read “Organic Church” In chapter 5 Neil writes about the Word and how vitally important it is to get it out to people. I agree however, I really don’t get what he’s saying. For example here is an excerpt from page 66.

    “We might not really give people the pure Word of God. Rather we give them well-meaning messages about the Word of God. For example, I received Christ by reading a tract. After that, I was discipled with a fill-in-the blank booklet that had me look at verses of the Bible, but not really read the Bible itself. I was then trained to use the same tools with others, thus perpetuating the problem. later, I went off to seminary, where I studied many books about the Bible, but rarely the Bible itself. Eventually, I became a pastor who developed his own curriculum and gave that to people. many would come on Sundays to hear me preach God’s Word, but they didn’t receive the seed; they received a message about the seed – a seed substitute. ” and later on the same page he writes, “Do we really think we can improve upon God’s Word? Why do we so often give people our own teachings and curriculum rather than Jesus’ teachings? Are we so arrogant that we think our own messages are better than God’s? Do we really believe that God’s Word needs our help?”

    What do you think Neil means? Should I just sit people down and read the bible to them? I see the Apostle Paul engage culture and even quote it. I really like story telling. Remember when King David got busted? God sent Nathan the Prophet to deal with him. Nathan did not read the Word to him, or did he? Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, Thou shall not commit adultery, Thou shall not commit murder, etc,

    I think what Nathan did was translate the Word to him through story. And Jesus does the same thing over and over throughout the gospels. God’s Word has transformed me. And now my story/testimony along with the “Blood of the Lamb” overcomes the wicked one.

    We must be great story tellers. We can tell the story many, many ways, but I’m convinced it’s a method that captures people’s hearts and minds. It is the reason why so many rent videos, and go to the movies, they love story, they want escape. How do I convince people they are in the Ultimate Story and see them transformed? I think it’s by translating the Word in anyway that makes sense to people. I’ve got people in my fellowship that can barely read. So we read the Word to them, but we always translate it if we can, and we pray that God’s Spirit will supernaturally awaken people to the reality of His Son Jesus. Historically speaking, people having their own copy of the scriptures is a relatively new thing.

    Do I win the prize for having the longest post? Thanks for leading this discussion. eriq

  • Lon January 19, 2007, 1:08 pm

    Hey Eric, would love to hear more about ten faces… i started reading it but had to return it to the library…

    You’re right, whatever our take on the ability of preaching to transform is, it is very much alive and well in America. Your insight on the splurge of conferences is proof enough of that.

    that quote was a low point in the book for me. I know where Neil’s heart is coming form. I do believe in the power of the word of God alone. However I believe an overarching theme of the scriptures is that of translation / contextualization. The word of God does not need our ‘help’ but God has sent US with the word, to help those around us.

    Thanks so much for your thoughts! and yes you win… as for a prize… hrm.. a life-time subscription to my blog? haha

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