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Review of Preaching Re-Imagined by Doug Pagitt

I read Doug Pagitt's book Preaching Re-Imagined Zondervan (September 1, 2005) today.

Doug is the pastor of Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis and a member of the leadership of Emergent.

Summary:

He questions the value of 1-way lecture preaching. He calls it "speaching." He modestly presents his own model which he calls "progressional dialogue." Concretely this includes having a Bible study on Tuesday night regarding the upcoming Sunday sermon with a number of people from the congregation. He can learn from them and quote them in the sermon. He also gives 10 minutes of open-mic discussion time after his sermon so that people can suggest applications, ask questions, and hear from one another. He also encouraged people to blog about the sermon afterward.

Reaction to thesis:

As someone who is currently a college professor, this seems obvious in the classroom. Yes present content but don't always lecture the entire class period. Give some opportunity for some interaction and questions.

I also teach my students an interactive classroom and small group teaching method called "Shared Christian Praxis" by Thomas Groome from his books Christian Religious Education and Sharing Faith.

However, the sermon is a different thing and for a variety of reasons this 1-way lecturing is the norm. In short (this is my summary - not Doug's), there are people (especially Reformed) who believe this is the right way. Second, there is tradition. Third, it is impractical in a college lecture hall of 100 people (or a church auditorium of 1000) to have good discussion.

Pagitt says the 1-way lecturing model of preaching has a particular effect on the relationship between the pastor and the congregation. It cultivates a sense in which the pastor is admired, unquestioned, and isolated. He or she "the one who knows the Bible." He doesn't think that these effects are particularly biblical nor good for the community nor good for him in the long run.

Still, Doug advocates that the preacher should not just give into the whims of the congregation. The preacher is to prepare and speak courageously to challenge the community in the area of its blindspots. There will simply be times when they point out his blindspots as well and times when they will challenge one another.

Application of thesis:

For me, there have been times when I have listened to sermons that I badly wished it was appropriate to ask questions. Sometimes the preacher says something particularly insenstive and I want to be able to ask: "Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought you said . . . but I'm sure you don't really mean all the nasty implications of that if it were taken the wrong way, right? I just wanted to give you the opportunity to clarify."

Recently, I was at a conference at Granger Community Church and we were allowed to put questions in a bowl on our table. At the end of the morning and afternoon sessions, they tried to answer the questions. That was great!

When I led a young adult ministry, I invited in speakers and invited them to speak for 1/2 hour and then take questions for 15 minutes and then we would encourage people to stay around for dessert. The whole evening was around round tables (dinner, worship, speaker, Q&A, dessert) so that also facilitated discussion.

Similarly, I have done a lot of preaching and one of the first shocks in preaching is how little real feedback you get. During a sermon, people nod off and sleep. Very few people physically or verbally interact with you as you would if you were talking in a small group. (This is not true in an African-American church. I just visited Enon Tabernacle in Philadelphia in January and the interaction was incredible).

Afterward, people typically say, "nice sermon" but that's about it. To get some decent feedback, I eventually had some of my fellow preachers fill out a form for me each time I spoke: (1) what helped me hear was . . . (2) what would have helped me hear better was . . . (3) this sermon inspires me to . . .

I have loved studying the passage I will be preaching on with my small group before I give the sermon. They have reminded me where people are at and given me fresh approaches. I highly recommend that practice.

All in all, I think Doug's approach has much to commend it and I plan on continuing to push the envelope like Doug in encouraging interaction.

Recommendation of who should read this book:

If you have questioned the polished, manuscripted, impersonal, talking-down-to, zero-feedback, difficult-to-apply-to-everyone sermon, this book will be a fresh breeze. If you have forgotten those very real concerns, this book will be a good reminder to keep things fresh.

I think this is a great little provocative book to have students read in preaching classes. I think students in preaching classes are intuitively asking the questions Doug is asking and this book would give them a forum for dealing with those questions. They are asking:

Who am I to preach?
I don't want to use a manuscript - that's boring. I want to walk around and gesture.
How do I not manipulate people but keep them with me?
How do I apply this sermon to people I don't even know and who are at totally different places in life?

This is a must-read for preaching professors (if that needs to be said).

I read the book during my son's two 1-hour naps today so it is a pretty easy read. I only intended to read chapter 2 because Doug says this is the summary of the entire book. If you can't do anything else, do that.

This book is not perfectly written. The book has some quotes from people in his congregation which could probably have been condensed, etc. It is not meticulously researched as he cites just four outside sources in the entire book. But I don't think these things really matter.

This is Doug telling us why he does it the way he does it. I think it is valuable, fresh, honest, and in most cases persuasive.

Resources:

Here is Doug Pagitt's blog and the blog for the book and you can find discussion at North Park professor and New Testament scholar Scot McKnight's famous and outstanding blog: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Also, you can hear Doug on a panel at the Princeton Seminary Emerging Church/Theological Education Caucus (#2) if you like audio like I do. See also my preaching bibliography, teaching bibliograpy and use of media in teaching and preaching bibliography.

Listen here to Richard Holland of Master's Seminary who vehemently disagrees with Pagitt's take on preaching. If you would rather not listen to the MP3, see the notes Mark Shivers took here.

I love listening to sermons and lectures. Here is my list of some that are available on the net.

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