I'm looking forward to the rest of his series, but I'd like to take his thought about participating in the sermon "without being an authoritative voice in the sermon-giving" a little further. Specifically I think we should re-emphasize the skill and art of active listening as the community's primary participation in the sermon.
Several years ago, I read a book by Joseph Stowell on Following Christ. At a time when so much was being said about leadership, Stowell wrote:
As clear as Scripture is about the priority and preeminence of following, it is somewhat amazing that we still don't seem to get it. Churches hold leadership training courses, but rarely get around to talking about following. We fill our preaching agendas with calls for men to be leaders in their homes and leaders in the church, when what we really need are people who are first and foremost fully devoted followers (p. 39).
I'd like to transfer that idea to the current talk about preaching. It's not that preaching isn't important nor that we shouldn't get people more involved. But it seems what we need first and foremost are fully-involved listeners.
I am reading a book about the Puritans and just finished the chapter about preaching. Here's how the Puritan preachers got their listeners "involved":
The Puritans taught their congregations to memorise the sermons they heard, looking up references and taking note if need be, so that they could 'repeat' the messages afterwards and meditate on them during the week. The ministry of the word was thus a co-operative activity, in which the laity were to learn just as hard as the minister laboured to teach. A sermon that was needlessly hard to remember was for that very reason, of necessity, a bad sermon (Packer, A Quest for Godliness, p. 285).
I have no idea how the Puritans got their congregations to memorize their sermons. I'm not sure if that would work today. But the point is, they believed it was important for people to actively listen to God's word proclaimed - presumably that included applying what they heard as they meditated on it.
One of the reasons I've been thinking along this line is because I'm reading through Jeremiah. Jeremiah was filled with the fire of God's word. It burned within him such that he couldn't keep it in (Jer. 20:9). But what some times gets overlooked is that the people refused to listen. God didn't rebuke Jeremiah for his methodology. He rebuked the people for their responsibility (i.e. failure to listen). So in addition to our talk about the word of God burning within preachers, we also need to help people become more active listeners. If dialogue and debate and Q&A contribute to that, great. But I suspect humility and submissiveness and hunger for God (internal attributes rather than just external exercise) will go further to produce good listeners.
Of course, all this implies that the preacher himself must be a good listener ... because if he can't hear the word of God, what does he have to say really?
Update: Jesus Creed is blogging about dialogue in preaching as well.