I read this helpful article by Krish Kandiah this week on the impossibility of preaching. I had the privilege of being at vicar factory whilst Krish was on staff. I still remember his stand out carol service talk one Christmas. So, he’s a practitioner, but he’s also a thinker and his blog is certainly worth a read.
His point about the way the Internet and social media are changing the way we think and rewiring our brains is profoundly significant. Increasingly we know where to access knowledge rather than how to think for ourselves. He’s right to say that this is bound to affect the way we learn and process information. Preachers need to be aware of these wider cultural developments. We can’t bury our heads in the sand.
He’s right too when he challenges preachers to continue to learn, adapt and develop in the same way that the medical profession has to keep up to speed with the latest developments in medicine. At St Paul’s all our preachers spend some time together in a discussing ideas and thoughts and collectively creating the sermon together. This is a new discipline for all of us, but one I think we are all benefitting from. I certainly think the congregation is!
Of course, preaching isn’t purely pragmatic and responsive to the cultural trends it emerges from. We need to be constantly asking ourselves theological questions. Preaching is a distinctively Christian art form with it’s own history and theological integrity. For example, a sermon is not a lecture, neither it is a presentation. So we at least need to ask ourselves, and settle in our own minds whether, for example, Power Point or Keynote slides change the talk from a sermon into a presentation. In this technological age we need to ask other questions too. What is the relation of the sermon to the speaker? Is the sermon embodied, physical communication? If it is, does the multi site model of church, where the speaker is projected onto a screen at different venues change the form of communication or is it merely a helpful tool? What about the podcast? Martyn Lloyd Jones for years refused to allow his sermons to be recorded for this very reason. Shane Hipps in his book Flickering Pixels reiterates the well known point that the medium is the message, and its true to say that a seventeen foot tall head projected onto a screen is likely to carry more weight that the six foot preacher live on stage! For me, these are as much theological as pragmatic questions.
So, it’s right to experiment. We make regular use of props now during talks, which on the whole have proved to be memorable for the congregation and a helpful focus for the preacher. But we must be rigorously theological as we reflect on what works and what doesn’t. I’m not convinced by the idea of interactive sermons with questions before, during and after because I think there remains a sense in which the sermon is a word from the Lord that needs to be heard, but further discussion and life application through midweek small groups, has in my view got to enhance learning, transformation and discipleship.
If you have any other ideas or suggestions, or experiments you’ve seen work well, post a comment and let me know.