Do you ever think that preaching needs to feel more like a conversation?
Dr. Mike Jackson thinks so too.
Dr. Jackson was a Master Class leader at the 2018 National Festival of Young Preachers, where he gave the presentation, “Hey Church, Let’s Preach!” In his class, he used several sources to talk about a perfect storm brewing in our culture which presents significant challenges to preaching and offered a helpful solution. The following article is an abbreviated summary of his class.
This perfect storm is made up of the Troubling Winds of Postmodernism, The Crashing Waves of Secularism, and the Deafening Thunder of Pluralism.
Troubling Winds of Postmodernism
Jackson says postmodernity tends to be skeptical about 3 things: The nature of truth, The function of language, and the role of tradition. “What you need to understand is this: it’s not the idea of truth itself that is in question in this age, but it’s about whether or not truth can be absolute, universal, and uncontested. That is the core idea in a postmodern world. That means we, in our faith tradition, need to ask this question: How can we, in a world like this, claim that the Christian story is true?”
When you recognize how postmodernism sees the world and all truth through interpretation, you may want to shift your preaching toward narrative. This doesn’t mean your sermon has to be full of stories, but instead recognize “that we make sense of our lives by the stories that shape us and mold us.”
Crashing Waves of Secularism
“Our people seem to have lost their capacity to see and name God in the ordinary events of their everyday lives.” As well as arguing that rising secularism has led to a loss of transcendence in churches, Jackson says that it seems to have blinded people to the work of God in the world. This leads to an uncomfortable question: “How is Christianity, and what we preach week in and week out, even relevant to people’s lives?” He says preachers need to help their people develop “gospel eyes” to see God at work in the everyday world around them.
Deafening Thunder of Pluralism
Dr. Jackson notes that the current age has created a significant crisis: mistrust of religion and loss of transcendence, yet there is still a “deep spiritual yearning” among people. “But there’s a problem. We just have too much information coming in all the time. There are so many voices. They are so loud. There’s so much noise all around. Which voice, or story, do we pay attention to? Which story do we allow to be the story that shapes who we are?” He says the church needs to carefully shape the stories we tell, and recognize that the church has “the greatest story ever told!”.
So then how can we preach sermons that take seriously the needs and concerns of postmodernism, secularism, and pluralism, all while faithfully preaching the gospel in a way that will be truly heard?
Dr. Jackson suggests that a “more participatory homiletic, where people are engaged in the preaching event at every level” may be a solution, and he offers several pre-sermon, mid-sermon, and post-sermon practices for more conversational preaching.
Teach your people…
- Memorizing the text
- Sensing the Text
- Get into the text and let your senses come alive
- Sleuthing the text
- Asking good questions of the text
- Send out questions you want them to ask about the text
- Text/email discussion and feedback groups
- Sermon research team – stories, arts, media to be used in the sermon
- Central Theme you heard
- Online Poll – Instant feedback
- Answer questions or share stories from pre-sermon feedback
- Discussion/Dialogue/Breakout Groups
- May be difficult with larger churches
- Testimony – where does the text intersect life
- Weave in testimony with a table talk and a guided conversation
- Members’ testimonies/interpretations of the text become the sermon of the day
- Naming God in the world – share on with others, in person or with social media
- How have you seen God at work in light of the sermon?
- Dialogue groups
- Sunday School or small groups that meet after the service and discuss the main theme of the sermon
- Share your sermon manuscript. Invite dialogue and follow up with questions
- Report your incarnation of last week’s sermon on the following Sunday
- Share print or video testimonies on Facebook or other social media
Have you experimented with conversational preaching practices? If you have, Dr. Mike Jackson wants to hear from you! Email him at MJackson@trevecca.edu to share your ideas. You can also click here for his presentation slides from the Master Class, which include further notes, suggestions, and a rich bibliography.
*The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author(s) or speaker(s) and do not represent the beliefs or positions of the Academy of Preachers. The distribution of content by Academy of Preachers is an effort to fulfill our mission to Identify, Network, Support, and Inspire young people in their call to gospel preaching. Our network and participants are widely diverse in geography, ethnicity, culture, gender, theology, tradition, and practice. We give space for those in our network to contribute their unique voices to a global conversation on gospel preaching and Christian ministry.
Dr. Mike Jackson is the Associate Professor of Religion at Trevecca Nazarene University.