I can be an obsessive person. After all kinds of input at this conference, more prolific blogging and journaling than I’ve had in forever, I found myself at the Hartford airport pulling out Doug Pagitt’s book, Preaching Re-imagined. Kathy looked at me and said, “You’re putting MORE stuff in your head? Aren’t you on overload already?” The truth is, being at a conference like this is like a snowball beginning its roll down a long, snow covered hill. It just keeps gathering steam and size.
We met Doug at the Barnhill’s house, which was great. I’ve had this book for a few months, and knew the basic premise: what we normally call “preaching,” Doug calls “speaching.” It’s a one way form of communication that doesn’t really help the community of Christ be who it ought to be. True preaching is “progressional dialogue”, where the whole community enters in together to help each other grow in our ability to join God’s mission in the world.
I read the whole book in airports and on planes today. He’s pushing for something even deeper than what we’ve experimented with at NFCâ€“the purpose isn’t just participation of people. It’s letting a whole community shape the topic, the teaching, and the journey together.
Unprogrammed Friends totally get this, and probably look in amazement and confusion at us programmed Friends. Unprogrammed Friends gather in silence, and the expectation is that God can and will speak through anyone present as the Spirit chooses. Each one has the responsibility to speak only when the Spirit clearly prompts. Many times, God will speak to an individual in the meeting a message which is just for that individual. Having the space to hear that message is incredibly important. The spoken word is for the times when the Spirit says, “This isn’t just for you; it’s for the whole community.”
Friends have always recognized (in our best moments across the spectrum of Quakerism) that while God can and does speak to anyone, we as human beings don’t always hear correctly. The gathered community discerns the “sense of the meeting”, the voice of Christ, better than an individual. We are limited, finite, and fallen people. That doesn’t mean we can’t hear God, but it does mean we need to have a healthy skepticism about getting it right. It does mean that a “gathered meeting” can serve as a wonderful safeguard for our broken humanness.
So at Newberg Friends, even though most of the time there is a “sermon,” we have practices that demonstrate we believe strongly that God speaks through anyone. We always have open worship, a time where nothing is planned, where we all listen attentively in silence to the Spirit, where anyone is welcomed and encouraged to speak as God prompts. We almost always have questions for sharing, where we ask for input from people in the congregation. We make space for people to give their thoughts on the passage from the bible which we all have been reading together throughout the week. We often specifically say that the bible teaches us to teach one another.
Open worship has always been a part of worship at Newberg Friends, but much of the other stuff has come since I began as senior pastor. It’s been uncomfortable for some. They don’t want to hear from just anyone. They want to hear from someone who has done their homework, had the training, someone who is the “professional.” In the book, Doug talks about how this is a temptation for the one doing the preaching. We like that position of power, and it is difficult to move ourselves out of it. But it creates problems, as he writes:
There is hardly a preacher who wants her hearers to leave with the notion that they must access the truth of God through the preacher. But that is precisely the message speaching perpetuates: The pastor has the authority to speak about God, and you don’t. When communities are convinced they are better off with a unified understanding of God that is best articulated by trained presenters, we end up with people who cannot translate what they hear in church to the way they live their lives. (p. 29)
You faithful blog readers will remember a few months ago I was wrestling with the fact that I like to preach. I don’t want that to interfere or prohibit people from seeking God themselves; I want exactly the opposite. I don’t want to create dependence upon myself, but rather point people to a living God. In fact, I want to gain a greater perspective on God through you, as well. That’s why, as uncomfortable as it is for some, dialogue has been and probably will continue to be a part of our worship gatherings.
…speaching has led a great majority of people to think they have nothing to say. So the move to a progressional approach involves helping people develop the competencies and confidence to contribute. Christian formation requires that people not only receive well, but also give well. (p. 177)
I’ll need to get better at this. I’ll need to figure out more and better ways of making space for people to give, and we all will need to develop the ability to listen to the Spirit well. We’ll need to give ourselves permission to fail. We’ll need to give others permission to say things that are “wrong” or “irrelevant” in the hopes that the process will help that one learn to give better. We need to hear and learn from and sift the words of people we disagree with.
Listening to the voices of others is an essential part of being the church. We were never meant to close in on ourselves. We were never meant to engage with only those who share our positions. We’ve been called to live in the way of Jesus, who sought out the ordinary, the outsider, and the unbeliever, not only to make them whole, but also to bring his followers into the fullness of life in the kingdom. For it is often in the life of others where we find God at work in the most profound ways imaginable. (p. 226)
I like this. I like how this book pushes me deeper. I want God to be the giver of all truth. I want us to be on that journey together. Which means I probably will do better to include others not just on Sunday mornings when we gather, but in preparation, too.
The idea that I can sit alone in front of my computer and see all the complexities of the Bible reeks of arrogance. I need the people of my community to help me find the places that trip them up, the places that confuse them, even the places where they think they understand what’s being said but aren’t sure what to do about it. (pp. 187-188)
I’ve already been in the habit of posting the messages I share at NFC on this blog. What I’d like to do now is invite you in to help the shaping of the message before it happens. I know not all of you are part of NFC, but I believe that the same Spirit speaks to you, and I hope you will share your voice, your perspective, your hearing of God. I’m not sure exactly what it will look like, but I’m envisioning posts early in the week that set out the bible passage and some of my thoughts, along with an invitation for your thoughts. If you would be willing to join me in this, and make comments throughout the week as you think and listen and wrestle, I’d really appreciate it. We can journey together.