Some of you may feel that you are all too familiar with circular preaching – it goes round and round like an angry bee trapped under a jam jar until at last it wears itself out. Thankfully, that it not what I am describing here. Rather, following on from a highly creative conversation a few friends, I want to develop my ideas of digital fellowship a little further. It might run something like this:
Tuesday - the preacher lets people know via social media what they are working on for the coming Sunday’s sermon. Insights on the particular topic are welcomed, as are suggestions for the music and worship.
Thursday - as a result of all this, a sermon shape is beginning to emerge, and a related prayer request goes out, together with a request for clarification on an elusive illustration or two.
Saturday - an outline of the sermon is posted online, accessible to those who prayed and contributed at a distance, as well as those who will hear it the following day.
Sunday - the sermon is preached, and the podcast is made available online.
Monday - a blog post outlining the sermon and questions raised by it is posted by someone who heard the sermon, rather than the person who preached it.
Wednesday - questions arising from the sermon, and from Monday’s post, are fed into the church’s home groups or fellowships for further discussion.
For preachers who are prima donnas, and who enjoy the mystique surrounding the pulpit, this is all profoundly threatening, because there are stages of this process over which they may have little or no control. Furthermore, it disenfranchises those members of the church who have neither the facility nor the inclination to engage in social media. Not only that, but we must guard against exchanging the messy business of real fellowship for its cleaner digital alternative. In real fellowship, I must sit alongside people whose views offend me and whose problems make demands on me. Through the abrasion of our different personalities the likeness of Christ is fashioned in both of us. In digital fellowship I always have the ‘off’ switch which enables me to opt out.
Consider, though, the benefits. I am a great believer in the place of the sermon as traditionally understood. God has hard-wired us so that we are captivated and moved by human speech. That said, every pedagogical expert from Twickenham to Timbuktu will tell you that we retain things better when we engage with them. When we handle theological truths rather than simply being shown them from a distant pulpit, we begin to internalise them and graft them onto our very souls. Discussion of a sermon before and after in the way described above can only be good for both preacher and people surely?
There are risks associated with the approach outlined above, and we shouldn’t embark upon it lightly. However, the benefits might just outweigh them.
The photo used in this article is copyright (c) 2009 gadl and made available under an Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license