Thursday, August 03, 2006

preaching belongs to the community

it’s either “long-winded, old-school Bible preach[ing]” or “artsy collective ignorance.”

Pernell points to a nice little dualism which I hear every now and again when we talk about the Bible and church.

In modernity expounding the Bible usually belonged to one person. But a close look at the Bible makes that problematic: the school of the prophets in the Old Testament suggests a community engaged with the text, Jesus and the Emmaus Road suggests God is revealed not in the expounded words but seated around table, Paul in the lecture halls of Greek culture “dialogued” between text and context. I am not suggesting either/or; replacing one way with another way, but both/and.

One of my students summed it up beautifully: Preaching belongs to the community. But that statement requires the learning of a whole new skill set.

First is the skill of trust: It is much safer for 1 voice to speak. To allow community engagement requires whole new levels of trust in Spirit and trust in people.

Second is the skill of engagement: Ask a dumb question and you are likely to get so-called “collective ignorance.” Ask a question that everyone knows you know the answer to and you are asking someone in the group to look stupid so that you can look expert. But in every group are life experiences and insights that out-trump a preacher’s limited perspective and experiences. The skill of engagement is the creating of ways for these gifts to be brought to the table.

The image I often use is that of an athelete. The church has trained one muscle well – that of the Bible speaker. In so doing, we have lost the muscles of community learning. It will take a while to recover those muscles. There will be some inevitable ups and downs as we re-learn. Which makes it such an exciting time to be Bible people today.

For more:
– Living the text course I teach – go here.
– Living the text website – blog learning of students from a recent course here.
– Pray that my book manuscript on this finds a publishing home.

Posted by steve at 10:40 AM


  1. I think the idea of table has changed too. For me, a blog such as this is just as real as having you in my livingroom (in some sense).

    A place such as this, I have my own too, where I receive the infamous Comments(0) is a table where I shared and no cups have been raised.

    I am either overly sensitive, find these mediums overly real or something.

    It takes a commitment for engagement even around a place which can be so get and get and gulp newsfeed…

    That said, I appreciate your blog, it is something you didn’t have to do, but you said, “Yes”. I’m glad your 9 year old didn’t stop you on this one.

    Comment by Keith — August 3, 2006 @ 7:01 pm

  2. Another thing that has been going through my head is the table where dignitaries were invited, but didn’t come. So the host goes on the streets and finds the outcasts, sick and destitute and brings them.

    This thought has been with me for quite some time… actually.

    Comment by Keith — August 4, 2006 @ 2:26 am

  3. Hey Steve – I added your thoughts to a new post on my blog. Great stuff.

    Comment by Pernell — August 4, 2006 @ 2:44 am

  4. I am sorry… I should have rolled these into one… at risk of blabbing…

    Lack of engagement can be cruel, even when not intended. I feel blogs, forums and all that are risky places. I can’t tell you how many times I have shared things which are deeply felt, only to hear either nothing or a one liner.

    The terrible thing is that it is addictive in a way, because one keeps thinking that he/she’ll eventually be heard… but the ever growing level of distraction etc. makes it impossible for other parties to truly engage in this medium.

    However, this is the medium that is most accessible to me. It is the most real, in the sense that it is an ever present conduit. Meetings at church are disjoint, disconnected and stilted because people are so spread out.

    I guess I am equating engagement and trust. If you were to totally slam me in this particular engagement, I’d at least know where we stood. That’d be trustworthy. I would be happy for you to call me a total moron, and tell me find some other place to comment. That isn’t a violation of trust. It is you being honest, it reflects your values and I can learn and be done with it.

    The small fry, I’m too busy, I’m putting out a lot of fires, this is hectic, yeah yeah fluff… lack of engagement is what kills me. And I am not saying you do this! Actually, a small comment like, “Hey Thanks.” does wonders. I can’t be the only one that feels this way.

    I suppose I am saying that in keeping this table, it should be respected (and I think it is). If you go back to my initial post where it seemed I was lashing against you… it was in response to lack of response elsewhere.

    I have a horrible way of being tenacious.

    I’ll tell you that right now, I just started a company. I’ve been struggling on credit cards getting the thing underway. Having to work six days a week. My family has been living out of town because it has been so hectic (and they wanted to be with our families). And there is a lot more… but that is to say, I come to places like this to connect… or engage.

    I’ve been ultrasensitive. So even when you joked that I wasn’t invited to the blokes… it stings. I have been burned for so long on these forums, but I can’t stop because I just can’t.

    Maybe this is a wakeup call for Christian lurkers. Anyways. I honestly don’t come to offload a bunch of weight.

    And you say that the place needs to be safe and honest.

    You know what, I could pour that out at other places and I not one person would comment. Like a life breathed and it was just another rss feed. Another blip over the morning coffee. I swear sometimes I think this internet is a curse because it truly shows how disconnected we really are.

    Thankfully, I have grown immune enough to lack of response that if this gets swept under the rug, I have enough stamina to keep going.

    Comment by Keith — August 4, 2006 @ 2:55 am

  5. Oh, Keith, please don’t take it personally. We live in this strange world were because of technology, strangers I have never met can contact me and feel aggrieved if I don’t reply.

    In the last 24 hours I have not replied to following emails
    – angry email, a stranger upset about an article I wrote 3 years ago,
    – 2 emails in relation to my book
    – organising request regarding my speaking at a 125th anniversary occasion
    – question seeking my opinion on a new ministerial training option in the UK

    I have not answered these either. Instead, last night I watched a movie with my wife.

    No-one who emails has ever offered to reimburse my work employers for the time I would spend answering their email. Which means for the sake of my integrity as an employee, this blog is mostly a spare-time hobby.

    If it’s a hobby, am I allowed the freedom to decide how I spend my free time?

    Comment by steve — August 4, 2006 @ 11:24 am

  6. Awe. You misunderstood. In a nutshell, I am speaking of a different experience. And mainly I wanted to make the point, in a generic sense, about this being a table of sorts… and to be careful because there are many fragile people (such as myself) who do use the internet as their primary source of interaction with Christians, as unfortunate as that is.

    I’ll respect this as a hobby of sorts. And I do appreciate that.

    That is what I mean about the internet being a curse for those always near it. I am near it because my job revolves around it… I can’t explain how it is for me… but as crazy as it sounds… when I type here… it is as if I was speaking with you. With the guys at work we are distributed and chat all day. I live and breath this medium.

    Anyways! My family is back from a loooooong time at grandparents etc. When they are away, I kinda go nuts. So, yay, maybe I won’t be coming in like a pitiful hound dog. lol

    I check my blog all day… to see if my family like the picture of my son or whatever. Comments(0). This is mostly because they are not a walking Google, blogging, blipping, streaming, message passing, programming, networking freak.

    I blog, “Broke My Neck Today”, Comments(0). Here are the baby pictures! Comments(0). I’ve Become A Communist! Comments(0).

    Ack. I don’t know. I’m going to go watch my 8 month old sleep. That sounds fun right now.

    Comment by Keith — August 4, 2006 @ 2:57 pm

  7. It is good 🙂

    Comment by Keith — August 5, 2006 @ 1:05 am

  8. Hi Steve

    my email is down at the moment, they are doing work at the uni, but just come back from making bread at the bread church and thought I would read some blogs, and noticed you are using the blog for your students….

    I spoke to my boss two months ago about how I wanted to do this for the theological reflection module I teach on… I am now encouraged that this is a good way to go thanks!!

    Comment by Dot — August 5, 2006 @ 9:31 am

  9. dot, I have used blogs in different educational settings now – one for a class on leadership – and another for the class on using the bible in a postmodern world –

    i am learning and adjusting how i use this all the time, and students have found it both a +ve experience and a -ve experience.

    Comment by steve — August 5, 2006 @ 10:49 am

  10. My apologies if i mis-read you Keith. I am constantly struggle to balance the demands of my cyber-world with my physical-world and your comment pushed those personal buttons.

    Great to have your family back, give them a real cuddle from cyber-steve.

    Comment by steve — August 5, 2006 @ 10:52 am

  11. The comment above which says, “It is good :)” was in response to a now missing comment. So there is the context for that.

    No need for apology, IMHO, we are negotiating out just what you have talked about all along… and that is context, trust, understanding, honesty, being heard, engagement, distributed community rather than heirarchy, knowing when to say yes/no, acceptance of others in their otherness etc.

    You are living that out, and you are struggling with issues head on, and at the same time are trying to find a balance between work, family, time alone etc.

    I’ll tell you the reason I started this company, which is an oxymoron since there is only one of me. In a nutshell, I pleased everybody. The irony is that everybody would tell me to take it easy, but would then request something… and I was not one to take up the great advice of your 9 year old. The requests are usually very simple, but after a long period, I just about flaked out over the smallest things.

    I haven’t learned my lesson either. And I probably never will.

    I’ll tell you my take on conferences. No. Maybe I shouldn’t do that. No. Hmmm. Nah. That is too hairy. Ha ha. I’ll leave you with what I might have said. LOL.

    Comment by Keith — August 5, 2006 @ 12:25 pm

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