My most memorable preaching experience was a dialogue.

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Just reading Carey Nieuwhof’s blog on The Future of Preaching and Reaching the Unchurched.

One point brought me back to the most memorable preaching experience I ever had.

3. Limited format. A sermon is a monologue and rarely more.”

I was visiting a small church in Northwestern Ontario (I think it was Upper Falls Baptist in Vermillion Bay). I was basically on a tour of BGC Canada churches across Canada, which meant this was not the first time I had preached this particular sermon. I got started into the message and asked my first (rhetorical) question, prepared to answer it myself and then continue. To my surprise a woman in the congregation spoke up with her answer! I was taken aback at first but then I realised that it was ok to do things differently. We continued the sermon in dialogue format with the various members of the congregation engaging with what I was saying. It was great!

Which brings us to another point Nieuwhof makes,

“Without intentionally doing this, most of us who preach self-censor what we say and do on Sundays. There is a silent but prevalent belief that certain things are ‘acceptable’ for a Sunday morning format and some things are not.”

Not every congregation appreciates the give and take nature of a dialogic sermon — for some it appears disrespectful. I wonder if it’s time to change this attitude?

What was your most memorable preaching experience? Have you even tried preaching in dialogue form rather than monologue?

How do I move from monologue to dialogue?

“Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions; it is populated—overpopulated—with the intentions of others.”

Mikhail Bahktin, Discourse in the Novel, 1935
Dialogue on the internet often becomes monologue.

What if I intended to get to Dialogue but only arrived at Monologue?

The Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin spoke a lot about language and truth in the early part of the 20th century. Since one of the foundational concepts of this blog is the function of truth telling, it’s important to see what Bakhtin can contribute to the discourse of truth discovery.

For Bakhtin, the discovery of truth happens in dialogue. That means that many voices all come together and as they interact with each other they discover truth. This is common knowledge. After all, who doesn’t appreciate the ability of a good debate to get to the core of an issue.

Now we get to the hard part. What if I know something is true already? What if, because of my religious affiliations, or my family traditions, or the advice of significant and influential people, I have developed an understanding if the truth that I feel is right? Does the purpose of dialogue then become trying to convince others of my truth?

I recently responded to a meme posted by a friend on Facebook. The meme pointed out that offence is not always a marker for truth. Of course me being me I had to comment and use the moment to teach something (not perhaps my best trait). I had two motives, the first being a genuine desire to enter into dialogue with my friend. The second was of course to be right :-p

I even had a Bible verse to back up my truth claims. I couched the reply in the form of a question on how to interpret the weaker brother verse from Corinthians in an age where it seems many get easily offended.

But the dialogue didn’t happen.

According to Bakhtin, if it’s not dialogue then it’s monologue, which for Bakhtin is the gravest of sins. My interaction with my FB friend was intended to start dialogue, wasn’t it? Are there forms of “dialogue” that are in effect “monologue”? What factors contribute to fostering dialogue? Is merely saying that “I want to dialogue on this” enough? Or is there more to it than that? Is it simply because it’s on social media that it becomes monologue?

Any advice?

Photo by @headwayio on Unsplash.