Friday, February 25, 2011

Relational Preaching, Ministry at the Bar, Social Justice

I teach regularly and supply-preach on occasion, which explains my impulse to pause for questions during the sermon! In the classroom, I love to elicit questions, opinions, and ideas from students, but sermons aren't usually so collaborative: often, the main contributions of the congregation are an attitude of worship toward God and an openness for learning and conviction. I was pleased when our pastor surprised us recently: during a sermon series on the Apostles' Creed, he asked worshipers to find someone nearby and chat briefly about the ways our relationship to Christ has changed since childhood. What an effective way to become more involved in the sermon!

How serendiptious when an article in the new issue of Circuit Rider addressed this topic! Here is a link to the entire Feb/Mar/Apr 2011 issue:, and here is a link to the article "Relational Preaching: Conversation and Collaboration in the Postmodern Sermon" by Mary J. Scifres,
Scifres discusses different kinds of sermons and preaching styles, and she shows how sermons can be made more "relational" in order to energize listeners and preachers alike. "Conversational preaching is not for everyone every single week, but it is one more way of relating God's holy word to the living, breathing disciples of Christ, who are striving to live that word each and every day .... Conversation is connection. And connecting to people is often the most rewarding and difficult task pastors and preachers face" (p. 6).

I was also interested in the next article by Jerry Herships, "From Last Call to My Call." Herships moved from bartending to ordained ministry, and he contrasts people's honesty when they talk to a bartender, compared to their reticence to open up in a more pious setting. "When I was talking to people 'over the wood,' I got to hear what was really on their mind ...including the subjects of religion, church, and God. Now that 'Rev.' is part of my title, I am shocked by how different what I am hearing now is from what I heard when I was pouring drinks" (p. 7). He goes on to describe how we can do "ministry at the bar," if (he emphasizes this ministry isn't for everyone) this interests you. "There are few places in the world where it is easier to talk to strangers than sitting next to them in a bar" (p. 8). Here is the link to that article:

THEN (among the several other good articles in this issue), I appreciated the article by Darlene E. R. Resling, "Talking about Justice: Tips for Pastors." Years ago I was chagrined when I read Lyle Schaller's comment (The Multiple Staff and the Larger Church, Abingdon, 1980), that social issues are sometimes delegated as "loser" tasks to the associate pastor so that the senior pastor can take the higher visibility, "winner" tasks of the church. But even if a pastor respects the need to address social issues in a parish context, Resling notes that "[s]ocial justice can be an intimidating concept for pastors to address in the local congregation." She gives helpful advice: Start with Biblical Foundations, Use Denominational Resources, Use the News, and others. And.... here is that link!

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