Preaching in Community
Notes from the Cultural Creatives: An Emerging Pastor on Seminary Ed
Editor's Note: This article is part of an online symposium, "Does Seminary Have a Future?" hosted at Patheos this month. Read other perspectives here.
There have been a number of great posts regarding the future of seminary education recently on Patheos. Many insightful thoughts regarding what is working and what needs to be changed have been shared. In the spirit of that ongoing and important conversation, I thought I'd share some skills that might be worth teaching if my emerging community of faith is any indication of what the future of the church might look like.
Practicing Holistic Theology
Those famous works of systematics are worth reading, certainly. And thinking about God in thorough (and even linear) ways is a helpful exercise. But the task and scope of theology is often very limited and insular, reflecting only on itself. This is not the way we make sense of God in my faith community. Drawing on sources of literature, music, movies, art, popular culture and life experiences, we are constantly looking for connections and points of revelation. And we have never once halted conversation to say something is outside of the scope of systematics. Though my seminary gave me a great foundation by teaching me the breadth and scope of theological history and encouraged me to think critically, I'd love to see seminaries take this even further. I'd love to see a call for papers that span a variety of disciplines in creative ways. I'd love to see theology become more than just a brain exercise and instead something that incorporates the whole human being. Rather than separating theology from other disciplines and the rest of life, what would it look like to approach theology in a way that is truly holistic?
Every good Protestant knows that the preaching of the Word is the apex of the worship service. It takes the longest amount of time--to prepare as well as to present. Where I attended seminary, speech and preaching were required courses. I appreciate the value that was placed upon the practice of reading Scripture and liturgy well, and delivering a well-crafted sermon. However, as Pastor of a church in which discussion has become central to our life together, I faced a rather steep learning curve. In a recent conversation with Doug Pagitt, he mentioned a preaching conference he attended where participants argued that discussion is too difficult to facilitate. Pastors are afraid of facilitating a discussion because, unlike your five page double-spaced sermon, you cannot control where it goes. Doug's response? Yes, it is hard. It takes a lot of practice to get the hang of it. I wonder where seminary students could go to practice that for a number of years before pastoring a church?!
I can't help but agree with him. If seminaries can teach students to think critically about a Scripture text and then distill their thoughts into an essay, they certainly can teach them to create an outline that would enable students to facilitate a conversation.
I am not one to say that the sermon is dead. There are times during our communal life together when preaching has a rightful place. But discussion has a rightful place, too, and I'd love to see seminaries broaden their concept of the preaching/teaching task to reflect the collaborative and participatory world in which we now live.
Danielle Shroyer is the pastor of Journey Churchin Dallas. She is the author of The Boundary-Breaking God: An Unfolding Story of Hope and Promise(Jossey-Bass, 2009) and speaks often on issues of theology, church leadership, and emerging communities of faith.