My first two years of seminary I spent on staff as the associate at First United Methodist in Canton, TX. I had two different senior pastors during that time. I learned a great deal from both but it is the first I want to mention tonight. Charles Tanner, during his time as my senior pastor introduced me to a style of sermon I had never seen before and other than a very little bit of dabbling with it (and I do mean a little bit) I haven’t seen it sense.
Charles called it a “Sermon in Dialogue.” We designed it to appear like a discussion on baptism. It really wasn’t a dialogue at all. We worked together and wrote the sermon together. It was carefully scripted. We each knew what the other would say and when we would say it.
I’m not really sure when I started reading him but sometime back I started reading Carey Nieuwhof’s blog. He has produced more content during this crisis and some of it has been pretty interesting. He talked about an interactive sermon.
Somehow, I don’t think he was talking about a message like the sermon in dialogue Charles and I shared back in the early 1990s. I’m not knocking what Charles and I did but as I am thinking about it, I can’t help but wonder if such a sermon belongs back in the 1990s. It was different for me and I am grateful to Charles for introducing me but now I am trying to wrap my head around how an interactive sermon might look in 2020.
At one point I was talking with someone, it might have been a colleague but I can’t remember for sure who it was or exactly how we came up with this discussion but it went something like, “What if your church members had your cell phone number and they could text you with ideas, thoughts, or questions you could address while the sermon went on? It is an interesting thought but…
I can see a few issues with this idea. For those of us who have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time, trying to continue the sermon, while reading the text you just got, while trying to formulate the answer to the question before this one could prove an interesting exercise.
Nieuwhof argues in this same post that one of the things he sees evolving in preaching is shorter sermons. He also said his normal sermon is some 40 minutes long and a sermon he preached last week was 26 minutes. Over the course of my career my sermons are a lot closer to 20-30 minutes. If sermons become interactive, would that add or subtract from sermon length? If I am determined to say everything I had planned to say (I rarely say everything I planned to say, yesterday I might have said about 1/3) and add in responses to the interactive element, sermon length would increase.
Pastors will find it necessary to edit on the fly. Little else, at least in my opinion would work. Not knowing what the interactive response would be, sermon preparation would require over-planning on the part of the pastor.
Would the interactive element happen just for those who are in the sanctuary? Would we include people who might watch from anywhere in the world? These are but a few of the questions we might find ourselves facing if Nieuwhof’s ideas come to fruition.
Huntington U.M.C. has live streamed services for close to a year. A couple of months ago, we came into worship and could not get WiFi working. While internet service is reliable, it isn’t perfect. How does this kind of service change when technology fails us?
I chose the pictures above because six weeks ago I, like most every pastor I know, couldn’t imagine preaching to an empty room. We have done that for four weeks now and even more unimaginable, we will face Easter preaching to empty rooms. What was difficult to believe weeks ago is our reality.
Is another new reality on the horizon? I can’t help but think we are going to face many new realities in the days ahead. Interactive worship may be God saying, “See, I am doing a new thing…”
What do you think? I would love to hear from both clergy and laity about how you think interactive worship might work and look.
I pray you have a great night.
Seeking the Genuine,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved