Spent a really quality couple of hours with a woman who in her eighties has experienced a renewal of faith over the past six months. We meet every other week or so to talk through issues and read the Bible together. It's wonderful to see how she has come alive.
We always end up talking about how things are going at church and this afternoon we got on to the subject of sermons. She likes my sermons but wonders if there's too much in them - 'such a lot to digest,' she says - and would like the opportunity to ask questions as and when they arise - 'would you mind being interrupted?' she asked.
My initial response - and I think it's my considered response too - is that I'd love to be interrupted. I'd love the sermon to be more of a dialogue rather than a monologue. In my previous church in the evening service, I'd preach and then we'd have feedback and questions. It was based on the principle Cromwell apparently used when allowing chaplains to be attached to regiments of the New Model Army in the English Civil War. He said they could preach for as long as they liked providing they subjected themselves to questioning by the troops for the same length of time. Good principle.
As we chatted, one idea that emerged was to preach a single sermon over three Sundays - i.e. each sermon would have a third of the content that they have now - which would allow for there to be interaction during the preaching and after it.
There are all sorts of logistical issues - can you do it in a gathering of 250-300? what happens if you miss one of the parts of the sermon because you don't come every week? how do you ensure that the loudest voices don't dominate the question time?
But there could be all kinds of benefits. One of the things I'm keen to explore is not how we create teaching programmes - I think we're quite good at that - but how do we ensure learning outcomes? More dialogue, questions being asked there and then, indicates what people know, what their concerns are and what they are learning from the current teaching programme.
I think we can try this in our later service - there's already quite a bit of dialogue there anyway. I wonder if we can contemplate it for our other gatherings.