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Interactive Preaching

by Tim Isbell, July 2011

Most of the time I do the normal "preacher thing."  I pray, study, and craft a 25-30 minute sermon and then stand in front of the congregation while I transmit it to them.  But from time to time the New Life English congregation had a tendency to speak up right in the middle of my preaching.  This was unusual and, at times, a little unsettling.  My wife and I visited there today, and the congregation did the same thing with  another preacher - so I guess it wasn't just me!! 

Eventually I recognized that there were many very mature, bright Christians listening to my transmissions most every week.  It occurred to me that they (and I) might benefit from hearing God speak through each other now and then.  So I came up with the concept of designing a few Sundays each year that were deliberately interactive.  I didn't stand in front in a posture of authority, but I usually sat on a wooden stool.   These interactive Sundays fell into two special series types.  I never preached them on sequential Sundays; they were widely distributed over years. 

Interactive Messages on Living the New Life

For more on this type, just click Character and Conduct.

The Peoples' Sermon

For over 10 years I used the Revised Common Lectionary to frame my sermon calendar.  Every week we printed the 4-6 lection scriptures in the worship folder for the following Sunday.  Many people used these, often in conjunction with the daily reading plan which was posted on the website, to guide their scripture reading throughout the week.  So by Sunday several people were very familiar with the scripture set, causing them to hear the sermon in a deeper way. 

Knowing that by Sunday this body of reading and reflection was already a part of several peoples' experience, I decided to take advantage of it by occasionally designating a Sunday as "The Peoples' Sermon."  The idea was for the congregation to preach the sermon to itself. 

I prepared for a Peoples' Sermon Sunday by having the lection scriptures available on PowerPoint.  In varying flows, we'd read 2-3 of that week's lection scriptures and I'd invite anyone from the congregation who sensed that the Lord spoke to them during the week from one of these to share that insight with the rest of us.  I cautioned them not to give a Bible study, or fill the time with stuff they read in a commentary, or give a testimony disconnected from the scripture. Instead  I coached them to limit their sharing to what was fresh from the Lord, arising from their scripture reading, reflection time, and experiences of the week.

Just to be safe, I also prepared a mini-sermon(s) on some of these scriptures in case people needed a little help getting started, or in the rare event that they came up dry.  Usually the problem was the reverse; the people had too much high quality sharing for the time available.
My control was limited to

  • Selecting the scriptures (usually the lection has too many scriptures for one setting so I pared it down to the gospel and the epistle, or some such thing).
  • Encouraging shy people to have the courage to share with us what the Lord shared with them.
  • Playing the "coach"  role in a way that was as sensitive to the Spirit of Jesus as I knew how.  Occasionally I needed to clarify or redirect the flow a bit or, when time was up, to bring things to closure.

The first time I walked into a Peoples' Sermon  I was pretty unsettled.  But it went very well so we did it a couple of times each year. Peoples' Sermons encourage parishioners to read more scripture and to invite God to speak through it.  I discovered that God chooses to speak to the congregation through its people things he was not going to give me to speak.
For an example of the sparseness of my notes on a Peoples' Sermon Sunday, see the attachment below.



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Tim Isbell,
Jul 27, 2011, 10:22 AM