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sean du toit – serving your community

Through a series of circumstances, my wife and I have had the privilege of joining a newly established community of faith. Throughout this process, a key question is: “How much does the community itself affect the content, style and type of preaching in that community?” This is the question that has plagued me over the past few months. Trial and error are my teachers here, and so these thoughts are in process and in need of wisdom…

Content

The temptation for me has always been to preach what I’m working through.  Last year I was invited to fill in for a church without a preacher, and it was easy for me to slot in and preach twice a month, as I was preparing material on Ephesians for a course I was teaching at Alphacrucis.  Sure enough the feedback was positive and I was happy with my material.  But with this new community of which we are a part, things are not quite as simple. Do we preach what we want to preach about?  Do we preach what we are currently working through in our own spiritual/academic journey?  Do we preach what the congregation should know?  Do we preach what the congregation wants to hear?  Do we preach to general themes and issues in contemporary society, or do we focus on the specific community we find ourselves amongst?

Style

I’ve felt the need to change my style of preaching for the community I’m now a part of.  I can get quite passionate about what I’m preaching but most of my congregation isn’t there yet.  So we are changing it up and going for a more conversational style preaching.  At times we even have questions and answers during or after the “sermon”. It’s more fluid and less formal.  It’s also not one continuous monologue, but now sometimes morphs into a dialogue of explanation and extrapolation as well as a discussion on possible significance and application.  How has the style changed in response to your community, and what they need to benefit from the preaching?

Type

This community is not used to expository preaching.  So we’re changing it up and going for a more narrative approach, using stories more.  The parables are proving to be useful in this respect.  That places much pressure on the preachers, as none of us are used to this type of preaching.  Does the type of preaching you’re best at, actually benefit your congregation?  I haven’t given up on expository preaching, and we hope to introduce it into their diet slowly, but for now, it just isn’t working and so we have to change it up until it becomes helpful and serves its purpose (Eph 4:12; Col. 1:28).  Have you tried alternative types of preaching?

In the quest to be helpful and beneficial to the people of God to which we are responsible and accountable, it is necessary that our preaching actually connects with their lives, stories and experiences.  Preaching cannot be mere self-indulgence of our own interests. We must continually ask ourselves if what we’re preaching is actually connecting, helping, changing the people to whom we belong.  The question must be continually asked: How much does your community actually affect the content, style and type of your preaching?

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Sean du Toit, along with his wife, Sue, [who he’s had a crush on since he was sixteen], is a follower of Jesus trying to make sense of this world. This quest to be faithful to Jesus has led him into the byways and alleys of theology, history, philosophy and now a community called, “Common Ground.” Part of this quest involves teaching the New Testament, pursuing his own post-grad research and trying to connect with his friends, as often as possible.

3 Comments

  1. Mark Maffey says:

    Hi Sean

    Marva Dawn’s Book Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down may be a useful read. From my own experience of being involved in a West Auckland Church Plant in a lower socio-economic area and doing occasional sermons there, one does need to adhere to a Keep It Simple approach.

    I tend to agree with you that working with Parables and story-telling is one realistic approach. But apart from this we need to consider the mix of people in the congregation, how many are new Christians, how many have any biblical knowledge? Know your audience is a key part of any part of public speaking, and if the congregation needs foundation type of preaching that is where one needs to start.

    Serving the community inherently means we need to understand the community first, demographics, prayer-walking, meeting other pastors, are all part of the mix.

    The finest exegetical sermon using theological terminology is unlikely to work well in such an environment, but finding a balance without dumbing down

  2. sounds great buddy, lots of learning going on all round – all the best!

  3. Cameron Jones says:

    In regards to what should you preach (what you want to preach, or what the congregation wants to be preached? etc), do you think that this would be the place for a form of liturgical calendar? Would this not not help ensure a balanced ‘diet’ throughout the year?

    While it could be said that this could ‘quash’ the Spirit, surely, if you are open to the spirit in the formation of it, and the out working of it, it could be just as spirit inspired, if not more so, than week by week prep? And wouldn’t this also help maintain the rhythms and flows that have historically been so beneficial to our faith? Advent flowing into christmas, and lent flowing into easter and then ‘ordinary’ time between to address other aspects of the faith that are unique to your congregation.

    As a children’s pastor I can testify to the power of story, especially when engaging with Post-Moderns. Steve Taylor in the book, ‘the out of bounds Church?’ talks about Post-Moderns, and how their skepticism has led to their rejection of a meta-narrative. But instead they seek to discover value in their own story by finding themselves in the midst of other stories. Thus, narrative preaching styles resonate strongly with them as it calls them into the story to discover truth and value for themselves. Rather than presenting a package that their skeptical nature so easily rejects. I think it is very powerful, compelling, and something that has significantly influenced the way I engage with my kids.

    Just a few thoughts.

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