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dreaded interaction – rhett snell


raised_hands_w640The first time it happened it sent shivers of terror down my spine.

I was preaching in full flow, making what I thought was a deeply meaningful point. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a hand begin to rise.

At first, I pushed on. I averted my gaze. I locked eyes with the opposite side of the room. But it was unavoidable. Someone in the congregation wanted to ask me a question, in the middle of my sermon!

If I’m honest, I knew this might happen. I had known when I arrived at my church that there was a culture of interaction here. This was a congregation where people loved to chat about what they’d heard, to mull it over, and to chip in with some of their own thoughts. It was unlike any other environment I’d ever preached in.

Part of the discomfort for me was that I have never felt that quick on my feet. I’m a full manuscript preacher, and I’d been used to years of crafting the flow of my sermon meticulously. At one point, I even had a little system of markings to dictate tone – reminding me when to really go for it, and when to dial it back.

So this was all new to me, and it was a bit of a challenge to get my head around.

It was a challenge for the “movement” of my sermons. Because of my style, it was hard to factor interaction into the scheme of things without it feeling like an interruption.

It was a challenge too, for my confidence. I felt much less confident answering off-the-cuff questions. Far more exposed and much less prepared.

How did I solve this conundrum?

Well, I structured the interaction.

I began to tell people at the start of my sermon that there would be a time at the end to ask questions, or to add a thought. And strangely, over a short period of time, this post-sermon Q&A time became something I really began to look forward to.

Partly, that was just a result of getting used to a more interactive congregation. In fact, more than getting used to it … I think that I’d really miss it now, if I were to preach elsewhere. It’s actually quite cool to know that people are engaging with what you have to say!

Also, I began to realise that this time allowed me to teach in a broader way than my sermon alone allowed for. Often, someone will make a point or tell a story that broadens the application of what I’ve been saying. Sometimes I can bounce off something someone has said to elaborate on a point in more depth. Occasionally, someone will ask a question about the origin of a word, or the context of the passage, which allows me to go a bit deeper into something I couldn’t include in the sermon itself – a kind of oral footnote, if you will.

For me, “dreaded interaction” has become “anticipated interaction.” I find myself thinking, “I hope someone will ask a question about this!” as I pore over a commentary looking at a specific detail of the text. And I find that sometimes, someone in the congregation will tell a story which illustrates the text in a more profound way than I could manage myself.

There’s a bit of debate out there that pits “dialogue” against “monologue”. For myself, I still absolutely believe in the power and the place of the sermon in the life of a church. And preaching to an interactive congregation has helped me to see how those two things might complement and coexist.

One Comment

  1. Mark Simpson says:

    I like that “..oral footnote..” descriptor

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