Where do theology happen? Sermons or conversations?

July 19, 2007

It’s my birthday today. So, happy birthday me:-) But the day was basicly normal, classes, a meeting. Went to the inner-city, chatted with some kids, had some real deep questions. More on that later.

We are doing a class on liturgy this term. What’s really great is that he lecturer (not one of our permanent lecturers) is doing his utmost to turn this into a conversation. For example he asked us not to put up our hands if we want to say something, since we won’t ever do this in a normal conversation. I like that! Sadly the university is giving us a normal lecture hall, but since we are just 15 in the class, I might try and get another venue with a round table.

On the other hand I think this class might be quite a struggle. As the conversation went on, I became clear that most of the people in our class still consider the sermon the most important part of the church service, and the liturgy is there to support the sermon. I really wonder about this. I more and more think that community should be the main focus. But I’m not yet sure what the implications of this would be.

But why do we preach?
Some preach expository sermons, trying to explain the Bible.
Some try and address some issue in the lives of the people.
Some just try and stirr up emotions.

I really like the first two. But I have my doubts on how succesful a sermon can accomplish this. You see, my theology was not formed by sermons, or speaches. I firmly believe that it was formed by conversations. So, if we want to form people’s theology, or help then to look at he Bible differently or anew, then conversations would probably be a better form than a sermon. (Of course, we can also question whether one preacher have all the answers, or whether answers might not be better found in conversation and community – the truth is between us, not in one final word). And when trying to adress real life issues, won’t conversation be better suited, can’t we address them better if you put them on the table, rather than a preacher trying to adress your issues in a monologue? Someone told me a while ago that when you get to know the congregation preaching make sense, but I’m not so sure… I know a lot of people, and how I’ll be able to adress there questions in a monologue. For one, that requires the assumption that I can actually understand their question, while I’d rather say that their question and my answer, and my question and their answer, gets refined in conversation.

Back to the inner-city kids. We had to talk about some stuff, but I didn’t really agree with the outline… no, I didn’t agree at all, so I didn’t worry when they started wondering of. They started asking questions, these black primary school kids from a very poor area. The standard things about ghosts and stuff. But it went on, and we talked about the nature of Christ, the person Jesus, and how this person and God interrelates, and how it can be that we pray to Jesus, and to God, but that it’s not two Gods. We talked about the nature of God. We talked about grace, about what God will do to someone who get forced to kill someone while being part of a gang (see the reality of their lives). And the whole time we did this without really using theological terms, but having a really really deep theolgical discussion. But no sermon could ever have gotten these kids to think about their questions, to formulate their thoughts, or to adress the issues in their life, and how their faith relates to that, in the way this conversation did today. We ended of saying we’ll chat some more next week, will see if they return…

2 Responses to “Where do theology happen? Sermons or conversations?”

  1. Steve Says:

    It reminds me of when my daughter was 10 years old, and we were invited to the induction of Cobus Gerber as a youth minister at an NG congregation in Pretoria. The church was full, but everything was focused on one bloke, who did all the praying, the preaching, the reading. He even said Amen to his own prayers.

    It lasted exactly one hour (to the minute), and as we left my daughter said, “Where is the worship? That wasn’t worship!”

    And she was right, it wasn’t worship, it was instruction. Much of the Christianity that has been brought to Africa has been a classroom religion. And so perhaps you need to get it out of the classroom altogether.

    It is true that much NG church architecture of the 20th century was deliberately based on the lecture hall model. But perhaps go to worship in different places — under trees with the Zionists, and so on. And then discuss it.

  2. cobus Says:

    My dad is a minister in Swaziland, and I think there is something beautiful about the black congregations: how, even though my dad preach a monologue sermon, the congregation are actively involved in the service. They lead the songs and prayer, and everyone, kids and adults take part. Yes, it’s not the well-polished services we find in most of our churches, but it’s real.


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