Dialogue in Preaching

June 2, 2008

In the Reformed tradition we talk about the dialogical nature of the liturgy. God speak, the congregation speak, and the preacher speak, sometimes on behalf of the congregation, sometimes on behalf of God. In practice, only the preacher speak, doing a monologue, and the congregation sometimes get a chance so say what the preacher want them to say.

I don’t have a problem with high-liturgy services, and especially like participatory liturgical expressions more and more. So what I’m writing is not really about liturgy, but only about the act of preaching. Preaching, more than any other part of our church tradition, has been only monologue. We attempt to bring in some dialogue into our informal church service, but usually it’s only the kids who take part. Now, it’s an amazing way to make the kids part of the service, but it’s actually just an add-on, and not really a dialogue starting.

Dialogue is not an easy thing. I’ve had many thoughts in this in the past (see posts on the round-table church here or here), but more and more I realize that the utopian ideal of having 57 people coming together in a round table conversation and everyone sharing an equal amount is just that, utopian. More than that, I don’t neccesarily think that the “postmodern” which we like to talk about neccesarily want to always say something, sometimes listening is OK. I’m learning this more and more from friends who I consider natural experts on a postmodern worldview.

But still I get this very uncomfortable feeling when doing another monologue, another sermon. Yes, good things happen, I sometimes get good feedback, and yes, sometimes (as one of the people on our church council said the other night) people actually do what we preachers say. But for me it’s personal, I simply can’t get this nagging feeling that I don’t like doing a monologue out of my system.

Last night Tiaan visited, and myself, Tiaan, and my flatmate again started talking about various possibilities or having some kind of discussion (we don’t really like the idea of starting churches currently) going between 20/30-something people. This resulted in this group being created. So again I started thinking about my monologue discomfort.

Suddenly I had this revelation, not yet sure whether it was one of foolishness or wisdom, or maybe the logical result of past experiences. Abvout two weeks ago by collegue and friend, Roelf, came in to visit us at our 17-20 year old youth discussion group. We were talking about what our task is on earth, and in a very natural way, myself and Roelf started discussing this. The group of young people listened to our discussion, and when Roelf left we continued the conversation.

Maybe this would be a good preaching style. Never having one person preach alone. Always use two or more, and let them have a dialogue which can serve as base for large-group conversations if you’d like. These two people would plan there sermon together, but not as a little drama, simply talking about the issue at hand, maybe putting some ideas on paper which they would consider important. By asking each other questions, and responding to each other, and adding to each other, they would introduce a topic in a conversation style, a style I think I’ll be much more comfortable with than the monologue we are used to.

Have anyone tried this? Could this work for preaching?

Another idea I had a few weeks ago, and which would hopefulle be used somewhere next term, is to get some people together for coffee before a sermon. Talk about the topic, explain the idea, formulate some questions, and at the end make a 5 minute video conversation where some of these questions and thoughts are talked through in dialogue. Then use this as a started in church.

5 Responses to “Dialogue in Preaching”

  1. sareeds Says:

    hey man,
    went to your facebook group, but I have NO Afrikaans… anyway, I’ll be in Pretoria shortly, would love to talk more about this face to face, but it worked well in a context back here in the States. Talk about leadership development going from 0-60… this method did that for us. I saw “Doug Pagitt” written in your facebook group as well… having been to Solomons Porch, there’s a lot that this does. I don’t know that this method is entirely postmodern as much as it is educational philosophy – what helps people retain the most amount of knowledge. I suppose where the postmodern issue comes up is with those of the modern mindset needing their sermon fix???

  2. cobus Says:

    When you are in Pretoria, we should definitely meet up and discuss this, as well as meet up just to meet up!

    I guess for me the postmodern comes in because of my absolute discomfort in the monologue nature of sermons, as well as in the idea that those participating do not neccesarily need to act out a drama, but could also put different perceptions or views on the table, searching for a new holistic view. But what the hell, whether this is postmodern or not I don’t care:-) I simply think that I’d like it:-)

  3. […] reading some posts from my friend Cobus’ blog.  It’s interesting, because I’m in a preaching class, have thought that this is a […]

  4. arthur Says:


    i think the ikon community (pete rollins) regularly uses this approach to “sermons.” one interesting way they do that is their “last supper” – http://wiki.ikon.org.uk/wiki/index.php/Last_Supper . i’m obviously a big fan of dialogue for teaching. however, in seminary i really came to appreciate the unique power of the Word preached.

    probably as in most cases, it’s not a matter of either/or but both/and – using which is effective/appropriate to the situation/topic/group.

  5. cobus Says:

    I think with the idea I have it might be possible to have the word preached, but do it in dialogue style. This would hopefully lead to dialogue more naturally than preaching does.

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