Deploying Pastoral Expertise Differently
One question that I have wondered about is whether this sort of move surrenders the pastoral office or pastoral expertise. My short answer to this is no. But it does deploy my pastoral expertise differently. Notice that in the above example, I draw on what I have learned about the psalm from my own study. I teach the people what the ancient words 'am ( people), matteh (the tribe), mishpachah (clan), bet ab (house of the father), and go'el (redeemer) mean. But then rather than "applying" that word directly to their lives, I invited them to explore for themselves how the concepts apply. So the different model does not surrender pastoral expertise, but it does deploy it differently--it deploys it in such as way that in empowers people to read and think about the Bible for themselves, to find themselves in the Bible.
Similarly, I suggest spending less time in sermons teaching about the insights that the preacher has learned from reading biblical scholars and more time sharing insights that the preacher has learned from God's every-day people in the congregation. Consider the following two made-up examples from sermons on Isaiah 1:1-10:
The scholar Clinton McCann points out that the word "righteousness" occurs three times in this text and the Hebrew word for "justice" occurs six times. McCann explains, "what defines true divinity is the establishment of justice and righteousness."
[By the way, I pulled that cool quotation off of the commentaries from Workingpreacher.org, and Clint is a friend of mine--so read up.]
This week, while I was visiting Jane James at the school where she teaches, I asked her what she thought about this text from Isaiah. She thought about it and said something that really startled me. She said. . .
Okay, since I don't know a Jana James and this didn't really happen, I won't say what startlingly cool thing this fictional person might have said. But the point is at least three layers deep.
1. If a preacher invites people to think about the sermon text during the week before a sermon, the preacher will both learn from God's people and also those people will come to worship having done some thinking themselves.
2. Preaching will help undermine the "fear of the expert" that so many lay people have in reading or talking about the Bible when the pastor is around--that is, if you as the expert stand up there and say what you are learning from God's people, they will start to think that they have something to contribute to the conversation.
3. Preaching in this fashion will go a long ways towards empowering people to think and read about the Bible. It will show people that they have something to bring to the conversation, that they have insights and God-given gifts that can contribute to what Luther called the "mutual consolation and conversation of the saints."
Okay, I do not have all the answers. Really, I do not have any answers. As I wrote at the top of this essay, I am just wondering in print, "What if whatever limited success I have enjoyed as a teacher and preacher has been because I have adequately performed within a model that no longer is ideal?"
But I believe this. The Holy Spirit is always moving in the church. No one person has the necessary gifts and wisdom to find the answers to questions such as I am asking, but God has placed sufficient gifts and wisdom in the whole church, so that working and searching together we can find the answers to questions such as I am asking.
So, if you have ideas, try them. If they do not work or if they do, you will learn something. And when you learn something, share it with others. Especially, please share them with us at WorkingPreacher.