Preachers, when preparing to preach, have been getting help and insights from other sources almost from the beginning — from the Biblical text itself, from the people around them, and from the context where they were to preach. Preachers do not typically walk into a pulpit with no outside help. Whether they are part of a pericope or lectionary study group, doing Bible study on the selected text with their community of faith prior to preaching, utilizing commentaries from decades of research or new online resources, or working with a worship planning team — they are crowd-sourcing their sermons to some extent.
Many preachers in the 21st century are using all of these resources and more in preparing to preach. Some are using online commentary resources like Working Preacher, Text This Week, or online denominational preaching resources. Some are doing pub theology discussions in bars or restaurants to explore themes and texts with others, both clergy and lay. And some are using social media in new ways for crowd-sourcing their preaching. All of these and more can be effective methods of homiletical preparation.
One of my pastor friends was preparing to preach last fall and was doing a sermon series on the topic of grace. She wanted to bring in the definitions and stories of others as she explored the topic. She first went onto her Facebook page and posted this question for her 1,000+ “friends,” “How would you define grace?” Some responses were quite theological and deep while others “owned” up front their lack of totally understanding the concept of grace. There were responses from other pastors and seminary students, lay members of her church, and other responses were from youth group members.
A few days later she asked another question on her page, “How have you experienced grace in your life?” The pastor then invited folks to respond to the actual post on her page or to inbox (private message) her if they preferred. Again she received dozens of answers. The stories were quite intriguing and very personal.
Over the next few weeks, my friend used many of these definitions and stories in her sermon series (she asked permission for those chosen to be used). Folks in the pews heard her describe the process and heard their own stories and definitions in the midst of the sermons. Many came up to her afterward in gratitude for the opportunity to share with the preacher — and by extension the community of faith — their experiences with grace.
This kind of crowd-sourcing is actually quite simple — you ask for input from your “friends,” “followers,” or blog readers. The beginning of this process takes very little effort — signing up for a service if you are not currently on social media is quite user friendly. Utilizing these platforms to their fullest and making sure to use the stories and insights one receives from these sources with integrity and sensitivity is the next step.
Many enter into these conversations through Facebook, which tends to be the easiest platform to access for most people and for ongoing crowd-sourcing conversations. However, using social media platforms takes intentionality in determining how much one will share and how far a preacher will go to then use those stories and messages in their sermons. Analyzing the efficacy of one’s social media presence will be a process. Part of it must include determining when to crowd source using social media and when to utilize other means of sermon preparation. Much of that will be determined by the text, theme, or topic to be addressed.
There is a “trans-dimensional” quality to social media conversations — they are at the same time private and public. They are both social and personal. They are often synchronous and asynchronous. They are made up of both internal and external sharing options. All of this happens at the same time and over a period of time. This adds richly to the possibilities of the discussions.
Another important aspect of crowd-sourced preaching is taking advantage of the wisdom of one’s community members. I have had the opportunity to crowd-source a number of things — from sermons to teaching topics — and the responses that I have received have been helpful the vast majority of the time. However, there are times when the material I receive is not quite what I am looking for. It’s ok not to use it. Just like the process of editing in writing and preaching determining what to include and what to exclude from your sermon preparation is vital.
Any work to widen the circle — to bring other voices to the table — is a value in the task of sermon preparation and preaching. Using the opportunities these resources provide is key to 21st century preaching.