What? Sermons by Committee?

"Assorted Icebergs" Image by Drew Avery via Flickr, LIcensed under CC BY 2.0

Sometimes I’m struck by how much I don’t know about the lives of the people who gather in the sanctuary on any given Sunday. A member will mention an issue at work, and I’ll think to myself, “I didn’t even know what he did for a living.” I’ll hear a story about an adult child in trouble, not aware that such an active retiree had other children than the ones who occasionally visit for holiday worship. One of my former colleagues said, “We only see the tip of the iceberg.”

Could the worship committee be the place where we explore that part of the iceberg that is underwater?

Most of us who preach regularly don’t think of consulting the worship committee about our sermons, for obvious reasons. If a camel is a horse that a committee put together, what would you call a sermon that a committee wrote? I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.

But what if the tried-and-true methods of sermon preparation are insufficient? We study the lectionary texts and commentaries, we read the newspaper and blog posts, or review presidential tweets. (Well, maybe not all of those.) We consider those who have been to our offices, or those we’ve seen at the senior care center or the hospital. We think about the neighborhood. We work hard to bring the texts and the world together. What if these routines fail to surface the many issues that people in our pews are facing?

What if…?

Lately, I’ve considered using seasonal planning to invite a discussion of how the lectionary texts meet the world and the regular lives of our congregation. We could spend part of our time together reading the assigned texts, making notes of the major themes that emerge. I’d invite the committee to simply brainstorm all the possible themes that they hear.

On the other side of the white board, I would invite them to list all the issues that surface in the lives of our members.  What are the problems in our neighborhood, the city, the country?  How does recent legislation affect people in the state? How is the national mood affecting the mood of our people?  What are the hidden issues that seldom get addressed?  Where is there pain, loss, ongoing sadness?  What do we think of the future right now?  What are the pressing needs of the church’s mission?  Where do we see God at work?

I’m not imagining some glib sermon series on a set of topics that improve our lives but a deep exploration of how text and world intersect and speak to one another. We could draw lines between those two columns on the white board. What does the church need to hear in Advent, for example?  Or on Christmas morning?  How might the First Sunday in Christmas take a different shape because of what we see on our board?

I know I would be immensely grateful to hear how the gospel is speaking to this group of people who are deeply committed to the church’s worship. Of course, this exploration of text and world can give shape to the ritual action, the art and music of the season, the prayers and patterns. But it could also give us wisdom and guidance for proclaiming the gospel, even while we amplify the season, capturing what so often is under the surface yet yearns to be revealed and addressed by the good news.

Have you tried something like this?  What did you learn?