Yesterday’s post was getting a bit long, so I’ve spilled over to today. Thinking about participative preaching, or interaction between pulpit and pew, that doesn’t really work. We thought about the cultural differences issue yesterday. Here are a few more warning flags:
Patronising the listeners – It is easy to cross a line from helpful invitation to participate vocally, to patronising listeners. It’s hard to get this right because assuming knowledge can be unhelpful:“We all know that Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament” . . . maybe, at a pastors conference, but in a normal church setting, what about the new young believer or visitor who doesn’t know that? Now they feel uniquely uninformed. But it can go the other way in participative preaching moments: “You finish the sentence if you can, ‘Jesus’ mother was called…?” As people mumble the name, Mary, chances are that they might be feeling like six year olds. Some preachers need to learn that getting people in a congregation to say something out loud is no great achievement, and it is no guarantee of attention or interest either. Sometimes it is just plain patronising.
Unnecessary invitations – You have to be sensitive to the congregation. Somehow you need to sense when asking for them to answer a question, or say something, or vocally agree, or whatever is simply unnecessary. I’ve sat in congregations where the preacher wasn’t really patronising, but perhaps just nervous. Everyone was with them, following, enjoying, appreciating, and suddenly the preacher seems to lose their nerve and start looking for vocal affirmation, or an answer to a question to “keep us engaged” when actually we were engaged, but now are getting a bit annoyed by the slowing of the pace and the loss of momentum. Tricky one to judge, but just don’t fall into the trap of thinking vocal response from the congregation is somehow always engaging or helpful.
Narrow answer requests– This is hard to take as a listener. When the preacher has a specific and narrow answer in mind and wants somebody else to say it. As we saw in the earlier posts, if you ask for participation, be open to the participation that may come back to you. Don’t frustrate listeners with a question that leaves them groping in the dark for “your” right answer!
What might you add to this list? Any other interaction flops that preachers should be wary of?