Last month I decided to try something a little different in our church. I used the Sunday evening service (we have two services on a Sunday), for a study through the book of Ruth. Each person attending was given a handout with the plain text of the passage for the evening with headings removed, but plenty of margin space allowed. At various points I had them marking the text and then interacted with them as we observed the passage together. I still preached, but it wasn’t a tightly controlled sermon. I determined when there would be interaction, and overall I think it worked well.
Upon reflection, here are some of the advantages of this approach (not saying it should replace normal preaching, but I think it has a place).
1. It shows people that they can read and think about the passage, they don’t need to be spoon fed. It is easy to get into the habit of only getting Bible input from “experts” – either at church, or for some, on MP3 downloads during the week. But this approach subtly reminds people that they can look at and think about the text themselves.
2. It shows some people that they don’t automatically know everything. This is in contrast to number 1, I suppose. Some people are over confident in their view on everything. This approach allows them to discover that they missed something and should look closer. “I never saw that before” isn’t such a scary phrase from the preacher’s perspective, when they are actually observing the text with other people and it is plainly before them (rather than a homiletical invention).
3. It gives people experience of observing, then interpreting, then applying. Some never really observe, some skip straight to application, etc. This is a good group exposure to inductive Bible study.
4. It slows the pace of experiencing the text. In this instance, it was Ruth, a narrative. Good preaching can also slow the pace of experiencing the text, but this approach certainly did. People felt the tension and it built nicely, both during the message and over the weeks.
5. The preaching element is proven. That is, if done well, the preaching element should not get the “I wouldn’t have seen that in the text” kind of response. They are seeing it, the preacher is just building and reinforcing what has already come through. I found the more traditional preaching element in this series felt very gritty and real: it was the explanation and reinforcement of the main theme in each passage, tied into the bigger picture of the book.
There are other advantages, so feel free to add by comment…