Interactive Bible Observation Preaching

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…

6 thoughts on “Interactive Bible Observation Preaching

  1. I love this. The best sermons/lessons I’ve been part of were ones with a familiar passage where the leader helped the group of us to discover something we hadn’t seen in the text before, but when going back over it, seemed so obvious. In part this is because we collectively arrived at this interpretation and in part it was because it was so clearly grounded in the text. That’s the kind of teaching that sticks with you.

  2. How would I take a scripture like Acts 5:39 and share it with the public? I believe God gave me an Idea that could possibly start a revival. I have more scriptures to to expound on but this is my first one that I’m working on. It will take me a long, long time to learn all the scriptures that I have and be able to expound on them with confidence. Here are a couple more could you please explain how I could do this. Phil. 4:13 and James 1:2. I understand Acts 5:39 has a story behind it. It’s a little tricky for me because if something is from God no one can stop it, right? I know if it’s Gods will and it lines up with what a man or woman is doing can anyone stop it? The only thing I can think of is one must be obedient and understand that even if it is from God our ways our different than His. I have so many scriptures that I need help with and they all seem to pose a different challenge. This is extremely important to me. Can you direct me to how I can make this happen and if you think this is even possible. It will be through open air preaching. So the audience will be much different than anyone who might darken the doorstep of a church willingly. I am gearing toward a way of teaching and not so much preaching but God knows the preaching will come out as I believe I will be led by the Holy Spirit. God please help me find as much help/information on this as possible. Amen.

    • Eddie – it is good to see your passion for this. I would urge you to read the whole Bible multiple times, pursue training in handling it well, and at the same time be testing the ideas in one-on-one conversations with people. It would be great to see people coming to know the Lord. At the same time, it isn’t typically the way God works to guarantee results in the way you describe. One of the things you may find is that what makes complete sense to you, doesn’t to others. Can you find a godly Christian leader who you respect who can mentor you? It may take a long time and lots of preparation to be fully ready for the goal you describe – may God bless you as you pursue Him, and pursue being the best steward of the opportunities He gives you.

  3. Fascinated by this approach. Curious about how you prepared personally, and if you have your notes/recording of how these services went.

    I am tempted to do something similar, but my greatest fear is missing opportunity to build the tension because it is “outed” early in the interaction…

    • Thanks Frank – I prepared in a similar way to normal sermons. Lots of time in the text, some commentary interaction. Then planned the message, but knew that interaction could change the direction slightly. Pre-preached it to an empty room and tried to think through where it could go. The key was not to require a specific tension to be held for climax in the conclusion. I was willing to trade that for the thrill of discovery and strong clear application at the end (as well as during). I am uploading the series to

  4. Peter,
    Great stuff here! One other benefit is that of ‘how’ the idea is born–which you alluded to here. I recently compared that to the different of being the ‘pregnant lady’ or the mid-wife. In one, I birth the idea, I own the idea, and I pass around pictures. In the other, they birth the idea, they own the idea, and they pass it on to everyone else. Here’s the link:
    Thanks for the great blog.

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