Preaching In Dialogue With The Congregation

My current reading is ‘The Preaching Of Jesus‘ by William Brosend. I wouldn’t have come across it but for my membership of the Ministry Today board, because a copy was sent to us for review, and I volunteered.

I like reading books about preaching, but this one wasn’t a natural as the foreword is by Marcus Borg, a scholar whom I find altogether too sceptical. However, it was also commended on the back by a scholar I admire, Ben Witherington III.

In this short post, I want to highlight one early and important point in the book. Brosend uses an elaborate first chapter to argue that there were four major characteristics to the preaching of Jesus. The first of these is dialogical preaching. This is not the same as those hackneyed ‘dialogue sermons’ from thirty or forty years ago, where two people presented an artificial conversation to cover the loss of confidence in proclaiming the Word. (And in any case, ‘proclamation’ is Brosend’s second characteristic.)

No: Brosend means that when Jesus preached, he was in dialogue with Scripture, tradition, the culture and his listeners. Here I just want to highlight one important point he makes about the preacher’s dialogue with Scripture. It is this: are we in dialogue with the passage in a way that is sensitive to the way our congregations will be in dialogue with it? Will they have been wrestling with the passage all week? Most unlikely. Will they have been consulting learned exegetes? Even less likely.

It isn’t that protracted meditation and responsible exegesis are bad things. But if we only bring our own questions and/or the scholars’ questions, we are not going to connect the Word to the listeners.

I think that’s a salutary reminder when preachers are often taught (especially, in my experience, in the Methodist ‘Faith and Worship’ course) to put academic exegesis first. I’m glad for the reminder.


  1. I don’t get the opportunity to preach often, at least yet, but your post brings up a good question. How do I preach so that people think about the scripture throughout the week?


    1. That’s a good point, Dan, and not tackled by Brosend in the particular chapter I’m citing. I found it particularly provocative that he was realistic that many congregants won’t have looked at the passage(s) for Sunday before coming to worship.

      In this appointment, I have inherited a situation where we don’t use the Lectionary that much, but devise our own sermon series. I then prepare a leaflet that details the series, with the relevant passage for each week. My administrator publishes it to the church members, and it also goes in the monthly newsletter. I hope people will prepare for worship by reading the passage.

      My Leadership Team meets as a home group most weeks when it doesn’t have a business agenda, and we reflect together on the previous Sunday’s sermon. However, the other home groups in the church follow their own individual curricula.


  2. just taking some time out to browse a few blogs. I think it is essential that we preach in dialogue with the congregations, and that of course involves intentional listening not only to the wider culture but also to the local context.

    With some of the congregations in this Circuit it is possible to have a conversation rather than a sermon. For me that means double the preparation time for I am no longer in control of where the sermon is headed. Challenging but worth it, but I guess that is a step further than what is being suggested here!


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