Discussing Sermon Texts: New Breathing Spaces

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  • Describe a successful classroom teaching tactic that could be replicated by other instructors.

The context: Homiletics courses using the Revised Common Lectionary.

The pedagogical purpose: Recently I decided that the weekly student preaching schedule in my lectionary preaching classes was not eliciting the quality of proclamation for which I was hoping. While students came well-prepared exegetically from their Greek classes, their sermons tended to depend on a narrow re-telling of the biblical texts, with an occasional explanation of a key Greek word. References to the rich resources of the historical, confessional, liturgical, and doctrinal elements of preaching were often lacking.

Description of the strategy: I created a different pedagogical approach to enable students to widen the resources they might use in their preaching. Students now have one three-hour time slot to discuss two lectionary texts prior to choosing which one they will preach in the weeks ahead. Class discussion time is divided between the two texts.

What is required? First, no computers are allowed in class: students are simply invited to a face-to-face text discussion. Everyone brings the following: the course's required commentary for the given lectionary year, another commentary of choice, a Greek Bible and dictionary, and any extra-biblical materials pertaining to the two biblical texts. As a discussion prompt, each student also prepares four questions on each of the two texts. These are posted on the course web site for other students. No grading is involved: our time together is strictly for our delight and learning. Discussions are free-flowing. No question or sermon idea is too odd not to merit some consideration.

Why it is effective: Students learn just how complex and alluring biblical texts are. They find that some of the most difficult questions may result in their best sermons. Students develop a good model for future pericope group involvement and learn how to publicly articulate theology.

One significant change I have noted is that the discussion time offers students opportunity to integrate materials from other classes. I now hear sermons which move beyond biblical theology to include historical, liturgical, and doctrinal theologies as well. This three week rotation provides a backdrop of mutual theological accountability as students hear each other preach. It has increased the quality of the preaching.

Finally, given the profound oddity of biblical texts, we have had fun! The two thousand pigs mentioned in the healing of the demoniac have yielded everything from the creation of a fictitious barbeque pit owner named Gerry Legion featured on Facebook, to the sharing of recipes for pork by students who must maintain the crock pot meals at home!

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