An “Open” Sermon

I’ve been experimenting recently with a style of communication that I like to call an “open sermon”.

The idea behind it is that for so many young (and old) people, the sense of responsibility for personal revelation through the Bible has been lost, or more so, delegated to “professional” pastors who study a passage for a week or so, to later bring the truths to the church table for consumption. The result has been a rapid decline in Biblical literacy, and a consumer mentality within our churches.

An “open sermon” is a teaching of dialogue – and by this I don’t mean lip-service to this term “dialogue” that some indie-churches often profess to action while sadly not making any real changes – but I mean, actual dialogue, which means embracing a new paradigm of teaching.

Just a couple of weeks ago as a youth group we were looking at the Book of Revelation, because apparently that’s all the rage these days! I thought to myself, “I could tell them everything that I know, but what would that actually accomplish?” So I decided to break the teaching up into five sections:

  1. I initially provided an interpretive framework (this was especially important because of the content), and told them that we were doing things differently (10min)
  2. I split the whole group into four groups of around 20 youth and leaders, and gave them each a different yet “familiar” passage of the topic text. They read the passage and drew initial impressions with each other. (15min)
  3. A spokesperson for the group threw their thoughts back to me (everyone listening), and I reflected/paraphrased what they shared, adding more context to each passage. (10min)
  4. The groups then were asked to discuss the question: Why is this passage in the Bible? (10min)
  5. They threw their thoughts back to me (everyone listening), and I summed up. (5min)

A warning: it takes a lot more work for the presenter, as you need to be prepared for whatever the groups may throw back to you, but equally an encouragement: it was well worth the effort because that night was fantastic. The sense of exploration was brilliant, and you could witness young people taking ownership of their discoveries.

It’s the difference between being told about a treasure and finding it for yourself.

It’s early days, and I’m still wrestling with the paradigm, but if we can help young people step out of the consumer mentality, whether by practice or paradigm, I believe that we can help cultivate a generation of explorers.

What do you think? Have you ever tried an “open sermon”?

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About Gavin Brown

I am a Youth Pastor working with students in Alice Springs, the heart of Australia. I have a passion for discipleship, equipping people to discover, live out, and multiply their faith every day, while simultaneously attempting to navigate the unique subculture of being a nerd that loves extreme sports.

2 responses to “An “Open” Sermon”

  1. Justus says :

    Warming to the idea, love to see people growing in God and exploring their faith. Couple questions: How did Jesus do his “open sermons”? Example?
    I guess for me sermon’s are about imparting knowledge and learning’s. Can be done in different ways for sure, but there is “right” theology, how do you make sure that gets across?

    • Gavin Brown says :

      I love the questions and thoughts Justus.

      Jesus certainly used a rabbinic teaching style that was very familiar in the first century Jewish culture, at least this is how it is presented in Scripture – parables, responding to questions with questions and the like (eg. Luke 10:26). Many parables he left open-ended such as the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), leaving space for creative thought. Not prescriptive by any stretch, but certainly interesting.

      I totally agree that there is the need for “right” theology, otherwise people can potentially just interpret whatever they like. I think this increases the responsibility on the preacher/leader to be prepared, and if necessary, provide an initial framework for interpretation as I mentioned in the Book of Revelation example.

      Melding these two thoughts, in Chapter 10 of “Meet the Rabbis” author Brad Young outlines Hillel the Elder’s (leading scholar of Rabbinic Judaism – died 10AD) principles of biblical interpretation saying:
      “The preacher has one eye on the text, and the other eye on the congregation. Midrash (interpretation) breathes fresh meaning into old text and makes it live for a new generation facing problems in a contemporary life setting.”

      I kind of like the imagery 🙂

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