Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Stop Preaching! (Part One)

We are a word-addicted church.

We open our worship with written words on a page, read litanies for special occasions, sing songs with complex lyrics from a hymnbook, articulate our doctrine and structure through 800 pages of, yes, words, and feel like we've accomplished something at Annual Conference when we pass a resolution in print.

This word-addiction is especially apparent when it comes to preaching, one of United Methodism's self-proclaimed hallmarks. We have licensed people as "local preachers", we talk proudly about the great "traveling preachers" in the early 1800's, we make all our seminarians take a class on preaching (though not necessarily on worship), and for most churches, "The Proclamation of the Word" (which is always the sermon) comprises the central part of the worship service.

This is a horrible, inexcusable tragedy.

Now before you run screaming to my local DCOM or BOOM (and if you don't know the words for these acronyms, then you can hardly be called United Methodist!), or earnestly inquire as to what they're teaching us at those crazy "liberal" seminaries, let me explain:

The study of multiple intelligences tells us that people understand the world and make connections to it in different ways. Some people acquire information best through hearing something (musical, linguistic), others through images (spatial), others through doing something, (bodily-kinesthetic) some through interactions with others (interpersonal), others through self reflection (intrapersonal), others through music, etc.

Consider for a moment then, how many types of intelligence a typical sermon reaches, delivered verbally from a pulpit on a Sunday morning (by the way, this exercise works equally well with learning styles.)

Can't come up with many?

Well, neither can I.

The typical sermon, the vaunted "proclamation of the Word", the very center and climax of a typical Protestant worship service, appeals almost exclusively to only one type of intelligence- linguistic intelligence. All other people are left in the dust, required to either adapt (or simply to tune out). (And yes, you may point out that we do have hymns that could appeal to musical intelligence, but remember, most are sung to 150 year old tunes with 150+ year old lyrics while being played on an instrument that went out of style nearly a century ago. I think traditional hymns have a lot to offer us, but our rabid, exclusive devotion to our ancient-white-people style of music doesn't always speak to today's worldview and culture.)

Needless to say, when the central part of your worship service primarily speaks to only a small group of people, you have a problem.