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Friday, October 8, 2004

Can a prophetic preacher bring the congregation along?

Speaking of Sojourners, the September issue includes a very helpful article by the Rev. Brian McLaren for preachers trying to figure out how to address controversial topics from the pulpit. He writes:

Itís easy to preach up a sweat when you know your congregation is thinking, "Amen! Go get íem!" But when your congregation feels threatened, intimidated, rebuked, insulted, discomforted, and otherwise unsettled, itís another matter.

He picks up on the Rev. Adam Hamilton's proposal in Christianity Today's Leadership Journal, which identifies five keys to genuinely persuasive preaching:

1. Show respect for all positions on an issue, and for those who hold opposing opinions. Itís tempting, especially when one is reacting against a polemical, biased, chest-thumping opposition, to respond in kind and opt out of the Lordís command about doing unto others.

2. Understand the opposing side so well that you can present its arguments as clearly as its proponents do. Each position has its upside and downside, as do opposing views. We tend to know our upside and their downside, but fairness requires we face our downside and their upside as well.

3. Begin your sermon by presenting the opposing caseís position. Present it so compellingly that people would believe itís your position if you stopped your sermon midway.

4. Then present your position, rooting your position in biblical soil, admitting your positionís downsides.

5. Confess your openness to changing your thinking—thus modeling the teachability you hope your people will demonstrate.

("Scared to Talk Politics in Church?" Brian McLaren, Sojourners 9.04; "Opening Closed Minds," Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal Spring 2004)

Unlike my clergy friends, I haven't had to preach during this election season — but in reading through McLaren and Hamilton's essays I've been struck by the fact that my political and theological commentary has probably been more partisan than persuasive. (I originally intended this site to open up some new areas for dialogue among Unitarian Universalists, but as the readership has expanded, I think my "moderate UU" perspective has seemed downright mainstream liberal to everyone else!) I regret the partisan tone, but I have also been aware that blogs that are simultaneously religious and liberal have been something of a new phenomenon. Most of us have probably been reactive rather than genuinely persuasive, attracting communities of the like-minded rather than communities of genuine dialogue. Politics has swept us along as soldiers in the fight rather than as ministers of grace or even as "the prophethood of all believers," as James Luther Adams believed the church was called to be. Alas.

After the election, I think I'll probably refocus my commentary and my reading habits on the prospects the church has as a conciliatory and reconciling agent in a divided culture. Until then, if you come across religious sites especially that practice some of the principles McLaren and Hamilton describe, I'd love to hear about it.

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 8 October 2004 at 5:47 PM

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Joe G.:

October 9, 2004 01:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Good thoughts to remember! I, too, have had my partisan moments (particularly regarding liberal Friends). How to critique while also acknowledging the strengths of the opposing side and the weaknesses of one's one position?? I look forward to your approach on this matter after the elections.


October 10, 2004 03:39 PM | Permalink for this comment

Wow, that's great advice for persuasive speaking, or writing, in any situation. Thanks!

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