Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Tom Long and small preaching

Tom Long speaking in London 31 May 2011
Preaching needs to get smaller! That's part of the advice from a masterclass given yesterday by the inspirational preacher, and professor of homiletics, Tom Long. He was in London to speak at a gathering organised by the College of Preachers. 
By 'smaller' he means sermons should be less of a separated special speech event and more of a kind of speaking recognisable as similar to others. Once the sermon was often marked out as the climax of a Christian gathering, perhaps with lights dimmed except for the spot on the preacher! Current circumstances need a very different approach in which the sermon isn't so much a specialist kind of communicating as a way of talking that empowers others to talk. In a world where theological categories and ways of thinking come hard, sermons should help us all regain our confidence in talking the faith. 
In that sense, preaching needs to be 'smaller.' A sermon needs to be counted as simply one speech act amongst a thousand, but one that encourages and aids all those others. Or as Long puts it, 'I preach like I want them to speak.' The congregation are co-workers in producing faith-talk. Preaching should be done so as to empower speech activity 'out there' beyond the confines of worship.
That means preaching has to be talk that spurs talk. I think that suggest a more conversational tone and style, easy to follow structure (even if the subject matter is hard), and listen-abilty.  Long's sermon that the day was a powerful exemplar of such talk. [If you're not familiar with his work you can see an example of his preaching at http://www.nationalcathedral.org/exec/cathedral/mediaPlayer?MediaID=MED-44L04-0E0D1B&EventID=CAL-44L04-0E0C1B]

Collective memory mechanism:
Talking the memory keeps the memory alive. This is a capacity that needs to be practiced constantly. If it isn't, both the memory, and the vocabulary it needs to be talked about, simply dies.

1 comment:

David Herbert said...

Long's advocacy of keeping it small, and recognising the sermon as one speech act amongst thousands seems so important and pedagogically correct. I've just returned to Ivan Illich and that reminds me that big preaching can be counter-productive, disabling and non-convivial.