1. Sermons Should Be about Life as it Is: The Full Spectrum of Human Experiences
We at Lake Nokomis think sermons should be about life as it is. Life is not simple, is full of doubts as well as experiences where we sense God, full of energy and optimism and anxiety and pain. We appreciate that our preacher speaks to this.
Focusing on life as it is, with a full range of human experiences, engages the congregation in the working out the intersections of faith and community, relationships, work, etc. Stories seem to be the most effective homiletical tool, which is important for 1) preaching as a function of a teaching elder’s role, 2) teaching people within the congregation who would like to preach, and 3) sharing with the academy as a best practice in preaching.
2. Sermons Should, then, Not Be Boring but Applicable—What Some Might Call an “Active Word”
Sermons teach without being boring, inspire, connect biblical and real-life stories, are profound and well thought out, speak to who God is and what God is up to without being dogmatic or heavy handed. We at Lake Nokomis need something to apply to our lives. Something to think about, to talk about, to take and put into action. Sermons need to do something in us: flip a switch, provide a reminder, make us mindful, clear out the ugly, bless us, give us options and empower us to make decisions.
Especially for our younger members who have a different investment in church than older members (following changes in cultural capital), having a sermon that is applicable and not dogmatic seems to be a key factor in inviting their engagement and participation. Also, for preachers and students of preaching this might be a helpful corrective against preaching “safe,” if boring, sermons about doctrine or theology and against a fear of preaching “heretical” sermons.
3. Participation beyond the Call to Worship is a Viable Practice in an Intergenerational Congregation, although it Requires Attention to Framing Participation
We at Lake Nokomis participate, if somewhat haltingly. Sometimes it’s challenging: we like the creative elements, but sometimes we don’t know how to engage. Being asked to participate makes us feel valuable and appreciated: your stories, ideas, and presence matter. At our best we are OK with participation as long it’s not an either/or, when we know that not participating is just as OK a choice.
If we follow the hypothesis that some congregations will experience increased engagement in what is going on in the event of preaching when people are invited and empowered to participate in shaping the proclamation (that is, publicly shaping the way that God, faith, and Christian life get talked about), then what we are doing at Lake Nokomis is significant. It is significant in that we have over two years of experimenting with this invitation and empowerment. There is still more work to be done. What is involved in “pulling [prayers] out of” congregants? What forms have we not tried? How good of a job are we doing not being random, but paying attention to what Siobhán Garrigan wrote about the comparison between Marquand Chapel at Yale Divinity School and a laboratory?
The image of a laboratory as a large white room containing an individual person in a white coat endlessly experimenting by gleefully adding substance a to substance b to create the new substance c in a bubbling test tube is not only false, but is almost antithetical to how real laboratories work. Not unlike what we do in Marquand, real laboratories have very long time frames for accomplishing change, they are under constant scrutiny by the people who sponsor them and to whom they are accountable (what they are producing has to be an accurate match for the need, and has to work when it is produced), they are environments in which risks must be taken but only with an extraordinary number of safety checks in place, and for any progress to be made they have to be constantly sharing their research with numerous other labs engaged in similar projects. They are collectives, and most of the day is spent in various rounds of communication with one’s colleagues. (The Marquand Reader, 24 September 2007).