The risk of novelty
On Saturday I returned to one of my great loves after an absence of over one year: teaching people to preach. On this particular occasion it was a workshop on narrative technique. Those attending were Baptist preachers from across London, both novices and experienced preachers. We looked at the reasons why narrative matters, drawing from geo-politics, advertising, prophecy and parables along the way. We played games, drafted sermons, listened to a great speech-writer, talked about the bare bones of narrative technique and above all…asked questions. There were practical questions, theological questions, and some of those nagging little questions which always crop up when learning about a new technique. These are the questions about balancing risk and reward:
- Will I get it right?
- Are my interpretative skills up to the job?
- Will people struggle to adapt to a new ‘sound’ in the pulpit?
- Can I be sure that I am honestly interpreting scripture whilst being creative?
I could not be more delighted that these questions were asked. In fact, I should have been troubled if they were not. I am also rather pleased that at the very moment people were asking them I could see out of the corner of my eye crowds flocking to a ‘baby equipment’ sale elsewhere in the building. Babies are fearless in their exploration of the world, and will prod, poke, taste and squeeze things in their relentless pursuit of understanding. We do well to remember that in adult life, I think. Narrative carries a risk, without a doubt, but the church is at just as great a risk from boredom as it is from novelty. Odd though it might be to quote a Jewish physicist here, Einstein was quite right in saying that ‘A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new‘.
I preached a narrative sermon yesterday morning, and two of the reactions typify the risk I have described Both came from mature and experienced Christians, but were poles apart:
“Where was the rest of the sermon ? I was just getting into it when you stopped”
“I loved the way you did that with the story, it really makes you think”
When I wrote the book below, the title was chosen because many preachers, let alone those who listen to them, feel dissatisfied with what they have to offer. For every ten people bored in front of a pulpit, there may well be one bored behind it. So long as that is the case, I feel excited to be part of doing something about it, in no matter how small a way.