Dialogical structures of preaching (as articulated by Jeremy Thomson in Preaching as Dialog) integrate conversational interaction within the progression of the sermon. This practice manifests in a very real way how God’s word is active, evoking a response from his people, and how God’s word is spoken both through the office of preaching and through the mutual consolation of the saints. Dialogical preaching can be classified on a spectrum of practices extending from scripted dialog spoken by the preacher to actual dialog enacted within the congregational setting.
Scripted Dialog: when the sermon uses scripted dialog, the preacher organizes the progression of the sermon through a conversational interaction between the preacher and another speaker. That speaker could be God, a figure from the text, a figure from the culture, or a member of the congregation itself. As in a real conversation, the sermon will be ordered by the transformation that occurs within a conversation.
For example, one could watch as the dialog enacts an event of learning, as the conversation moves from lack of clarity to clarity; an event of persuasion (as in a diatribe), as the conversation moves from objections to answers to confirmation of the faith; or an event of spiritual formation, as the conversation moves from theological teachings to faithful practices; etc.
The dialog could also be enacted in relation to a chancel drama: here, the chancel drama would begin, offering a realistic life situation which the congregation assumes will end in a certain way; then the chancel drama would pause to allow the preacher to interact in conversation with one or more characters in the drama, working with textual exposition, theological confession, and evangelical proclamation; and then the drama would resume with an ending that differs from what the congregation expected that thereby reveals the power of God’s word to change lives and address life situations.
Finally, the dialog could be used at the culmination of the sermon to reveal the way in which God’s people live out the teaching of faith proclaimed in the sermon. For example, on confirmation, a preacher could incorporate confessions of faith by the confirmands into the sermon; if a congregation was celebrating Life Sunday, the sermon could close with words from members of the congregation who are active in this form of service; or if the sermon was proclaiming a teaching such as God’s provision of care for the sick, the sermon could close with a word from a member who has trusted in God’s provision during a time of illness.
Unscripted Dialog: when the sermon uses unscripted dialog, the preacher integrates moments of conversation within the larger flow of the sermon. Here, the sermon has (1) non-dialogical portions and (2) dialogical portions. The non-dialogical sections serve two purposes: they clearly convey the textual exposition of the sermon, its theological confession, and evangelical proclamation and they create a framework for conversation with God’s people. The dialogical portions pause the directed meditation of the sermon for conversational interaction. In these portions, the conversation partner for such dialog could be limited to one or more individuals (for example, on a mission festival, the sermon could integrate an interview with a missionary or several members returning from a mission trip into the sermon) or be open to the congregation (for example, at the close of the sermon in a catechetical series, the preacher could invite members of the congregation to discuss how they go about teaching the meaning of baptism to their children).
The art of the unscripted dialogical sermon involves a preacher carefully constructing the flow of the non-dialogical portions of the sermon so that the dialogical portions have a clear purpose to them that is readily apparent to the hearers. For example, a sermon could begin with a case study of a challenge to the faith in one’s cultural setting. After the case study is presented, the preacher would invite discussion regarding how members have seen Christians in the world respond. Then, the sermon returns to a non-dialogical section that offers a close study of a Scriptural text, teaching the faith and proclaiming God’s gracious work in Christ. This section clarifies for the people various faithful responses to the contemporary situation. After this non-dialogical portion, the sermon then invites conversational responses that explore ways in which God’s people in this place can express their faith in action, contemplating both challenges that may arise and communal support that can be offered.
Chapel Sermon by David Adams from Zephaniah 1:7-16 on Friday, November 17, 2017.
© 2014 David Schmitt. All rights reserved.