They say that once you say something, or share something, you really know it. If you want to learn a story, tell it often and it will become a part of you. If you want to learn a joke, tell it often and you’ll get the lines and timing down pat. When I preach on Sundays, the sermon at 8 o’clock worship is often “still in development”— I haven’t preached it yet, and it’s still taking shape and I don’t know it as well. At 10 o’clock, though, I usually know it cold—and it’s a much better sermon. Likewise, I teach three sections of Speech Communication at the seminary each week, and each section is the same lecture. The first lecture is still a work in progress, and by the third class it’s locked in.
Now as ordinary as this sounds, the realization of this truth actually leads us into some interesting philosophy and theology. For instance, Calvin Schrag, a postmodern philosopher teaches in his book Resources for Rationality that “articulation” is central to any rationality. Only by speaking or writing our present grasp of a situation or idea can we enter into a full understanding of it. An example of this is the common experience of solving a problem by “talking it out;” at the end of the conversation, we understand a lot more. When it comes to theology and faith, we find a similar truth. The faith that lives in the heart only comes to full life when it is expressed through words, through speaking or writing. The heart and the voice are closely connected (Romans 10, and John 12). Once a person finds words to express what they believe, their faith takes on new life, it is deeper and more closely held. More importantly, when we find words to express the faith we believe and feel, our closeness to God and experience of God’s presence and love is much richer. I believe this is what Paul means in Romans 10: we experience salvation in Christ through the expression of the faith we believe. (For more on Schrag, Romans, etc., see David Lose’s discussion of “articulation” in Confessing Jesus Christ.)
In the life of a church, this is why testimonies are so, so important. Testimony is the “old word,” and some churches call is a “minute for mission” or “sharing.” No matter what you call it, it’s the public articulation of personal faith, usually by one who is not ordained . At the church I pastor, we’ve recently been having a series of speakers in worship who are giving “minutes for mission” as part of the annual stewardship season. Each person is sharing their faith, and particularly how they live out their faith as part of the family of our church. These speakers are interpreting the mission of the church, but they are also creating and nurturing faith. By God’s grace, their testimony is creating faith for the one who shares, and faith for those who hear.
Often as preachers it’s hard to give up the pulpit for lots of reasons, but in my experience it’s always worth it. The most powerful services we have at my church in any given year are testimony services. They awaken and deepen faith, and strengthen the church.
So perhaps as preachers we can go of the culture of expertise, and realize that preaching is not solo thing? Perhaps our preaching ministry will find new life if we intentionally empower those in the pews to share what God is doing in their lives!