Chapter 33

Connect Hearers through Dialogue

A two-way street can be paved with gold.

Preaching has a long tradition of one-way communication. You may want to consider experimenting, though, with another alternative well suited to our culture: dialogue. Here are several reasons to consider using two-way communication with your congregation:

Biblical preachers used dialogue.
When Jesus taught, he rarely depended on monologue. The New Testament records that he asked 153 questions. " Whose likeness is on this coin " (Matthew 22:20; Mark 12:16; Luke 20:24)? " Which one was this man's neighbor " (Luke 10:36)? Jesus, the Master Teacher, engaged in dialogue.
Paul also used dialogue.
In Acts, Luke uses the term dialegomai at least ten times to characterize Paul's communication. The term means " to discuss, to reason, to argue. " Paul " reasoned with them from the Scriptures " (Acts 17:2). " He reasoned in the synagogue as well as the marketplace day by day " (Acts 17:17). He " argued persuasively about the kingdom " (Acts 19:8). Apparently Paul felt it was wise for a herald to engage in dialogue.
Some entire books of the Bible are structured by dialogue.
Malachi used rhetorical questions, a cousin of two-way communication, to great effect.
We have differing fields of experience.
Listeners hear the preacher's words through their own " grid. " For communication to occur, senders and receivers must dance an intricate mental dance to construct meaning.
Max Warren calls this dance " quadruple-think. " He says, " Quadruple-thinking is thinking out what I have to say, then thinking out how the other man will understand what I say, and then rethinking what I have to say, so that, when I say it, he will think what I am thinking. " Dialogue is indispensable to communicators committed to quadruple-think.
We live in a democratic and pluralistic society.
Americans value free expression and believe all men are created equal. Every person has a right to hold and express his or her opinion. In this culture, preachers will want to avoid giving the impression of lording it over their listeners.

Many Ways to Dialogue

There are various ways to introduce more two-way communication into your sermon. Each preaching situation has its own rules. Preachers who want to try something new need to be brave souls, but maybe one or two of these suggestions will work in your church.

Question and answeraudience to preacher
Speakers often use this method following a message, but we can also allow people to ask questions within a sermon. You may want to use wording like this to prompt feedback: " Have I made that clear? " or " Can I clarify anything? " This puts the responsibility for clarity on the preacher so listeners don't feel stupid for asking.
Question and answerpreacher to audience
We can ask the congregation either closed or open questions. For example, to focus the audience's attention the preacher could ask a closed question: " What is the Great Commission? " Open questions are even more potent, as when Jesus asked, " Who do men say that I am " (Matthew 16:13; Mark 8:27)? To teach like Jesus, we might ask a series of questions: " What are people most afraid of? What are you most afraid of? What place does prayer have in your struggle against fear? "
Rhetorical questions
These are simple to use and can be as effective as " real " dialogue. They engage the audience in mental dialogue with the preacher.
Before, after, or even in the middle of a message, why not bring forward a person with firsthand experience in the subject of the message to reinforce the point? Either the audience or the preacher could question the person.
Listeners participate vicariously in the ideas and emotions of personal stories. Try following your sermon with a story from someone who has " been there, done that. " Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church, uses testimony every week to increase the impact of his messages.
Role play and drama
This method also creates identification. As a twist on the typical use of drama, I wove a sequence of scenes into a sermon called " A Day in the Life of a Christian. " This sermon was designed to show seekers what it was like to be a Christian. The sermon began with a normal introduction but then introduced an actress called Jill Christian. I asked if the audience could accompany her through her day, and as she encountered various trials and triumphs, we dialogued, or I commented directly to the audience on what had just occurred.
Dialogue-based sermon structure
The outline of a sermon can take the shape of questions and answers. Anticipating listeners' questions as you teach on baptism, you might use this outline:
  1. What does baptism mean?
  2. Who should be baptized?
  3. What does baptism do?
  4. How should baptism be done?
Presermon feedforward
Dallas Seminary preaching professor Keith Willhite urges, " Stop preaching in the dark! Gaining feedback isn't enough. " Try to gather people's ideas and experiences before you preach and use them in sermon preparation.
Postsermon feedback
Feedback can show preachers where further teaching is needed. (Warning: you have to be humble to listen to most people's comments. Or it will make you humble!)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, " It is characteristic of the preacher that he simultaneously questions and proclaims. He must ask along with the congregation, and form a 'Socratic community'otherwise he could not give any reply. But he can reply and he must, because he knows God's answer in Christ. "

I think you will find that encouraging more two-way communication in your preaching will invigorate you, your church community, and your sermons.