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April 1974 · Vol. 3 No. 1 · pp. 177–78 

The Preaching Lab

John Regehr

1. Confession

For some years now I have been aware of a shift in my priorities regarding the several aspects of the church service, depending on the particular function I was asked to assume. If I was asked to lead the service, I was sure that the worship portion was of utmost importance. The people must be helped to worship significantly, even deeply. This requires time, and a planned participation. If I was asked to preach, it seemed to me that the proclamation and instruction should have the prime place.

2. Reorientation

I was enabled recently to participate in a seminar conducted by David Mains, of Circle Church, Chicago. (You may have read his book, Full Circle, Word Books, 1971. I recommend it.) It was impressed on us that there are three important aspects of the service: worship, sermon, response. These three are to be coordinated, so that the entire service has one thrust. The hearer must experience the impact of a truth, not merely a warm religious feeling. That impact is strongest when the entire service is made to serve one basic truth.

3. Getting it all together

The following is a service which was planned according to the procedure suggested in the seminar. You will notice that the sermon is central in terms of the content, but is not the “main item” in the sense that all preceding activity is “preliminary.”

  1. I had asked Br. I. W. Redekopp to preach. His wife had died just four months ago. He, therefore, spoke from his heart when he stated the key truth of the sermon in these words: “Prayer is seeking the will of God, rather than imposing our will on God.” His text was Matt. 6:5-15.
  2. On the Wednesday preceding the worship service (it would have been better if this had occurred a week earlier) I called together a group of members from the church for a “brainstorming” session. The purpose of this group was to plan the worship and the response sections for the service, keeping in mind that the entire service ought to be coordinated.
  3. To worship is to ascribe worth, to tell God that we are pleased with him. It is easier to do this if we focus on one specific attribute of God. In keeping with the sermon, we decided on this: “God is a God who listens when we speak.” The 20 minutes of worship time were to focus on this truth, and were introduced with readings from the Psalms (3:1-4; 17:6-7; 34:1-10), a prayer, and an appropriate hymn.
  4. Since the children should be vitally involved in the service, we {178} planned to do a demonstration to show how God listens. We had girl memorize a short request which included an expression of hunger, and loneliness. She addressed herself first to an inanimate object, then to a tape recorder, and then to a warm, understanding person who gave her something to eat and demonstrated warmth and affection. I coached this section along with the help of Scripture readings (Isa. 44:13-17; Heb. 4:14-16).
  5. In order to make the offering a part of the worship experience, it was presented thus: “God listens when we tell him what we need. Now God is telling us what he needs from us. He’s got a big thing going, and is asking us to help him.”
  6. As for the response, we wanted to guard against the usual error of asking people to take home what they heard and put it into practice there. We wanted something of that to occur right at the session. Therefore, at the close of the sermon I asked each person to focus on the predominant concern he had at the moment and to spend a minute in silent prayer about it. Then I asked each to rehearse in his mind the content and tone of the prayer, and to compare it with the Lord’s prayer which I read again. Also, they were asked to repeat this exercise three times during the week.

4. Cautions and Insights

  1. It is those who participate in the planning who find the worship experience most meaningful. Therefore, all members of the church ought to have opportunity to participate in such planning sessions. A rotation system with various groupings seems to be indicated.
  2. It may be difficult to draw a person into the worship service who was not in on the planning. If he cannot grasp the whole, i.e., does not feel that he is “in the picture,” he is reluctant to take part. In effect he is asked to trust the leader and follow him, rather than work alongside him.
  3. Most church leaders assume that churches resist change. I believe this to be a false assumption. Indeed, it is probably accurate to say that the leaders resist change (often out of fear that the people will resist). If we explain carefully, and if the new thing we do is clearly purposeful, then our people will come with us, even gladly. The few who make contrary noises can be absorbed (if not assimilated) by love and a sympathetic sense of humor.
  4. Usually we are awkward in our first attempts to do something new. Therefore, do not let some sourness of an initial attempt keep you from trying again. It requires a great deal more effort from many people to make the procedure here described work well, but the potential is quite phenomenal.
  5. Remember that this style of sermon making, (i.e., beginning with a clear, concise statement of the key truth), is only one among many. However, it is a helpful method. Every preacher should have facility in using several methods of sermon building.

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