How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons
Colombo and the Dialectical Method
I refuse to believe that people will not listen to sermons. Yes, it is true that most congregates in most churches can not remember the theme, main points or scripture a sermon was based on by the time they leave the parking lot, but that can not be the fault of the congregation. They are not dumb, lazy, thoughtless, shallow or bad. It can only be the fault of the Preacher and her or his sermon.
There are generally only two things wrong with most preachers—what they say and how they say it. Other than that everything is good. They usually look nice and are pleasant to talk with.
Maybe people stopped listening to sermons for very good reasons. They have heard preachers and they have heard sermons and the preachers always say the same things in the same ways. Mostly both the content and the presentation are inauthentic—not that the preacher knows that. The Conspiracy has indoctrinated the preachers with the absorbed reading and the evangelical hermeneutic to an even greater degree than the congregant. The preacher tells the lies of the C.C.C.C. happily or at least ignorantly.
So people stop paying attention because there is nothing worth spending their attention on. Unfortunately, when something new or true or remotely interesting does come up in a sermon the people will never hear it because they have trained themselves not to listen. They know what the preacher is going to say. But the one person that everyone listens to–pays attention to—the one person whose opinion everyone trusts and believes is his or her own. So a preacher to be successful must engage the hearer in a way that compels them to extract some meaning from the sermon.
To this end I have tried to develop a method that allows people to discover what I want to say in a sermon on their own. This is not easy and does not happen right away. Most of the congregation, I think would report as they were leaving the parking lot that, not only did they not understand what I was talking about but are pretty sure that I did not know either—but they remember the sermon. I try to preach for Wednesday.
To do this I draw on Kirkegaard and Colombo for my methodology. Kirkegaard will sometimes present two opposing viewpoints, arguing both with equal credibility. This, hopefully, compels the hearer to examine and engage the argument. It is also valuable sometimes to present a sermon that contradicts what I am trying to say. The engaged listener then picks up the point by finding fault with my argument. Then the truth is theirs. I did not give them any answers; they had a moment of understanding.
The Colombo Method is taken from Peter Falk’s characterization of the TV detective. Colombo never really solves a crime or accuses anyone of anything, he just asks questions and people confess. Colombo is not at all threatening. He is at best endearing and at worst irritating. He comes off as confused and inept. By admitting that he does not have the answers, people let their guard down. The listener goes from a defensive or disengaged position to a feeling of superiority and amusement. When Colombo fails to pick up even the most obvious fact the listener can not resist pointing it out.
People do not like to be talked down to, but seem to love to be talked up to. Therefore, if in a sermon I say, “What St. Paul is saying to us is…” or “What Jesus means by this is…” well that is standard fair people have heard those phrases many times before. If I say, “What in the world does St. Paul mean by that?” or “Who could ever figure this out?” Then perhaps the listener says to herself, “I can” and they do.
In preparing a sermon using the Colombo Method I first ask myself, “What is the Good News in the Text?” When I discover what I think it is, I ask myself next, “How can I hide it in the manuscript?” Then I go about planing clues throughout the sermon.
If I have done my job, the listener will put the clues together.