Rev Dr Geoff New is Dean of Studies at the Knox Centre for Ministry & Leadership and is based in Dunedin. He has a particular passion for preaching and has been a director in the Kiwi-Made Preaching organisation since 2012.
Over the past few years, I have had the extraordinary opportunity to travel into North East India to teach preaching. One region particularly challenged me: Nagaland. Space does not allow me to give all the back-story but I was struck by the similarities between their cultural protocols of welcoming and observance with that of Tangata Whenua in Aotearoa. At the time, I was also considering whether there was a way of developing a way of preparing and delivering a sermon which honours Scripture and respects the-way-we-do-things-around-here. My musing was especially thinking towards those cultures which are oral-based.
In Revelation 2-3, Jesus addresses seven churches in Asia Minor. Each address to each church follows a particular pattern and yet is distinct to that particular church/city/congregation. I guess it was that kind of beauty in Scripture of Christ that just really gets me; inspires me.
And so I offer here a way of writing sermons based on the protocol of the pōwhiri (and maybe before reading further click the link to refresh your understanding of pōwhiri).
The Elements for a Sermon
Marae – the gathering place
The time and place where Scripture, listener and preacher meet.
Tangata whenua – the biblical passage and the preacher
You must know the text yourself and embody it by virtue of prayerful and robust sermon preparation. The Scripture is the host and you as preacher join the text hosting the listeners.
Manuhiri – the listeners
Keep the people you preach in mind as you prepare your story sermon. You will be inviting them into a space of gathering, listening and encounter.
Walking into the Sermon: preparation and delivery
Karanga – be clear about the call from the passage of Scripture
The essential central call which draws the listener near. This is the cry of the text as you have discerned it through your study of the biblical passage you are preaching from.
Whakaeke – be sensitive to the slow approach of the people
Craft your story sermon realising that some (and sometimes – all) of your listeners will be tentative about this kind of sermon form. They might not be familiar with hearing a sermon told as a story. It is helpful to be aware of this as they slowly approach and are drawn into the story. In some ways this is not unlike the moment when people unfamiliar with a pōwhiri tentatively and nervously walk onto the marae.
Whaikōrero – write the sermon working to bring two worlds together
Write your story sermon either with a rhythm going back-and-forth from the world of the text to the world of the listeners; or allowing the world of the text to speak first and fully before applying it to the contemporary world of the listener. Be clear about the purpose emerging from the biblical passage
Waiatia – infuse creativity into the sermon
Punctuate your narrative sermon with moments of creativeness, softness and harmony. Moments where both worlds are melded beautifully as both text and listener sing together. Here will be moments of poetic license which colour in the telling of the biblical story.
Koha – the listeners’ gift
Create space for response from the listener. The response cannot be manufactured or manipulated. Here is the giving of self in response to the Spirit’s prompting and invitation through the Scripture. This moment is Spirit-driven and Spirit-inspired. Such space can be created by posing questions, giving examples and offering invitations.
Hongi – stillness and attentiveness
Towards the end of the sermon allow for a time of closeness so that the “breath of life” may once again animate and energise. The sermon leads to and connects people with God. Once again people’s lives are immersed in the deepening life of God. Here is the moment of oneness – community being formed gathered around the Scriptures and infused by the Spirit.
Kai/kapū tī – new level of togetherness is marked
The journey began with place, passage, preacher and people – through the sermon we expect that all elements enjoy a stronger and deeper bond. God is at work.
Mihimihi – what new connections and personal stories emerge?
Story breeds story.