Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dwell Conference: "How do you like your meal?"

Last night, we had 'table talk', which was a table discussion of some of the ideas raised by the speaker (in last night's case, a fine message by Mark Driscoll).

Our table was talking about Preaching. I introduced the model I was raised on: When preaching, show your exegesis of the text. (John Stott?) We were talking about some of the limits of that model, as well as some of the great strengths.

Someone at our table offered this insight on preaching from his seminary professor:
We (preachers) are there not to take them to the kitchen, but to serve them a meal.
Ok. That insight is certainly the model of many preachers here in the States. They (presumably) do the hard work of exegesis at home, but not (primarily) in the sermon. That would make it labored and less interesting and less applicable.

I responded by saying that the model that I received was the opposite- that we are precisely to 'take people to the kitchen', in order to teach them how to cook and serve a meal on their own, and rely less on the chef.

I'm still processing this. So, over to you:

Do you want to be taken to the kitchen, or would you prefer the meal already served and with dessert?

Pic by Mikeautry1.


Pete said...

When given the chance I love teaching others to use the kitchen appropriately.

But then again under this sort of analogy, I'm only an apprentice chef who has learned by watching lots of cooking shows, while sitting back, tasting it and then practicing it myself.

Megan said...

I think I prefer the cooking option--it seems that if the sermon is a meal, while it's good on Sunday morning, it does almost nothing to help me learn to read and exegete the Scriptures for myself. I think it also can lend itself to the assumption that the congregation won't like something that's "messy" or "too smart" and that's not fair to anyone.

Steve Ko said...

Yeah, I've learned to bring thee pizza to the table to feed the guests, not the raw ingredients. I agree that application needs to outweigh explanation.

sam said...

Perhaps the sermon is more like Jamie Oliver's cooking show. He shows you his kitchen, the ingredients he uses, the way he chops and dices but there's stacks more work that has gone on behind the scenes that make it look far easier than it really is.

If you just serve them a meal it seems it is difficult to create tension within the sermon that allows the text to drive the sermon forward rather than your charisma and showmanship.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to be taken into the kitchen and shown around, but at some point before the talk ends I want to be walking back out with a meal. Having that meal can sometimes be the difference between a lecture and a sermon.

Steve Carlisle said...

For me the purpose of teaching in any situation is to allow the learners to have sufficient knowledge so as they can do it for themselves at home.

I think it is a protestant value which we must hold on to dearly, for when we let it go, only offering application, we do the opposite of what the reformers did, namely, taking the Bible away from the hands of the lay person, and making it understandable only by the 'intelligensia'

We must go to the kitchen, show them how to cook, and eat the meal with them, together!

Martin Kemp said...

If the meal you prepare is good enough then they'll be inspired to do it for themselves.

Jeff A said...

I'm for some kitchen demo, not just meal presentation...

I reckon contrary to my good friend Marty K that just being presented a good meal does not a chef inspire...perhaps the opposite! If you are being fed a beautiful meal all the time, why cook for yourself!

byron smith said...

Good food is important, but is the family dinner table the place to teach cooking? Is that really the only time any members of the family spend together? Mightn't there be (gasp) things more important to family life than good food (though of course food will be part of sustaining and growing members)? Mightn't cooking be better taught in smaller groups or one on one?

As I understand it, the US model is for the sermon to be the meal, but for the majority of the congregation to also go to adult Sunday School, which is more like a Bible study and/or seminar.

And to raise the naughtiest of questions: is it the case that every member of the family needs to be able to cook? Some level of familiarity with the kitchen is a good thing (everyone should be able to wash up!), but does every Christian need to be a chef? Could this too be part of the Protestant legacy - an individualist tendency that assumes each Christian ought to be equipped to be an entire church unto herself?

Anonymous said...

I like where Byron is going with his 'naughty question'
Phil M - Sydney, Aust

Steve Carlisle said...

I think this quote helps to show why we ought to be not letting the church be individualistic, but to relate to God in such a way personally:

Martin Kemp said...

If you are being fed a beautiful meal all the time, why cook for yourself!

Because you're learning to appreciate fine food. Jamie Oliver grew up with parents who were in the hospitality industry, so was exposed to good food (good english food?!) early on. Yes he learnt some basic skills when a kid, but which came first...the skills or the appreciation?

Perhaps its another spin on the nature vs nurture debate. Both are necessary, as are sermons which both inspire and train. My beef (pun intended) is with preaching which is concerned primarily with the latter. It's a self defeating approach. You have to give people a reason to be trained before they sign up. This is also my issue with training based ministries that are all about 'doing' or 'training to do' before they are about 'being'. It's the way of God's people since Biblical times; What we do comes as a reflection of who we are.

Turns said...

People definitely need to be able to cook for themselves.

Eating bible meals is something that needs to be done EVERY day, and probably 5 out of 7 days a week we aren't sharing a meal with other Christians but rather eating alone in quiet times.

Apostle Peter says that all Christians need to mature to eating solid food, not just milk. If christians are never taught how to read and understand the bible PROPERLY (ie with an accurate biblical and historical context taken with each passage, and biblical theology particularly applied to OT passages), then all people will know how to serve up is a glass of milk.

Or, worse yet, if people are not exposed to how the preacher came to their conclusions, they might get into the habit of accepting every opinion/application of a passage as valid. They then lose the fundimental concept of 'Bible Alone', that there is one authority (Gods), and not every interpretation/application of a passage is valid.

Only when you know how to cook yourself can you then start to challenge others on the validity of their meal.

James said...

take me to the kitchen brother!

SeaPea said...

if i am enjoying my meal, i need to know what i'm eating: what's in the food? otherwise, i wouldn't know the difference between a croque monsieur and a croque madame!

a few years ago, as a new christian, i would've said, please, just the meal, no kitche stuff. now, as i'm maturing (hopefully), i would not only like the meal but also what's in the food, where it came from, how it was grown and why it tastes that way. as one grows in the faith, and as one reflects upon the text, then only then can it be fully applied to their own lives. it's easy to hear applications and nod and agree, but how is it really being transformed into one's life?

i think this is a natural path for a christian.


Steve Ko said...

Hey, I should clarify- i'm not pushing for 100% application. And I believe proper exegesis is necessary to come to an application. But like paul's epistles, i think a sermon shouldn't just by dry doctrine but how that doctrine relates to a specific situation that the people are facing. So i think a sermon shouldn't just teach raw information. I think that's what makes the difference between a sermon and a lecture. A sermon should process the raw information, and show how the truth of the gospel (in the text) addresses the human condition.

Peter said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you. I don't think pastors are fully equipped or inherently capable of "serving the meal". I've written a few posts on my blog about how I think it's dangerous when pastors get too focused on application because most of them are not knowledgeable on subjects like sociology, economics, political science, biology, etc. in order to suggest accurate or appropriate applications of Scripture. This is my problem with a lot of pastors who focus a lot these days on "social justice" instead of the Bible.

I think the role of the pastor is largely one of empowerment--empowering and encouraging people to do the will of God in their specific realms of worldly expertise.

Justin said...

Byron -- great comment.

but does every Christian need to be a chef?

No. I don't think so. But every mature adult has to learn to cook, don't they: Too eat when not at a restaurant; to feed their kids?

And if we serve brilliant meals without showing how we did it, mightn't we starve families?

They don't have to be professionals, just household cooks.

Justin said...

Marty --

If the meal you prepare is good enough then they'll be inspired to do it for themselves.

Here is what I find: the better the meal, the more reliant you become on the brilliance of the chef. Which is natural.

If I go to a restaurant where the cuisine is that good that it can only be sampled there, then I give up trying to imitate it at home.

But if I go to a restaurant where the cooking is solid, and filling, but not 'high cuisine', then I try to cook it at home.

Its one of the ironic drawbacks of giftedness.

Justin said...

I'm enjoying how everyone is using the metaphor. I'm laughing as I type.


Only when you know how to cook yourself can you then start to challenge others on the validity of their meal.

Brilliant comment.

Justin said...

CP --

if i am enjoying my meal, i need to know what i'm eating: what's in the food?

New take. I like it. Not that you are cooking, but that you know whats in it. (A bit like Steve Ko's pizza!)

Ted said...

When I'm served a meal, I want to know at least a little something about the chef, the kitchen, the ingredients, so that I might discern what morcels are good to eat and which may be poisonous to my health. It may look and taste good, but if I'm up all night on the pot dealing with the consequences, it certainly wasn't worth it.

Don't trust a restaurant that won't submit to public health inspections.

Goldy said...

Justin, I think this really links into one of your previous posts.
My concerns with an application-heavy model are that it breeds a fast-food mentality. The kind of diet people get used to is something that is quick and easy. Without the exegesis, I feel it is easier to be moved, but then the food goes right through you. As Don Carson once said "I want people to chew the metaphorical cud."
The second thing for me is that I think that good exegesis lends to natural application. It grounds the application in the scriptures and protects against a "moral message."

Jim said...

Kitchen for me.

I have had to many "Meat Pies" served to me which may not have containted all that much "Meat".

Meat + Pie = Meat Pie

I want to see the meat and the pie come together.

Martin Kemp said...

According to Cranmer's introduction to his book of Homilies, the word should at all convenient times be preached unto the people, that thereby they may both learn their duty towards God, their Prince, and their neighbors, according to the mind of the holy Ghost, expressed in the Scriptures.

Interseting that for Cranmer the end point of the sermon was the life lived in light of scripture and not scripture in and of itself.

But some might say "we now have higher levels of literacy, so we can teach people to fish for themeselves, Cranmer's age was different"

The purpose of the Prayer Book was to have scripture read and injected into the minds of the laity. But given this intention it's interesting that the point of the service was to ensure that the people learnt how to invoke and call upon the name of God, and know what duty they owe both to God and man: so that they may pray, believe, and work according to knowledge, while they shall live here, and after this life be with him that with his blood hath bought us all. For Cranmer, the main point of the sermon was to affect peoples lives, not simply to teach a hermenutical method applicable to that morning's reading.

Preaching to affect and not just to explain (or perhaps explaining with the purpose of affecting) is simply carrying on in the (anglican) reformed tradition!

Interesting stuff.

Christopher said...

I suppose so long as you aren't eating take-away or opening your own restaurant it is OK.

But slightly more seriously, by eating good food you implicitly learn what flavours are appropriately mixed and develop an idea of how to cook.

That is how I learnt.

amalapropos said...

i feel like north american congregations almost treat sermons as if they're judges on an iron chef show... if the flavoring or texture or even how it looks isn't right, people will automatically reject it. yet i'm also finding that whenever someone really "learns how to cook", in real life or in your analogy, even the simplest, most basic meals that they make on their own is so satisfying.

Justin said...


Thanks for your critique. I was hoping that you were not an Australian commenting on American churches (which is very easy to do from a distance.) But you are from NYC?

Have we met? Email me jmoff at hotmail

Stuart said...

It's interesting that this discussion started with a talk from Mark Driscoll. I usually hate sermons in church: I often find them boring and pointless. And yet, I listen to three or four Driscoll talks a week, and I'm strangely addicted to them.

What I love is the way he interrogates concrete problems in real life, and brings Biblical principles to bear in his concrete applications. But it's not unusual for me to have questions about his exegesis, or even the relevance of his applications to the text at hand. (This doesn't worry me too much, by the way.)

By way of contrast, many (most?) of the sermons I've heard in Sydney to be exegetically sound (obviously I think so, since that's where I got my method :) with very little by way of concrete application. Even when people feel they've spent a lot of time doing application, I often find it to be abstract, and difficult to integrate with my lived reality.

The worst case I've encountered was at a marriage enrichment weekend, where, having spoken for two hours about headship, the speakers — who are well known, senior Sydney evangelicals — were unable when asked to give a single concrete example of how this worked out in practice, offering simply, "If you came to live with us for a year, you'd see headship in operation."

If you think that the exegesis is the application, then your task is very simple: take text, insert into methodology, crank handle, sprinkle with jokes/pop culture references to taste, serve. Show people the recipe as much as possible, and they'll go and do likewise.

What is much more difficult, however, is learning how to bring the text concretely to bear in the lives of listeners — what Driscoll does so well. If I'm going to pay someone to have time to prepare talks, I want them to spend the time thinking about what concrete difference this text is going to make so that I live more like Jesus — this is precisely the the task most of us find difficult. I think we really need to help our preachers with this: we ought to be feeding them information about what our lives are like and asking them difficult questions about how to live in our workplaces and families; we need to be asking them for concrete applications. Yes, we need to learn to do exegesis and application for ourselves, but it doesn't have to be in the Sunday sermon!

So if you must give me a sermon, I want a good ready-cooked meal. When I first became Christian, I loved the exegesis-heavy talks. It was all new to me, and fascinating, and it saved me reading the commentaries. After a few years in church, though, I started to get bored because there were no new ideas — how could there be, when I'd learnt the methodology and was doing it for myself? In 20 minutes, you simply don't have the time to dig more deeply in the text than I can myself. (And no, preaching longer probably won't help, unless you're as entertaining as Driscoll.)

But what you can do in your 20 minutes is stretch me ethically. Put your finger on my sin and show me new ways to live like Jesus. This requires moral insight and theological flare and just plain hard, time-consuming effort in prayer and thought that goes way beyond cranking out the exegesis.

Stuart said...

Sorry, I should admit that feeding that rant is my tendency to think that sermons in general are not very good vehicles of communication (we're just not used to sitting still and listening any more), a fact which is compounded by the fact that many preachers are not very good communicators.

Anonymous said...

maybe preachers are like the people who make the intense condiments that aid my cooking, say, a great laksa paste. It allows me to make my dinner, feel as though I've done it myself, but really, it is their flavour that permeates the lot

Cameron & Alex Grey Jones said...

I want people to notice if I've picked up the sugar rather than the salt!

I would also like people to see that there may be some ingredients that I've left in the fridge because of special dietary needs - maybe there's some meat that they're not yet up to taking. In any case, there's only so much one can put into a single meal.

The may be some, however, who want to go to the kitchen afterwards for a snack. It's good for them to know where the leftovers are.

Do we have some recipes preserved for us in the speeches in Acts and in the letters? References to the OT being ingredients from which the meal is made?

Playing with metaphors is fun!

scott gray said...


but people at the table often ask, how did you make this? where did you learn how to do this? where did you get these ingredients? who would have guessed that combining these things in this way resulted in such a treat?

philosopher alan watts would tell you that the kitchen is the most immportant room in the house-- for fixing, for eating, and for fellowship. it's not about presenting a finished product; rather it's about getting people to work with you in the planning, the preparation, and in the eating.



Keith said...

Yeah, I think I'm with Stuart a bit. I want to show people the ingredients and how to handle them, but I also want to work hard to interact with people's worldview in ways that they might not have thought of before. Old word, fresh take. Exhausting task, executing with varying success, but that's the goal, methinks.

Sam C said...

I love this metaphor, it's been floating around in my head for many weeks since first reading this post.

I'm with Stuart though.

I think you need to take into account it's not an either/or choice.

Everyone, presumably, would agree that the church as a whole should be both serving up excellent meals, and training its people to cook.

The question is what role the sermon plays in these two objectives.

The problem with making it center around "how-to-cook" is that half your congregation may not even be interested in doing much serious cooking for themselves, so it's wasted, and the other half may have wildly differing levels of skill at cooking, so you need to appeal to the lowest common denominator to avoid it going over their heads.

On top of that, learning how to cook well requires dialogue, question and answer, and practice.

So my current thinking is this: the sermon should be focused on giving every member the best meal possible. Preacher: cook an amazing meal, eat it yourself, taste the glory of Christ. Then come and feed it to us and show us how magnificent He is.

Then, teach the church how to cook seperately - in weekly bible study groups or Sunday classes, in regular training events etc - in a way that allows you to work with each member where they're at. This also means they get motivated by the fantastic meal on Sunday to persevere with the hard work of learning to cook.

Huai Tze said...

Check this video out! A bit much, but I think it's a good illustration ;-)