Contribution vs. Disparagement: Thoughts on how to explore the Bible as a community.

One Collective distinctive is the way we handle "sermons" in House churches, namely as a discussion. How can a Sermon be a discussion? You may have to see it to fully get it, but basically,  we read the lectionary passages and seek their meaning and relevance together. While there are suggested questions and some thoughts shared on our weekly liturgy sheet, the discussion is loose and everyone gets to contribute. This is beautiful to witness and, in a time where experts are routinely disparaged, might hint that we don't find formal theologians, pastors, and biblical experts to be an important part of understanding the Bible.

This would be a tragic misunderstanding.

I believe that everyone can contribute. We each have unique observations and perspectives to bring to our scriptural discussions. In this way, our House Church sermons are a Sermon Potluck: Every brings what they have to offer. I believe the shared contributions are essential if we are to be Biblically literate.

Many people confuse Biblical literacy with knowing a lot Bible trivia. They are not the same. Literacy is about learning the skill of reading well. You can memorize a lot of Bible trivia and without learning to read the Bible.  Biblical Literacy starts with reading deeply and carefully. I love that our weekly liturgy takes us through parts of the Bible that many seldom visit. The more we read it and learn about it, the more effective our reading becomes. We are becoming Biblically literate together. We designed our House Churches assuming there would not be a pastor or expert in the room each week. This concept works, in part, because we have so many excellent resources available to us and because we can be there to help each other. At the same time, Scholarship, study, and biblical expertise are tremendously important. A HUGE part of what has helped me to read the Bible well is all of the experts I have read, listened to, and at times argued with. 

On the other hand, we seem to live in a world/church where experts and expertise are disparaged. This is an understandable mistake that might be easy to miss. Modern life often hides the underlying complexity so effectively that we forget all about it. In the sermons and books that formed us, other people did the hard for us. They spent time in "the kitchen", emerging to offer us a delicious, creamy Bible milkshake to consume. Many Christians have never personally gone in "the kitchen" of Biblical study and taken a look at how complicated it is. Often Christians are surprised and even angry when they discover how much intricate work must be done in order to serve milkshakes that are tasty and smooth. If you have only ever eaten delicious milkshakes, they seem simple enough. But, when you have to gather the ingredients and make the ice-cream yourself, all of a sudden you need to know the chemistry. Like a toddler who won't eat their peas, in our milkshake-consuming-world, we disparage experts for ruining our favorite flavors by trying to sneak in healthy ingredients. Just keep it simple we say - but when we get sick, we are glad our Doctor knows science. When our car breaks down, we're happy for our mechanic's skill. When our furnace stops in a Wisconsin winter, we want someone with expertise to fix it quickly. Oh, and also when we want to take a library of books, written over thousands of years, by dozens of authors, from foreign cultures, written in ancient languages, it suddenly makes sense to check in with the relevant linguists, historians, theologians, and experts who can help us understand why our current "milkshake" understanding might actually keep us from comprehending what the Bible is trying to say. 

In other words YES to BOTH personal contributions AND to reading and engaging with what the experts are discovering. Some weeks, showing up is the best we can do. Other weeks, maybe we have time to read the passages ahead of time. Other times, I hope we have time to read a commentary or listen to a podcast or read a book so that our offering to our groups is adding flavors and spice and nutrition that can help all of us be healthy and grow.   

Also, reading commentaries gets easier the more you do it. I recommend skimming it over first to see what catches your attention and then diving in a little deeper on that point. Don't feel like you have to read it all for it to add to your understanding. If you want somewhere to start, here is an online commentary that follows the same lectionary schedule Collective does.

A short list of experts and thinkers who I have mixed into my Collective Milkshakes: Rene Girard, Richard Rohr, Brian Zahnd, Walter Brueggeman, N.T. Wright, Brian McLaren, Christ Argrys, Mark Riddle, Lesslie Newbigin, Eugene Peterson, Edwin Friedman, Peter Block, Thich Nhat Hanh, Peter Enns, Alan Hirsch, Bradley Jersak, Jenel Williams Paris, Jurgen Moltmann, Peter Rollins, Diana Butler Bass, Barbara Brown Taylor, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Hegel, C. S Lewis, Frederick Buechner.