Earlier today, Andrew Foster Connors, senior pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, offered a workshop titled, "The Transformational Word: Building a Sermon that Agitates."
Connors encouraged preachers to "build a sermon that agitates," not in the sense of barking at people every week, but rather bringing forth truths that need to be heard, and making public questions people are afraid to ask.
He professed that wrestling has a place in a sermon, not just in crafting a sermon.
Connors also drove home that if and when you preach this kind of sermon, you need to be available afterward for people. You can't just walk away. Relationship is key, and questions and a longing for conversation will arise in your faith community. In order for transformation to take place, you must be willing to walk with people in the midst of the agitation your sermon creates.
In addition to these powerful claims, Connors also shared examples for building a sermon that agitates:
1. Expose conflict in the text -- draw it out. Arouse expectation, do not resolve tension.
2. Make public the questions that people (including the preacher) are afraid to ask publicly of God, of themselves, and of each other.
3. Integrate theology, but don't hide behind it.
4. Wonder aloud. Explore possibilities. "Maybe," "Perhaps," "I wonder if ... "
5. Blame discomfort on the text.
6. Embody emotion
He also suggested engaging the following questions when working with a biblical text:
1. What are the points of conflict in the text? How might I bring them to the surface?
2. What are the questions that people in my congregation may bring to this text? Which ones are the dangerous ones?
3. What important theological commitments do I bring to this text? How can I draw on them without diminishing the tension of the text?
4. What are possibilities that deserve a hearing? Where are places that "Perhaps," "Maybe," or "I wonder" could allow a hearing for these possibilities even if those possibilities are ultimately "rejected" in the sermon?
5. Where is the discomfort raised by the text? How can I name the discomfort without relieving the hearers of it?
6. What emotion(s) does this text bring out of me? What emotion(s) might it bring out of my congregation? How can I bring that into the sermon?
How will you build a sermon that agitates?