A ‘Happy Accident’
As I reflect back on 2016, it strikes me that one of the most useful resources we've produced for our leaders has been a bit of a happy accident.
Each week at Tuesday lunch time, our whole staff team meets to 'Tackle the Text.’ For an hour we turn our attention to the passage of Scripture that is next in our Sunday preaching series. Our primary objective with the passage—to be curious. While the preacher may have spent time in the passage already, for most of the staff this will be their first reading. So, together we try to step back and see the passage as a first time reader might, peppering it with questions; wondering what it could mean and how it might apply to us and our congregation.
The conversation is usually robust. As we ask questions, suggest answers and posit alternative readings, it is not unusual for the staff to disagree with each other (particularly the senior staff). From time to time we might even venture into uncomfortable territory as we wrestle with possible meanings and critique our own prior understandings. Some questions have become favourites, such as, “Why did the author draw attention to that detail?” and “What would it look like to disobey this passage?” Illustrations abound (exponentially so, with every additional preacher in the room), often finding their way into Sunday's sermon (thanks to our bower-bird-boss) and each week we help each other to understand the passage better than any of us would on our own.
Broad and Worthwhile Benefits
This practice on its own is worthwhile and 2016 was not our first shot at it. Our preachers benefit from the collective wisdom of the room; our interns learn to engage critically with the text and are stretched in their understanding; we all grow in our knowledge of the Scriptures; we produce better study material for our leaders to use in their Growth Groups. The happy accident (or perhaps stroke of genius, from my colleague Jon) has been to podcast it.
We had a similar practice of meeting in 2015 and at the end of the year an intern finishing up with us reflected that it had been one of the best bits of her training (not that it was deliberate on our part!). She thrived on hearing the theologically trained staff ask questions and push each other in their understanding, and her growth had been evident as she increasingly participated in the conversation. So, we dreamed about how we might open it up to more of our leaders. At the start of 2016 we invited all our leaders to join us and began recording our conversation for those who couldn't make it. A few of our leaders have come along, one or two regularly (our offices are in the CBD, so it's possible for city workers to come in their lunch break), but the podcast has been the big hit. To start with we weren't sure if anyone was listening, but over time the feedback has trickled in. It turns out about half of our Growth Group leaders listen regularly, with a number saying it's the resource that helps them most in leading their groups (even more than the study material we write for them).
With basically no preparation required, and manageable post-production (we do little editing, given its only available to our leaders) it's a no-brainer really. We intend to keep “Tackling the Text” in 2017, praying that it would continue to resource and equip our leaders as we disciple the people of God together. I can't wait!