Preaching in the Inventive Age

Pagitt is one of the key protagonists in the emerging church missional movement in the USA. As such, his key thesis is that traditional church methods no longer work in contemporary western society. In this new ‘inventive’ age, a new method for preaching is required.

This new method no longer requires what Pagitt dismisses as ‘speaching’, but is rather one that is about the relationships within the community, rather than an invited personality. It is one which honours the experience and truth of each member and voice within the community. This new method does not rely on microphones or interesting technology, but which wrestles with the text in order to make sense of it, and of the rest of life. In turn, it is not afraid of heresy because it is the task of these new communities to discover what a prophetic and transformative faith looks like today.

His argument is a compelling one, especially for preachers who are trying to develop new communities of mission and ministry. There is a lot to commend this book, especially for people engaging in fresh expressions. Pagitt is quick to discuss the priesthood of all believers, and explores the notion that the whole church is a theological and theologising community (although for Pagitt this means a shift away from the structures and institutions that currently exist). The book is full of personal accounts and examples of both good and bad practice, as Pagitt and his community have adopted this new method of preaching and engaging with scripture. It also challenges the power dynamic at work in preaching scenarios, instead inviting communities to vulnerable spirituality and discipleship.

However, I had a huge problem with this book. I say this recognising that I really wanted to like it, and there is so much within it that, although challenging, is offering something that the Church needs to hear – and that preachers and worship leaders could find useful and provocative. It is still on my ‘significant books’ list, but only grudgingly.

My problem is that the style (font and layout) is horribly distracting.

This is not merely a snobbish comment on superficial issues. Each chapter is littered with quotes in LARGE PRINT, which was initially annoying and quickly felt like I was being shouted at through the text. The irony of this in a book challenging a didactic preaching style did not evade me. The whole book feels as though someone has read it before and underlined all the important bits – which was helpful for essay preparation, but in a preaching text about dialogue and relationship felt disempowering and patronising.

This is a significant book and asks some incredibly perceptive and provocative questions about what preachers are seeking to achieve through the embodiment of faith. If only it were written differently, embodying the method to which Pagitt espouses.