Word Alive! Connections and Conversations — Dr. Dale Meyer

witness1The summer edition of the Concordia Journal (Summer 2015) includes an article, “Word Alive! Connections and Conversations,” by Dr. Dale Meyer, the president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.  Dr. Meyer discusses the importance of the developing relationships with people so that we might share the “oral word” of God with people. Here are some excerpts from that article:

One key difference between then and now: the first century was an oral culture; ours is largely literate.  It is estimated that only about 10 percent of the population of the Roman Empire could read, and the percentage of literate Christians may have been less.  That has profound implications for our understanding of how the gospel of Jesus Christ got into the hearts of people in the first century and, pending our thoughtful reflection and strategic pastoral and parish action, how we can witness more effectively in the twenty-first century. Begin your thoughtful reflection with this: Ask your parishioners to locate the “word of God” and they’ll most likely point to the “Bible,” which means the “book” or “scroll” containing God’s bound words.  On Sunday the lessons are printed in the bulletin, projected or found on page whatever “in your pew Bibles” … The sermon explicates and tries to drive home the printed word, which is fine, but the result can be less than a direct interaction between the preacher and the hearer because the “living and active” word has been reduced to a printed point of reference (Heb 4:12). Bible classes gather around the printed word that literate people can read and discuss. … There’s nothing wrong in all this, but it doesn’t replicate the dynamism of the first-century church. Largely illiterate, they focused on hearing the spoken gospel, the viva vox evangelii. … The dynamism of the first-century church was, among other things, the orality of the gospel, ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’ (Rom 1:16). The word wasn’t bound and shelved, a source of religious information, it was a powerful agent of transformation, living and active, upon all who heard and believed. …

What does this mean for our gospel ministries twenty centuries later? Nancy Ammerman of Boston University has written about theological education in our changed times.  ‘Those who are on the margins of religious life … are more likely alienated because a congregation has failed in its relational work than [that] they have ceased to believe.  Connections and conversations are the building blocks of the new kind of religious communities our best students will learn to lead.’ In the first century the church grew because the word was alive through personal connections and conversations.  Carrying that to our twenty-first century, pastoral and congregational ministries can be more effective through connections and conversations that use oral style more than literary style.  From the most literate through the functionally literate to the illiterate, people respond better to imagery and narrative than to linear propositional presentations. And younger people who are native to new communication technologies are literate in a different way than older generations. Many of them won’t abide long lectures about the faith but they will give a hearing to someone they trust, connection, who speaks the viva vox egangelii with the transparency and eye-to-eye contact that marks oral style, conversation.  That means we preachers, being thoroughly literate, will in our preparations make a special effort to “lift” the printed word off the biblical pages and speak it into the hearer’s heart so that the word “living and active” surgically enters the hearer’s heart (Heb 4:12). …

We are blessed to read the word in print and our theological tomes and treatises have their place, in our studies, but the living and active word goes into mission through connections and conversations. “The woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ They went out of town and were coming to him.” (Jn 4:28-30)

To read Dr. Meyer’s entire article, visit: Concordia Journal.

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