Partners in Preaching: Clergy and Laity in Dialogue

by Reuel L. Howe

Reuel L. Howe was professor of pastoral theology, first at Philadelphia Divinity School, then at the Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Virginia. He founded the Institute for Advanced Pastoral Studies in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and is the author of a number of books on pastoral studies.

This material was edited for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) Preaching has power when it is dialogical, when preacher and people become partners in the discernment and proclamation by word and action of the Word of God in response to the issues of our day.


  • Preface

    The church’s preaching is a concern for both clergy and laity. Some parts of this book will focus on the layman’s role and others on the clergy’s part. But each should read the other’s parts.

  • Chapter 1: The Crisis in Preaching

    Conversations are reported where the laymen are wrestling with the meaning of their lives and are unable to hear and understand the preaching of the church; and the preachers are struggling with the meaning of the gospel with such exclusive concentration that they are estranged from the meanings of their people.

  • Chapter 2: The Loss of Meaning

    The theology of ministry implicit in which the preacher sees himself as solely responsible, contradicts the doctrine of ministry that we profess. We profess that all ministries are the ministry of the church. Since the church is made up of clergy and laity, it follows that both have responsibilities in all ministries, and this is no less true for preaching.

  • Chapter 3: Laymen’s Responses to Preaching

    In an extended study the laity complained about preaching in the following order: 1. Too many ideas too fast; 2. Too much analysis and too few answers; 3. Too formal and too impersonal; 4. The preacher assumes the layman knows more about scripture than he does; 5. Sermons are too propositional, containing too few illustrations and those presented often not helpful; 6. Too many sermons go nowhere, reaching a dead end with no guidance to commitment and action.

  • Chapter 4: Moving from Frustration

    Conventional preaching is totally monological. Ways must be found to produce duological preaching, for God also speaks through the laity.

  • Chapter 5: The Preaching Situation

    Dialogue is the interaction between two or more people in response to the truth; it is also the process of assimilation by which perceived truth becomes embodied in the person, becomes part of him. As we see it, dialogue provides the give and take, check and balance, test and correction, that human beings need both to understand rightly and to communicate accurately.

  • Chapter 6: Barriers to Dialogical Preaching

    Barriers include: 1. Technical theological language; 2. Theological images; 3. Differences in age, sex, education, cultural level, etc.; 4. Our personal, situational or topical anxieties; 5. Our defensiveness.

  • Chapter 7: How Dialogical Preaching Meets Barriers

    What can we do about the barriers to proper dialogue? How shall the preacher prepare himself for dialogical preaching? Preaching that engages people’s meanings dialogically will be able to deal with the resistances caused by ambivalence and all the barriers that occur in communication.

  • Chapter 8: Preaching and Listening Dialogically

    There is no conceivable way by which the Word of God through the world can influence the church unless the preacher and other ministers are open and attentive to the word that may be spoken to them out of the contemporary context of the world.

  • Chapter 9: Implications of Dialogue for Preacher and Listener

    The laity have a responsibility to pull the preaching out of the minister by the urgency of their questions, by their sense of excitement resulting from their experience of the meeting of meaning in their lives, by their devotion to their work in the world, and by their regular participation in the worship-preaching dialogue.

  • Appendix

    A summary of a sermon preached in a local church, and a transcribed discussion of a group of church members (three adults and three high school students) who gathered to discuss the service and the sermon immediately afterward.