Exegeting a Challenge
The Kinds of Questions Faithful Leaders Ask of Life’s Texts
(In my previous post I argued that the image of "exegesis" can be helpful to us as we make leadership decisions in the parish. Many of the same questions we ask of a biblical text in preparation for preaching can be helpful to us as we "read" a particular situation or dilemma that faces us and then decide how to respond.
In what is below, I list parallel versions of some of the questions I ask of Scripture in the process of sermon discovery that I think can also be helpful in approaching and understanding a particularly thorny dilemma or problem. Each question's parallel in the process of sermon discovery is to be found in parentheses.
I invite you to ask these kinds of questions of the passages we preach from: and the dilemmas that we face. Approaching the challenges of leadership is like engaging in lectio divina, or “sacred reading”: each challenge actually has the potential to be a holy text, pregnant with the meaning of the word of God.)
1. Pray and ask God to open this situation to you: “God, open my heart and mind by the power of your Holy Spirit, so that the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart will be acceptable in your sight.” (Prayer of Access)
2. Read/Rehearse the situation carefully and thoughtfully in your mind several times. Slow yourself down. What “words,” “phrases,” or aspects of this situation stick out in your mind? What is odd or puzzling? (Lectio Divina)
3. What initial emotions and thoughts are arising in me in response to this situation? What do they say to me? How might I hold loosely to these to prevent them from excessively coloring my judgment too quickly? (Lectio Divina)
4. On a literal level, what other information do I need in order to understand all of the specifics and dynamics of what is happening in this “text”? (Literal Reading)
5. Who should I approach about getting this information? (Footnotes, Commentaries)
6. What is the context or background of this situation? (Previous, Following, or Quoted Scriptural Verses)
7. Who are all the characters in this story? What are their motivations? How are they affected? How are other characters not named in this story affected? (Listening to the Text)
8. What is really going on in this situation behind the scenes, between the lines of the “text,” or beneath the surface? (Reading for the “Spiritual” Sense)
9. What is the core theological issue here? (Listening to the Text)
10. What related Scriptures might be brought to bear upon or shed light upon this situation? (Connecting with other parts of the Scriptural story)
11. What other similar stories or situations that I have encountered in my life does this situation/text call into my mind? (Sermon Illustrations)
12. How have others handled this text/situation before? (Other Sermons, Other Preachers) Who can help me or offer me further insight into this? (Lectionary Group)
13. How would the most holy person I know interpret and handle this situation? (Reading the text from other Perspectives and View-Points)
14. How might people from very different backgrounds from mine “read” this situation/text? How does the congregation read and interpret this situation? (Reading from Other Perspectives/ Listening on Behalf of the Congregation)
15. What are the alternatives or different courses of action that I can take? What would be the likely results of these courses of action? (Preaching Options)
16. What might be a surprising, creative, or unexpected response/interpretation to this situation? (Creativity in Preaching)
17. Where is God in this text/situation? What does it say about God? About Christ? About human beings? About our salvation? (Theological Interpretation)
18. How might God turn this challenge into an opportunity for good? How might it be redeemed or turned Godward?
19. How might I best now construct a response to what I have discerned? How might I best deliver the message to the specific group of people in my congregation? (Sermon Construction and Delivery)