Every Thursday evening my neigbours met at my house, and there one of them repeated the sermon, and afterwards they proposed what doubts any of them had about the sermon, or any other case of conscience, and I resolved their doubts: and last of all I caused sometimes one, and sometimes another of them to pray. (Richard Baxter)
Richard Baxter was a 17th century Puritan theologian, a prolific and often controversial author, but best known as a consummate pastor. His book The Reformed Pastor continues to provide guidance for pastors young and old.
J.I. Packer, in his introduction to TRP, cites Baxter’s practice (above) of providing opportunity for his parishioners to wrestle with what he’d spoken from the pulpit. He knew well the power of preaching but likewise respected the nature of converse as a powerful means of fleshing out and reinforcing the point of his expository labors. Those thursday night gatherings, as you can read, were more than merely reviewing his points. They were an invitation to let the sermon have its way with them in a way that a first hearing might not accomplish.
What Baxter did for his parish almost 400 years ago is precisely why we’ve begun to devote a little time after each Sunday worship service to discuss both the sermon and anything else our worship surfaces. Gathering a little while after the service concludes may not allow you to formulate questions born of extended consideration, but good and helpful questions will naturally surface with the sermon freshly on your mind.
We’ll convene about 15 minutes following the conclusion of our service and converse for around 30 minutes, or at least until the music of our ecclesiastical neighbors down the hall impinges intolerably upon our discussion. (pray for our search for a new venue!)
As we publish the scripture texts in advance each week (and are now proceeding through the New City Catechism in sequential fashion), you are encouraged to reflect on each in advance if only to prepare you more for the sermon Q&A.
As I said, our time will be a time to wrestle with what we’ve heard or ruminated on beforehand. Though voicing doubts might seem a daunting thing, they are most welcome here. For they are often the doorway into deeper understanding and deeper faith. I know they’ll be a way into deeper community since often the questions we raise are shared by more in a given community than you might think. So gird up your loins and ask away. (was that too crass?)
We hope you’ll come. We also pray you’ll invite friends whose wrestlings with our faith have kept them from embracing it, and who might appreciate a candid and, I hope, gracious, dialogue about, as the Little Prince put it, matters of consequence.