A Seminar with Rob Bell: DCPS

At Duke’s Convocation and Pastors School (DCPS) I was able to take a seminar with Rob Bell. I have a theological and preaching man crush on Bell. Confession is suppose to be good for the heart. What I envy of him is the way he sees the world and then translates that into his teachings. His Nooma series hooked me from the moment I saw the first one, Rain. I have been intrigued by his understanding of Judaism and when I questioned his sacramental theology he surprised me once again with some wonderful sermons on baptism and the Eucharist.

I was excited about this session and there were special security check points one had to get through to get into the session. Blue dot on your name tag. Named checked off list at the door. Ohh, this feels so important. I looked past that and had a seat right in the middle about 15 rows up.

Bell came out to applause and automatically became at ease in the room. Maybe he has done this before? His seminar was called Blank Screen. It was an hour talk about advice on who to write sermons. (I’m sure much of this could be found on his new video based teachings on sermons called Poets, Prophets and Preachers.)

The class couldn’t get through all of his points due to the rabbit trails he went on but there were some gold still. He told us that our job as preachers is to move from having to say something to having something to say (Are ya with me?) Our radar should always be up for the way God can be explained to our people. If we are not awake to how God is moving we will never have material to convey to God’s people. In order to do this we need to collect as much stuff as possible. As we go through life we need to write it, shout it, save it, ask for it, get it, clip it, tear it out, store it, mark it, remember it. If you hear a person tell a powerful story get their name and email/phone number so you can go back and quote them on it later, or even better have them tell the story itself. He encouraged us to have no edit button (readers of this blog can tell I’m a fan of no edit button). You have no way of knowing how that material could be used down the road but it may. Without filing it in a drawer, in a box, or in a file on your computer you will be stuck trying to remember.

Something else he said that we preachers don’t understand, especially me, is that we don’t always need to do the talking. It is not that I am a hoarder of a conversation, actually I’m the opposite but in my hermeneutical training I was told to paint a word picture. If I cannot describe it using words than I am not a good preacher. But Bell suggests that with our technology these days instead of trying to paint a word picture of something snap a picture of it and put it up on your screen (this assumes your congregation has this capability). Sometimes we don’t have to say anything we can let the picture say it all.

He also invited us to ask questions and then ask more. What is the mystery behind the mystery? What is the history behind the history? “If you couldn’t use any biblical or religious language, how would you describe it? to a child, a martian, without words, only drawings, only pictures, only actors?”

Overall this was an interesting journey into Bell’s mind as he forms his teachings/sermons. He is always thinking about what is coming up and always awake to how God is at work in the world and then documenting it in order to come back to it to tell the story.

We also have to plan. If we know we are going to be preaching on the Beatitudes, than create a document that you can dump your thoughts/ideas/questions in there between now and then. He said, “when we have intention we turn our attention” to it more often.

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