Thursday, June 05, 2008

Motivational Preaching

I have been taking a course in Motivational Interviewing this past quarter. Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a "client-centered, directive method for enhancing intrinsic motivation to change by exploring and resolving ambivalence." That basically means that it's a way to make people want change through compassionate and informed communication. Rather than giving people reasons why they should change, MI focuses on eliciting change talk from the client that will ultimately lead to action. It has been used effectively as a therapeutic intervention in several areas, most notably in substance abuse, but I see possibilities for its application in preaching.

One thing I have noticed is that sermons can often be confrontational in nature. On a surface level, this type of preaching doesn't promote seem to produce defensive resistance in the attendees. That's due in part because there is diffusion of responsibility throughout the congregation. However, that is not to say that those sermons aren't producing some resistance among those listening. Now resistance can sometimes be obvious: excuse-making, avoidance of responsibility, blaming, etc. But, more often in a church setting, resistance can take the form of over-enthusiastic "acceptance" of the message, followed by a lack of action. Psychologically the individual is assenting to the position but they are not "owning" the belief.

I would like to suggest that preaching might become more effective if motivational interviewing techniques were employed more often. Now this includes: acknowledgment by the pastor of benefits of staying the same, acknowledgment by the pastor of the difficulties of change, envisioning what the future would be like if they became more holy, asking the congregation to quietly consider how important change is and how confident they are they can change on scales of 0-10 (then pointing out that anything more than 0 is a good place to be). Another technique could involve the pastor and the congregation getting into a debate, where the pastor gives the reasons why he should continue living a sinful lifestyle while the congregation can yell out reasons why he should be holy. All of these can gently move the congregation towards greater ownership of the reasons for change. It would make sermons more interactive, and I think that's a good thing (in some cases).

Now of course this only addresses motivation to change, which is only half of motivational interviewing. The second half is developing a change plan while acknowledging the individual's autonomy and their right to forego change. The pastor can suggest a plan of change that works for most people but then admit that each individual must decide whether change is even the right thing for them. This empowering act allows the person to feel like they aren't being persuaded to change but that it really can be their own decision. While this is only a perfunctory start to the integration of motivational interviewing and homiletics, I think that they make a good pair. What do you think?