The name “Herman” is associated with some interestingly diverse images: Herman’s Hermits (for their song, “There’s a Kind of Hush,” click here), Herman Melville (author of Moby Dick), Herman Bovinck (the theologian), and Herman (as in the comic strip).
Of course, the Herman[sic]that ministry leaders have come to know and love is “hermeneutic.” What’s a hermeneutic?, you ask. The answer depends upon the discipline. For those who study theology, hermeneutics is the art and science of biblical interpretation. For those in the social sciences, hermeneutics is the study and interpretation of individuals and social institutions. Ministry leaders are specialists in interpreting both.
Here is a list of hermeneutic principles that work well with the interpretation of both Scripture and social situations. The list is followed by an image for hermeneutic exegesis (explanation or interpretation) and application.
–Accept communication at face value.
–Allow the clear to influence the interpretation of the less-than-clear.
–Let the primary interpret the secondary.
–Permit the individual parts to be interpreted in ways that are consistent with the whole of their context.
–Look for that which is stated multiple times to help interpret that which is mentioned more rarely.
Now for the hermeneutic application.
You are visiting a congregation and are interested in understanding the character and values of its members. Located in a prominent place is a 4’ by 4’ quilt. The inscription under the quilt reads, “Blest Be the Tie That Binds.” When you look closely, you notice that the quilt is made up mostly of men’s neckties. Answer the following questions in seeking to understand some things about the church:
–What is the message of the quit at “face value?”
–What is clear about the quilt, and what is less clear?
–What is primary, and what is secondary?
–This is only one individual part of what can be observed. What other characteristics would you expect to see in this context?
–What does the multiple use of men’s neckties imply for interpreting other congregational characteristics?
–In summary, what does this quilt tell you about the congregation, its view of ministry, of people, and even of Scripture?
–Finally, how would you go about beginning to lead this group?
Feel free to send me your exegetical thoughts on this vignette and I’ll be happy to respond.