Dialogue on Sermons #3

The following are further edited extracts from an email dialogue that I had recently with someone who wishes to remain anonymous. It followed a talk in which I questioned the privileged status given to sermons.

Questioner:
We seem to be talking past each other quite a bit here. I feel like I’m slipping between your subtleties and caveats, and having to write a lot of text to avoid that. But from your response I don’t see us engaging properly with each other …

My reply:
I had no idea I was employing subtleties and caveats. I thought I was being rather un-subtle! Let me do an un-subtle version.

1. There is no evidence that monologue was a key or central feature of church life in the NT. Indeed there is no evidence it played any role at all in church life. There is some evidence it was used in public contexts like synagogues, courtrooms, debating fora – though these monologues would not have been like our modern sermons. What is clear is that Jesus and Paul taught believers using stories, discussion, Q&A.

2. Given that no teaching method of prescribed in the NT (though some are described), we are free to use whatever method we deem appropriate to the context. In our context we believe that is primarily discussion and story-telling with some monologue/presentational elements. We believe this method best enables the word to be learnt and practiced.

3. Some people argue that the form of sermons matches the authoritative nature of the message. This is a spurious argument. It equates authority with no being interrupted whereas a better understanding of authority would be that which is to be obeyed. Using a variety of teaching styles – including some like discussion which include direct feedback – enables us to work the word into the details of people lives. This is true authority in action.

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6 thoughts on “Dialogue on Sermons #3

  1. I’m sure its true in all forms of life but I’ve been aware recently of how we (Evangelicals) insist upon dichotomies that are not necessary. I recently read an article on Justification and in order to emphasise the importance of justification in Christian doctrine the writer set it off against other doctrines to make his point (esp ecclesiology). I’m convinced this wasn’t helpful, a better way would be to look at how our ecclesiology flows from our understanding of justification and the justifier, not to say that one is more important than the other. Is the same is true here? The bible isn’t prescriptive about the form of proclamation, and the use of diverse methods is demonstrated throughout. My personal experience is that I became a Christian through listening to the monologues of very gifted communicators, and since becoming a Christian I have been built up week on week as I meet with fellow brothers and sisters to interactively study the bible together. Our Church uses the traditional monologue for the Sunday service, but mixes this up with shorter (sometimes) interactive stuff, and we meet in small groups throughout the week to apply this to our lives and encourage each other with the wonder of the gospel, the follow up course for interested enquirers is also interactive with an emphasis of responding to enquirers question after they’ve read sections of Mark’s gospel. I now work amongst homeless men and women and, generally, their attention span is quite short and a 30 min monologue would be useless, whereas a well told parable and a pithy bible study is much more likely to capture their attention, they generally love reading the bible or having it read to them. I think the beauty of the monologue is it allows unbelievers to hear Christian truth without having to engage in the sometimes intimidating atmosphere of a small group, I can also see its short comings, and on there own they’re probably not the best way of encouraging one another to live out the Gospel in our communities. I think it comes down to using the most appropriate tool for the task, and to leave out any option for proclamation from your tool bag is a bit short sighted. Horses for courses!

  2. Tim you said:

    “Given that no teaching method of prescribed in the NT (though some are described), we are free to use whatever method we deem appropriate to the context.”

    So reading the context plays a role in your choice of method – what about the gift spread of your leadership? Would that also make a difference?

    For example – the church I’m currently at, while I complete my studies, is a fairly traditional suburban church. It has a senior pastor who is quite an introvert outside of the pulpit but when you put him in the pulpit he’s at his finest – he’s a fantastic expositor who really reads the people and the culture of the area well. We’ve had numerous non-believers attracted to our meetings over the last few years simply because of his preaching gift (they definitely weren’t attracted by our high-tech services, seeker-sensitive vibe or music – none of which we’re really any good at!). Surely if God has given the leadership that gift spread the church should use it as best as possible?

  3. speaking in a classroom context, what you are saying makes pragmatic sense. Students always interrupt, and when I was first teaching some mentor guy encouraged me not to monologue more than 10 minutes. This was good rule of thumb advice. Surely some of this relates to church situation where people havent been cultivated into 40 minute monologue sessions.

    Having said that, I am not against monologue sessions. If you get someone good like peter woodcock, he can go for an hour and the interaction is skillfully and naturally built into it. As you say- context affects it as well as what a skilled communicator can get away with.

    Ps can I possibly do a skype interview session with you on the 6 blindspots you highlight in your busy Christians book? If you can mail me back then I will happily explain my thinking.

  4. In Acts, the Greek verb “dialogemai” was used when Paul “was communicating” in Ephesus (synangogue & Hall of Tyrranus, w/ Troas church & in his defense before Felix (Ac 19:8-9; 20:9; 24:12;25) . I know we ought to be cautious with imposing Greek to English, but it seems to show that the monologue (preaching) was not the only or primary means to instruct or communicate the Gospel.

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