Dialogue on Sermons #7

The following are my final 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:
… I also think that the words used to describe preaching and teaching seem to carry some sense of formality, which fits better with a sermon model, than a relaxed discursive model. I haven’t felt that you’ve really engaged that – but again because you don’t ‘feel’ there’s any weight behind the argument …

My reply:
I have never disputed the presence of monologue in the Bible. What I question is the privileged status that it accorded. I see no evidence for this …

Again, there is no reason to suppose preaching and proclamation have formal connotations. That is an anachronistic reading in to the text. They have formal connotations for us so we suppose they did then. As I said, Acts 8 says the people preaching the gospel as they were scattered and these were not the leaders. I think Stott says they ‘gossiped’ the gospel. But the word Greek word used is ‘preached’. The problem is we assume preaching = sermons. In the only church gathering in Acts (that I can think of off the top of my head!!) the word used in the Greek is ‘dialogue’ (Acts 20:7).

5 thoughts on “Dialogue on Sermons #7

  1. Hi Tim,
    In these posts you are questioning the priviliged status accorded to monologues. Can you please clarify whether you are simply arguing that dialogue is just as valid a method to use in churches as monologue? If so, would you mainly advocate it as a method in smaller house church settings, or would you say it should sometimes replace the monologue in larger congregations (say 50+)?
    Some churches have a mixture of monologue and dialogue to some extent (eg monologue to large gathering, possibly with Q&A responses afterwards, and dialogue approach in smaller groups – are you advocating this sort of mix for a church larger than a house church?
    Related to this – would you see this as the sort of mix that may well have existed in the Jerusalem church, which met both in peoples homes, and in the temple courts? (where you’d have to assume the apostles teaching to 1000’s at once would have to be mostly monologue, similar to Peter’s pentecost sermon)
    Thanks for your time.

  2. Some good questions. Yes, I am arguing that dialogue is as valid as monologue. I would let the content and context determine the mix of monologue and dialogue. I don’t want to set any rules (like dialogue for small congregations and monologue for large congregations). That said, in practice we have found a mix of dialogue and monologue works best. We discuss the passage together, but also include presentational elements (monologue, but also video, testimony and so on) to address the heart.

    As for what was going on in Jerusalem … We need to remember it was the time of Jewish festival with hundreds of extra pilgrims milling around in the temple courts. At this stage the Christians thought of themselves as Jews who recognised the Messiah rather than a separate or distinct group. The Christian certainly did not have a monopoly on the temple courts so I suspect it was more like a public debate – maybe more like open air preaching with interventions from the crowd. The house to house would have been more akin to our church gatherings. But I’m guessing!

  3. I’ve just got back from the first day at EMA and it’s interesting that Christopher Ash is speaking on precisely this topic. I found various of his points quite compelling, so I’d be interested, Tim, if perhaps you were able to interact with what Christopher is saying?

  4. Thanks Tim – could I trouble you with a further clarification? Are you saying (in the last sentence of the first paragraph of your reply) that the presentational elements address the heart in a way that your discussion does not?
    Sinclair Ferguson said recently that ‘when people say we need less preaching and more dialogue, I often think. “You have never heard preaching before have you? You have no idea of the soul dialogue, of the wrestlings and tusslings that go on when the word is preached under the power of the Spirit.”‘
    Obviously God’s Spirit can work through his word in peoples hearts/souls via dialogue or monologue. Yet do you think the push for more dialogue can in some circumstances undervalue the effectiveness of Spirit empowered preaching of the word?
    Thanks again.

  5. People’s hearts can be touched through dialogue. We often see people getting very excited as they begin to understand the Word and its implications. Or sometimes solemn. Or, as was the case last Sunday with an unbeliever, angry. But dialogue works best to help people understand the Word and apply it to their lives. I think other elements help then apply to people’s hearts. I’m after a mix.

    PS. I’ve heard Sinclair Ferguson preaching (and I think he’s great) but I still believe in dialogue! Personally,I’d be very happy listening to Sinclair Ferguson every week, but his sermons would go over the heads of a number of people in our congregation. Shall we disenfranchise them from God’s Word so that those of us who like that sort of thing can indulge ourselves?

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