the weblog of Alan Knox

Dialog during the meeting of the church…

Posted by on Aug 2, 2007 in edification, gathering | 15 comments

Many times, when considering the concept of speaking or teaching within the context of the meeting of the church, believers focus on the exhortation of Paul to Timothy: “Preach the word!” We have our modern definitions of preaching – too many to mention here – and our modern methods of preaching – again, too many to mention. But, I’ve read very few studies from a scriptural perspective into how believers actually spoke to one another or taught one another when the church gathered together.

There are two Greek verbs that are usually translated “preach” in English translations of the New Testament: κηρύσσω (kerusso) which means “to announce or proclaim aloud” and εὐαγγελίζομαι (euangelizomai) which means “to bring or announce good news”. Interestingly, in spite of the fact that these verbs and the nouns associated with them are used many times in the New Testament, there are very few occurrences (if any) where the specified audience consists of believers.

So, what verbs are used in Scripture to indicate the type of speech that occurs when believers meet together? Well, primarily, the biblical authors simply use the verbs that mean “to speak” or “to say”: λέγω (lego), λαλέω (laleo), etc. These verbs indicate that verbal communication was happening, but they do not reveal much about the method of communication.

However, there is another very interesting verb that is also used often in the context of believers speaking to one another when the church meets, and that is the verb διαλέγομαι (dialegomai). This verb means something like “to converse, discuss, argue, esp. of instructional discourse that frequently includes exchange of opinions”.

In Acts 19:8, Paul “reasoned” (ESV) (διαλέγομαιdialegomai) with the Jews in the synagogues, but in Acts 19:9, after he left the synagogue, he continued “reasoning” (ESV) (διαλέγομαιdialegomai) with the disciples who followed him to the hall of Tyrannus.

In Acts 20:7-10, Paul “talked” (ESV) (διαλέγομαιdialegomai) with the believers in Troas on the first day of the week. This is the time when Paul continued speaking until midnight and the young man fell out of the window. But, what we don’t generally see from our English translation is that Paul’s “speech” could also be called a “discussion”.

There are other instances in the NT where the verb διαλέγομαι (dialegomai) is used to describe Paul or another believer “discussing” or “arguing” with nonbelievers. In these instances, the verb is almost always translated “reason”, “argue”, or “discuss”.

I wonder what would happen today if those who teach and speak to believers when the church meets used methods of discussion and dialog instead of the normal monologue method…


15 Comments

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  1. 8-2-2007

    Alan,
    I think that this would work well in a small church but how would a large mega-church handle this? In Sunday school we have just about everyone interact in discussions with the teacher getting things started but we are not a mega church or a medium sized church. Not sure this method would work with lots of people. Thoughts?

  2. 8-2-2007

    Juan,

    Your question about mega churches is very fitting here, I think. I “belong” to a mega church, and I’m personally very turned off by the “preaching” nature of the services. God has called me there, at least for the time being – although I haven’t “been to church” for a couple of months). If not for my “small group,” I don’t think I’d be a part of the larger fellowship at all.

    As I read through Alan’s blogs, the “way” he talks about the assembling/meeting of the saints is so much more near to my own thoughts than that of a mega church, or for that matter, any church that is rooted in monologue rather than dialog.

    My own opinion is that we’ve place far too much emphasis on a having a “preacher” rather than having a group of believers getting together dialogging.

  3. 8-3-2007

    i think it involves a certain amount of creativity – asking Qs maybe? or highlighting areas in advance and getting people to contribute thoughts?

    Of course i also wonder if preaching is really a monologue – there is a lot interaction that can go on, even if there is one person speaking, both during and after…

    perhaps what we need is not less preaching or more preaching, jus better preaching?

  4. 8-3-2007

    the verb διαλέγομαι (dialegomai). This verb means something like “to converse, discuss, ARGUE.
    I knew we Baptist were the closest to the biblical model.

  5. 8-3-2007

    My only contribution to this dialog is to say yet another AMEN. Alan it is obvious you have put a lot of study and thought into the posts you share. It would be good to seriously consider an assembled collection of “The Best of the Assembling of the Church” and make it available as a download, or even a printed version. Keep up the good work. The next step would be to get these materials translated into Spanish so we could use them in our work!

  6. 8-3-2007

    I wanted to just say that I’m personally not trying to dismiss monologue style preaching. I just think that dialog is a great way, perhaps the best way, for learning to happen.

    I was speaking with a doctor last week, who is a Christian. He has been through a lot of schooling, of course, and he was talking about an article he read about a “new” style of high school teaching, in which students have a teacher to facilitate, but are gathered around and “discuss” a lot in addition to being “lectured” to.

    The conversation turned into how this would be a great format for “church.” I’ve listened to a lot of the “services” from The Grace Project in London, England (they meet in a hotel), and while the pastor does a lot of talking, he also does a lot of interacting with everyone. I’d say it’s a mixture of teaching and preaching, with discussion highly encouraged.

    The so-called “congregation” really gets to participate in a lively way, rather than just hearing the word preached at them. I think this is a very wise way to help in growth in understanding and living out the gospel.

  7. 8-3-2007

    Juan,

    If Scripture describes believers as interacting with one another through dialog and discussion, then we should not change that simply because our way of meeting precludes it. Perhaps, instead, we should change our way of meeting.

    Maybe one question we could ask about mega-church is, “Why are so many people meeting together in that one place?”

    Joel,

    Thanks for adding your thoughts to this discussion. I also would not dismiss monologue style teaching. I think there are times when that is appropriate. However, if that is the only type of teaching available week after week, then I think there may be a problem.

    Paul,

    Thanks again for the comment. I agree that there is some amount of feedback in monologue style teaching. I think that feedback is much diminished compared to dialog or discussion. I’m not saying that you disagree with this, just making a statement.

    Strider,

    It’s great to see you again! I almost mentioned that Baptists were good at arguing. Thanks for bringing that up.

    Guy,

    Thank you for the encouragement. I have not thought about compiling my posts, mainly because the posts are mostly short. I have had other encouragement to put my thoughts together in a book or compilation, and this is something that I will think about. I have primarily been thinking about writing my dissertation, but I think it will be very different than my writing here.

    -Alan

  8. 8-3-2007

    Alan and others,

    Some very interesting thoughts indeed. There are 2 books that actually argue for this model of “doing Church.”

    One is Letty Russell’s “The Church in the Round” and another, which I read last year was Lucy Atkinson Rose’s “Sharing the Word: Preaching in the Roundtable Church.”

    One of my homiletics professors has built off of these two models but, and as I agree with, he has suggested that the best way to be “conversational” is for the preacher/s to be actively involved in the life of the congregation. He shows how preachers need to always talk about what’s going on in the congregation (failures, victories, hardships and all).

    Maybe the best way for us to be conversational congregations is to do this, to let the Scriptures critique and affirm what is going on in the congregation! This allows Scripture to intersect with everything that is going on! Another benefit is that when a problem arises, the people will know that it will be discussed in the sermon (not in the sense that persons and names will be singled out) and will interact with Scripture. In my opinion, and from my practice, this seems to work; I use it often.

    You may want to check those two books out though, they describe exactly what Alan is referring to (albeit, in my opinion, with a number of problems).

    I would suggest the dialoguing Paul did was during catechesis, not necesarrily during “sermon / worship” if there were such a thing. To preserve the sermon and the dialogue, I still think either sermon + small groups or sermon + Church / Sunday school are the best options. These will work in a mega Church or a small Church depending on context.

    By the way, Alan, perhaps you (or someone else) can help me, how do you get Greek text to show up in your posts?

    http://www.michaelhalcomb.blogspot.com

  9. 8-3-2007

    Michael,

    Thanks again for the comment. I have not heard about those books, but I’ll look into them. You mentioned “during catechesis” and “during sermon / worship”. I don’t see this type of distinction in Scripture. Perhaps I’ve missed something, but it looks to me as if believers should act a certain way toward one another and speak a certain way with one another whenever they get together.

    -Alan

  10. 8-4-2007

    Alan,

    acting a certain way and speaking a certain way is correct. i was referring to dialogue time though. as we know from catechesis, there were 3 levels and only certain ones could ever stay around for certain levels and even then, only certain ones could speak, usually the teacher. that’s what i meant. as for treating one another in holy ways, that’s simply a given but i wasn’t referring to that.

  11. 8-5-2007

    Michael,

    I understand… as long as we remember that “catachesis” is something designed by men. I don’t see these different levels and only allowing certain people to speak in Scripture.

    -Alan

  12. 8-11-2007

    Hi Alan:
    I recently ran across your blog via Matthew McDill’s blog and have enjoyed reading. Many of your comments and observations resonate with me and my family.

    In my reading and musing over NT descriptions of the “assembly”, I have noticed Paul’s mention of the gifts of the Spirit in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, and Peter’s mention of the same in I Peter 4. In each case it clearly indicates that those who possess the Holy Spirit have been given gifts (some this and some that) for the edification of others.

    No doubt, this can occur in informal and small gatherings, occurs over the dinner table between friends and family…but cannot occur at “church” due to today’s organizational focus and professional model of ministry. If one has a gift of wisdom, and other has a gift of knowledge, and another a gift prophecy, and other a gift of discerning of spirits, etc., is it possible for these gifts to exercised for the building up of believers during the meeting of the believers? Or, as it would seem to some, are these gifts (today) now focused in one individual who will be the only one allowed to speak on the Lord’s Day?

    Last Christmas, we visited a new church and were surprised when the service was dominated with a children’s puppet show. As I sat and watched in dismay, I wondered how much better it would be if some of the older grey-haired men around me were given opportunity to share why they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and what that Lord has done in their lives. And what if the Spirit of God had given some of those men the gift of wisdom? And, had they been given the opportunity, what an edifying thing it would be to have them rise to their feet to practically apply the sermon, even adding things that perhaps the pastor had missed or had not thought through?

    So much today is focused on the pastor’s authority and participation by laymen is seen as a threat.

    We are now participating in several house church gatherings. And while there are some aspects of their practice (and their theological foundations for those practices) that make me uncomfortable, I am built up and edified by the sharing and teaching of many men during the gathering, by the interaction by the men about what is shared and taught, and by close fellowship of people who are trying to walk with each other in Christ through the difficulties of life. Leadership exists, but not the demanding “follow me, I’m the leader and you are the follower” style.

    My comment here fails to do justice to this subject. And I realize that there is much debated about the gifts of the Spirit. I do not see that the current practice of “tongues” in any way resembles the Acts 2 event, nor do I believe that the gift of prophecy is primarily about supernatural revelation. But I see no reason to believe that the Spirit of God has stopped giving gifts to believers to build up their brothers and sisters.

    And…I firmly believe that the format of the assembly of believers can and should be set up to allow for the orderly and edifying expression of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

    Scott Parish

  13. 8-11-2007

    Scott,

    Thank you for visiting my blog and thank you for the comment. I hope you visit often and interact with us here.

    -Alan

  14. 2-7-2013

    Here are two articles which touch on the biblical basis for mutual ministry in all areas, including the ministry of the word:

    “Gathering As Christ’s Ekklesia”
    http://lambblood.com/gathering-as-christs-ekklesia.html

    “A Higher Standard For The Church”
    http://lambblood.com/a-higher-standard-for-the-church.html

    As we study and reflect on the unique, spiritual nature of Christ’s body (the church) comprised of many members with diverse gifts, and consider how each believer should be equipped to serve and edify the body according to his or her spiritual gifts, our minds are stirred up to figure out how this can be implemented in our specific, local situation.

    Every church will vary in some ways. But the basic principle and goal of functioning as a body with multiple members exercising a variety of gifts (versus a passive audience of spectators watching a small group perform ‘up front’) should remain the same in every case.

    There is a point some churches reach when ‘mega-ministry’ begins to fail. Acts 6 is a case in point, where widows in need were being neglected. The apostles could not do it all without neglecting their ministry of preaching the word of God according to their calling. So they had the church appoint wise and Spirit-filled men to whom this work could be delegated.

    In a similar way, perhaps big churches need to consider how to be more effective by dividing up a large congregation into smaller ones and including additional godly men as leaders. By the time a church grows to a large size numerically, people are often traveling from other areas. Starting new congregations in new areas can extend the life and witness of the church more broadly. And it can make mutual ministry more possible within smaller congregations. Think of your own family. How difficult would it be to raise your children and function effectively as a single household if you always had a large group of visitors in your house or were always trying to host a family reunion?

    Here are a couple more foundational resources which are helpful in shaping a more biblical perspective and practice of church life and mutual ministry:

    “Biblical Leadership and the New Covenant Priesthood”
    http://www.bible-researcher.com/knaub.html

    “The New Testament Church — Its Ministry”
    http://bible.org/seriespage/new-testament-church—its-ministry

  15. 2-7-2013

    Rick,

    Thank you for the links. This is a great way to put it: “Every church will vary in some ways. But the basic principle and goal of functioning as a body with multiple members exercising a variety of gifts (versus a passive audience of spectators watching a small group perform ‘up front’) should remain the same in every case.”

    -Alan