the weblog of Alan Knox

Moving away from ‘the sermon’

Posted by on Jan 10, 2010 in blog links, discipleship, edification, elders, gathering | 20 comments

My friend Eric at “A Pilgrim’s Progress” is in a bit of a dilemma. He talks about it briefly in a  post called “50 Reasons for Discussion.” As a pastor of a traditional baptist church, Eric is in charge of a preaching sermons… probably two or three per week. Recently, on a Wednesday evening, he led the church in discussing a book. This is what he said:

The point was that we discussed it as a group. As we talked, there was a spirit of community, togetherness, and mutual edification. I know I gained a lot from it and I think everyone else did as well.

As I think about this, I have to say that I’m beginning to seriously doubt the effectiveness of what is known as “the sermon.” One-way communication is just not that effective. Might there be a way to take the existing sermon and transform it into more of a group discussion? I’m pondering this.

First, I think that Eric has noticed the same thing that I’ve noticed. “The sermon” is not all it’s cracked up to be. Notice, I didn’t say “teaching” or “Scripture”, I said “the sermon.” There’s a HUGE difference.

Second, the church benefits when they hear from one another, not just one person – regardless of how trained or talented or gifted that one person may be – and Eric is a talented teacher.

So… I thought I would ask my readers on Eric’s behalf. Do you have any suggestions for moving a group from relying on a monologue sermon from the same person week in and week out toward mutual teaching that would include discussion?


20 Comments

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  1. 1-10-2010

    Alan, This is a hugely worthwhile process, and one I believe in wholeheartedly, though I don’t see it being done very often.

    I’d start out gradually. I’d probably want to incorporate promps that work with the subject- maybe newspapers or something they can hold in their hands to help them begin to feel like part of the process. In a room full of people, like the person on FB said, it’s really easy to let a few step in to the role as “answerer,” so maybe you could start with asking questions that can be answered in one word- and encourage at least several people to offer one word answers to a question for which there is no “right” answer.

    And I wouldn’t move out of that phase very quickly. To insure it’s a fully comfortable process, take it slow. I love the idea of hands on involvement, though it would take some finesse– like getting to the point where folks will get up and add a word or drawing to a marker board or large drawing pad.

    Since Easter is going to be showing up on everybody’s to-do list soon, that’s a great time to incorporate a stations of the cross interactive type service. Though we don’t do much of the interactive sermon type thing, we do every couple of years have a Seder service during the sermon time. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to feel involved. Those things give me hope that even in our uber conservative type of church this can be done. It just would take a lot of work.

    I’m getting wordy, but I suppose to sum up I’d encourage you to make sure the group involvement is on several plains since not everyone is a “word person.” You no doubt have some folks who would participate, but not by speaking aloud. Teach to all types of learners and then eventually you’ll really have an interactive service. Maybe you could find an elementary school teacher to help you brainstorm creative ways to incorporate interactive participation– they’re great at it!

  2. 1-10-2010

    I think part of the problem is that a congregation that is used to the traditional model is going to be reluctant to move away from that model of you preach, I listen. I would stay away from messing with the Sunday morning sermon and start with perhaps the Sunday evening sermon (assuming Eric a good Baptist and preaches on Sunday evenings!). Build in some time at the end, not during, the sermon to talk about what the sermon covered. Get people used to talking, asking questions. It is a small start but it is a necessary step.

  3. 1-10-2010

    leaving blank to subscribe to comments. oops.

  4. 1-10-2010

    Alan,

    Tonight I preached like normal. However, before I preached, I told the congregation that at the conclusion of the sermon I was going to ask them if they had any questions. I explained to them that lecture is not a good format for learning (I think the all know this already).

    So, after the sermon I asked. One man made a comment, but no one asked questions. However, I still think this was very positive. Our folks seemed to take it as a positive. I plan to continue doing this on Sunday nights from now on. We’ll see how it goes.

  5. 1-10-2010

    I am not a seminary student or phD candidate. I have never believed that “God primarily speaks to them through the sermon… or at least that the sermon is more authoritative that any other type of speech or teaching method”. God speaks to me all day long even when I am alone. I have always sought to get more than one or two perpectives on any lesson and not that I can’t learn from phDs, I really don’t need one to interpret scripture for me, . I hate to confess this but my church has 2 “worship services” and 2 Sunday school sessions and I attend both sessions of time in different Sunday schools, thereby skipping the sermon. I picked the Sunday school groups based on the amount of interaction and discussion that was taking place there. We also worship in song and prayer there. Occasionally I will skip a Sunday school class and listen to the sermon instead, but I always feel that I have missed much more in doing so. I know there are others who do this because some are in the same classes I am in. I am not saying we are right to skip the sermon, but I am wondering why so many of us do this if you think sermons to be the most effective. Maybe we all don’t think that. Maybe the paradigm has already changed for some. When I have been in large crowds and I wanted to ask a question or make a comment, it either became chaotic with too many people trying to talk or with my hand up waiting to be called on, I became frustrated because I never got the chance to speak.

    I think there are different types of people. Those who like to listen to sermons in large crowds and don’t want to dialogue. And those who like to dialogue and ask questions and prefer to go to small groups where this is easliy facilitated. But that’s just my opinion. Again, I am not a seminary student or phD candidate.

  6. 1-10-2010

    Jesus gave a few sermons. Paul preached. Stephen said some stuff “one-way.” Peter proclaimed the gospel. Not all of this can simply be explained as evangelism.

    Jesus with the disciples was certainly more give-and-take, but ultimately Jesus still very clearly led. The NT writers did the same by writing what they wrote.

    I guess I’m wondering why get rid of the sermon? Is it bad? Could it be used to teach some people more where smaller discussions teach others better? And if we get rid of it, where will those people go to learn how they learn best? Smaller discussion will always happen, and with a good preacher, you can even have it with him.

  7. 1-10-2010

    And also, ” “The sermon” is not all it’s cracked up to be.” Leaves a lot to be desired. Tell us more, Alan! ;)

  8. 1-10-2010

    Adam,

    I appreciate your comments, and look forward to talking with you about this more. For the most part (and perhaps completely) the passages you mention where Jesus, Paul, Stephen (and others) gave “one-way” sermons were not in the context of the church. They were not given specifically for believers. When we turn to Scripture for the context of the gathered church, we find words like dialegomai (dialog/discussion) and the one-anothers (especially build up one another, encourage one another, admonish one another, etc).

    I definitely think there is a time and place for someone or several people who are gifted at teaching to teach in a more “one-way” type method. However, many studies have shown that a monologue is one of the least effective methods of teaching. Plus, there is nothing scriptural about a monologue style of teaching.

    -Alan

  9. 1-10-2010

    “There is nothing scriptural about a monologue style of teaching.” False, or at least very unclear. It seems to be disproven in your own comment in that you admit Jesus and other gave monologues. The statement may be biblically accurate in the explicit context of a local church. But when a letter from Paul was read, would you call that a monologue? Or just a long entry in a discussion among equals, one of whom was not present?

    Yes about dialegomai (though it is used elsewhere with “preaching” to non-believers), yes about the one-anothers, and yes of course as admitted about those instances not being explicitly about the church. My point was that “the church” or some of them were present on at least some of these occasions, and they were taught, maybe even discipled in some sense during those monologues, too. I’m not sold on how “the sermon” precludes the possibility of discussion/reasoning and mutual teaching unless it is completely dominant (which in many cases it of course is). I suppose for the sake of clarity we’ll continue on fb unless you’d rather it here ;) Or over some coffee this week.

  10. 1-10-2010

    Adam,

    Since my blog topics primarily follow my PhD studies (which center on the meeting of the church), then many of the things that I say are said in that context. Thus, when I said, “There is nothing scriptural about a monologue style of teaching,” I was talking about in the context of the church gathered.

    Like I said, I do not think it is wrong or unscriptural, for one person to teach in a “one-way” method occasionally, or with the addition of discussion, questions, debate, whatever. So, when I talk about “the sermon,” I’m talking about the traditional manner of teaching in the majority of evangelical churches in which only a leader (and usually the same leader) is allowed to speak without further discussion or questioning from anyone else.

    -Alan

  11. 1-11-2010

    Alan,

    You helped me greatly with this about a year and a half ago now. When I was invited to be part of the “pulpit ministry” at my local church, I wanted to use it as a chance to allow others to speak as I was convinced going it to it that others were filled with the Spirit and could contribute to the teaching and that they should since we are commanded to “spur one-another” and to “teach/admonish/edify” one-another and that is ALWAYS in the context of the Church gathered.

    I am thankful that I had pastors who were open to allowing me to move away from the monolouge. I started by asking questions at the end of the teaching, but then by the third time I taught I would ask questions throughout, allow people to testify throughout the sermon, allow people to expound upon a point that I may have skimmed over but maybe needed more expounding and I often included prompts or handouts or something along that line to help open up the discussion.

    I agree there may be times where you have to get information across in a monlogue way; however, there always should be Q&A and testimonials to follow that (while the church is still together, not when they have broken up into smaller groups). There are times I had to teach something which required a more monologue style but even then there were questions woven in and always at the end.

  12. 1-11-2010

    When will I learn to stop saying never? I said in 2009 that I would never speak from behind a pulpit again, but I have been asked to speak Feb 14th and to be a regular part of Bridgewaters “pulpit ministry” thank God that Michael is a man who is very willing to share “the pulpit” with other teachers within the body and who does so regularly…But, please pray that I can seize the opportunity to edify and to model a mutual ministry, it would be so easy for me to revert back to a pure monologue.

  13. 1-11-2010

    Brothers,

    I know it’s the subject of this blog, but I fear that some of you may be making your entire ministry about a certain model for doing church. We should each be convinced in our own minds about how Christ would have us gather, but we go too far if we make it our sole preaching point when we’re invited to speak to other Christian assemblies or if it becomes central to our ministry. Let’s have the gospel at the center and trust Christ and his Spirit to lead his church.

    To be clear, I’m not saying we shouldn’t discuss these things or try to convince one another of them. I only worry that “how to do church” or “the purpose of the gathering” might become the central focus of our Christianity and usurp Christ and his incarnation, death, and resurrection in our hearts. If all we talk about is how to do church (and again, I know that’s the point of this blog), then I worry we won’t ever get to talking about Jesus and how he affects how we live.

    Perhaps I go too far since I’ve mostly been an observer here, and most of you I don’t know personally at all. This kind of comment is totally uncharacteristic for me. I just want to jump in and remind us that Christ’s church is about Christ, not his church.

    Adam

  14. 1-11-2010

    Adam,

    I’ve followed the people who have posted here for several months, sometimes years. While they are interested in the church meeting in a way that demonstrates our mutual relationships with one another in Christ, they do not focus on how to do church or the purpose of the gathering exclusively. In fact, some of them only talk about those subjects on my blog.

    By the way, the fact that you and I have known each other for several months and that this is our first discussion about “how to do church” should also be an indication that this blog is not the entirety of my life in Christ. It is a focus of my studies, and I do try to live with the church what I’m learning and talking about here. But, that doesn’t mean that all I talk about with the church is “how to do church”. I think this would be true of all of the people who posted here.

    -Alan

  15. 1-11-2010

    Adam,

    How close is our “Christianity” directly linked to our way of “doing church”? For example lets take Seventh Day Adventist for example. Can the way we “do” church have an adverse effect on our Christianity?

  16. 1-11-2010

    Alan, thanks for your statements. Just throwing in my two cents. (Though I don’t think you can say this is the first time we’ve talked about it ;) )

    Lionel, fairly close, but I think you’ll agree they are not one and the same. And yes, it can.

  17. 1-11-2010

    Amen Hutch!!!!!!!!!

    I think you can use that platform to encourage mutual ministry by being an example of mutual ministry when you enter the pulpit. The two aren’t mutually exclusive they can be used to help teach about the importance of mutuality, but more than often you will have to be a personal example while in the pulpit and when you are from behind it.

  18. 1-11-2010

    Adam,

    I have to think about that.

  19. 1-11-2010

    Alan,

    I would suggest that you point them to Guy Muse’s example when he was on furlough. I don’t remember the exact link, but I know that both of us linked to it at the time.

    Basically, he put people in a circle and let the Holy Spirit lead. Ah, found the link:
    http://guymuse.blogspot.com/2008/09/why-are-we-so-program-oriented.html

    James

  20. 1-11-2010

    Reading these comments, I keep thinking of young David in 1 Sam. 17. Saul prepares David to equip him for battle with Goliath, but in reality weighs him down to where he cannot fight (with weapons he has not “proved”). God had already prepared him. Saul just needed to get out of the way.

    I don’t know how you mass produce David’s desire to seek after God, for that is what prepared him. So how do we manufacture desire to interact with brethren after years of not encouraging that? I am not sure you can, but I do believe that our current culture of continuing to pile on armor doesn’t get us there. I don’t know how to advise Eric to effect change other than to live it before them. If you are convicted about participatory meetings, maybe you should introduce 1 Cor. 14 or Isaiah 55:8 or whatever scripture or revelation has lead you to this – that you are following God’s way and not man’s. I will say that some will not respond to it, because they are not after the same thing. It is much easier and comfortable to live my Christianity vicariously through you.

    I am in a different setting, because we are mostly folks who took the training wheels off our bikes ;o), but I will say this: We don’t schedule teachings/speaking in any kind of rotation (unless it is a longer study that takes multiple meetings, which also may be delayed depending on the Spirit). Otherwise, if it’s “my week” I might manufacture a 3-point, alliterated outline to make sure I have something to share. If it isn’t “my week”, I might be lazy and not considering one another or seeking what the Lord would have me share. For me it has been a good accountability measure. Of course, it’s self-directed, and I don’t know how to manufacture that either…