I was surprised to find that three posts on the topic of “preaching” were my most read posts for the month of January 2010. I rarely write about preaching, so I thought I would take the opportunity to clear up some possible misconceptions.
First, I do not make a distinction between “worship services” (church meetings) and smaller subgroups (i.e. Bible studies, Sunday School classes) when it comes to speaking to the church. I cannot find any examples in Scripture where certain principles apply to some church meetings while other principles apply to other types of meetings (i.e. larger vs. smaller, whole church vs. part of the church).
Second, in Scripture, the terms translated “preaching” and “preacher” carry meanings that are different from the way the English terms are often used today. In Scripture, the terms refer to making a proclamation of the gospel to unbelievers, much like a herald would make an announcement on behalf of a king. In Scripture, the terms are not used to refer to a 30-45 minute teaching/lecture given to believers in the context of a church meeting.
Third, given number two above, we must be careful about applying passages of Scripture related to “preaching” and “preachers” to the context of teaching or speaking to the church. These passages more directly apply to people presenting the gospel, either to a neighbor or coworker or to a group of strangers.
Fourth, there is nothing in Scripture that specifies the method of teaching that should be used when the church meets. (Although, given the forms of teaching in the first century, teaching was probably more interactive than than we traditionally see today.) Thus, there is nothing more scriptural about a 30-45 minute lecture than a 5 minute lecture or a 30-45 minute discussion.
Fifth, I am not opposed to lectures. Lectures are a good form of teaching in some contexts. Some people learn very well from lectures. However, we should also recognize that many people do not learn from lectures. Thus, I am opposed to only having lectures when the church meets, especially if only one person or a small handful of people are allowed to give the lecture week after week, and if there is no opportunity for further interaction from others among the church (i.e., question/answer or discussion after the lecture).
Sixth, Scripture does not specifically designate elders as being responsible for speaking/teaching when the church meets. I would assume that elders would speak/teach, since they are part of the church and since they are (presumably) mature believers. However, the fact that elders should speak/teach does not prevent or excuse (in Scripture) others from speaking/teaching.
Seventh, and finally (although I could write much more), the principles for speaking when the church meets remain the same for both elders and non-elders: motivated by love with a desire to help the church grow toward maturity in Christ and as directed by the Holy Spirit. Speaking for the sake of speaking (either in a lecture form or during a discussion) is not helpful for the person speaking or for the church.
Now, a quick word about my background experience in this area: Until a few years ago, I had only experienced and been taught a form of “preaching” in which only the senior pastor (or someone designated by the pastor) was allowed to present a lecture to the church without interaction from others in the church. In fact, in most cases, if the “senior pastor” was not presenting the lecture (due to sickness or vacation, etc.), then he would choose someone from outside the church to present the lecture (especially during the Sunday morning and Sunday night “worship service”).
I understand that some of my readers have a different experience. For example, for some, the lecture includes interaction via further discussion or questions/answers after the lecture. I think that’s a great way to get the church involved in mutual teaching / exhortation.
I’m interested to learn about the experiences of my readers. What types of speaking/teaching was allowed/encouraged during church meetings in your background?
(Also, feel free to interact with what I said above about speaking to the church.)