I was talking with someone recently about the book Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008). By the way, if you haven’t read this book, you should. Seriously.
My friend mentioned that the authors seem to have a view of teaching and the sermon that is similar to mine. I had forgotten what Chester and Timmis said about the sermon, so I looked it up. This is what they wrote:
All too often people equate being word-centered with being sermon-centered. People argue for sermons by arguing for the centrality of God’s word, assuming that the word and the sermon are synonymous in Christian practice. It assumes God’s word can only be taught through sermons. Or people assume that the alternative to sermons is anarchy or relativism with no place for the Spirit-gifted teacher of God’s word, as if Spirit-gifted teachers can only exercise their gift through forty-five-minute monologues.
But our concern is not to reject the sermon. Monologue continues to have its place as one of the ways in which the Bible can and should be taught. It stands alongside other complementary methods such as dialogue and discussion. Being word-centered is not less than being sermon-centered. Our contention is that being word-centered is so much more than being sermon-centered. (pg 114)
And, after reading this passage, I agreed with my friend. This is very close to my own view of the sermon and teaching. I would only add that monologue only teaching (especially where the same person always gives the monologue) can tend to make people teacher-centered.
I would also add that teaching must be more than teaching people what the Bible says. Whether our teaching is monologue, dialogue, or discussion, it must move beyond these methodologies to include all of life. As another friend of mine taught me, “Our teaching needs a context.” That context is the way that we live our lives.
If we hear someone give a monologue week after week, but we do not know how the person lives his life, then our understanding will be limited. I think this can also be said of dialogue or discussion based teaching.
Of course, we see this in Scripture, especially when Paul encourages his readers to remember his life and conduct as well as his words. (For example, see Philippians 4:9, 1 Thessalonians 2:8-12, 2 Timothy 3:10-11.)
So, whatever method of teaching we use (teaching by speaking, that is), that teaching should also include shared life experiences… and many shared life experiences. We should know one another and live with one another. Otherwise, our words will be much less effective – perhaps even ineffective.