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Monologue and Dialogue – defining the question

Posted by on Feb 12, 2011 in discipleship, gathering | 5 comments

Monologue and Dialogue – defining the question

Two years ago, I wrote a two part series on the use of monologue (one person speaking) and dialogue (multiple people speaking) when the church meets. The first post was called “Monologue and Dialogue – defining the question.” I will post the second part of this series tomorrow.

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Monologue and Dialogue – defining the question

Last week, in my post “On the Sermon“, I linked to a post called “How We Do Church: To Preach or Not to Preach?” in which the author (Michael) suggested that monologue was less effective than discussion in helping people toward maturity. I said very little in the post itself, and simple asked this question:

So, what do you think? Which is more effective in helping people grow toward maturity in Christ: monologue, dialogue, a combination, something else?

I was very specific in the way that I asked my question. I did not ask about the effectiveness of preaching as opposed to teaching. But, during the discussion, while some suggested that both monologue and dialogue were good and necessary in some contexts, it seems that most wanted to argue for either “preaching” or “discussion”.

I think this is a false dichotomy, primarily because Scripture does not define “preaching” or “teaching” for us in those terms. Thus, we can proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ (“preach”) with either monologue or dialogue. We can teach people how to live a life “worthy of the gospel” with either monologue or dialogue. Thus, preferring dialogue is not the same thing as denying the necessity or effectiveness of either preaching or teaching.

Instead, I think it would be beneficial to consider the effectiveness of either monologue or dialogue. More importantly – and the purpose of this two-part series – I think it is important to determine if either monologue or dialogue is commanded or modeled by the New Testament. In particular, my concern is the context of the church meeting. When the church meets together, do the New Testament authors either command or model monologue, dialogue, a combination, or something else?

Let’s start with a couple of definitions so that we are all talking about the same thing. These are the definitions that I will use in these two posts (I’ve included links to the sources of the definitions):

Monologue: a long utterance by one person (especially one that prevents others from participating in the conversation)

Dialogue: a reciprocal conversation between two or more entities

The distinction between the two terms is very important. In a monologue, only one person speaks, while all others listen to what is said. Other are not allowed to speak (by either explicit or implicit agreement). In a dialogue, more than one person speaks or has the freedom to speak. Others are allowed to speak (again by either explicit or implicit agreement), even if one person speaks for most of the time, or even if others choose not to speak.

It is not my desire to question the monologue sermon simply because I want to question traditional practices. I am not opposed to traditional practices if they are scriptural. I am opposed to traditional practices if they are contrary to Scripture or if they hinder the church from growing toward maturity as described in Scripture. I am also opposed to innovative practices if they are contrary to Scripture or if they hinder the church from growing toward maturity as described in Scripture.

Thus, my primary goal in examining the way believers should speak during the church meeting (as well as other practices that occur during the church meeting) is to see the church – all believers – grow in maturity toward Christ-likeness.

My purpose in the next post is to consider passages from Scripture in which one or more than one person speaks while the believers are meeting together in order to determine if monologue, dialogue, a combination, or something else is either commanded or modelled.


5 Comments

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  1. 2-12-2011

    Good questions.

    I definitely think there is a place for both. It seems the main factor that determines which route to go is the number of people present. In my experience, dialogue becomes quite difficult when there are over 20 people in the room. It ends up being a conversation between only two or three while the rest listen.

    If there are more than 20, you either need a moderator, or you need a monologue followed by a period of questions and answers.

  2. 2-12-2011

    As I have thought about it I consider that in the Godhead there is only dialogue. There is never a basis for monologue. When would one member speak to another and not have a need for a response? So with us, created in His image, we are made for dialogue, not monologue. Every time God speaks to us He expects a response. Every time we speak to God we can expect an answer. Believes are called to full mutuality. Love one another as I have loved you. Every time we speak to another, we should expect a response. When ever something of importance is given, there is ALWAYS a call for response of some kind. It can be affirmation, disagreement, additional points or illustrations, confession, and on and on.

    Full responsiveness at EVERY communication is a foundational essence of human relationship based on God’s creating us in His image.

    With this in mind, what could possibly be a reason to eliminate relational, mutual response at the delivery of God’s Word from one to another?

  3. 2-12-2011

    Jeremy,

    I would think the number would be higher than 20. But, even when someone is doing most of the speaking, I still believe it is beneficial to give others opportunities to speak/respond (such as the Q&A that you mentioned).

    Tim,

    I honestly don’t know the reason that mutual speaking was stopped. I’m guessing it had something to do with the rise of the clergy/laity distinction.

    -Alan

  4. 2-12-2011

    The question I want to ask is why are we keeping to “verbal” forms of communication? We have a combination of right brained and left brain people… for some a creative / artistic piece can rightfully speak more than a thousand words.

    From my observation some people like the dialogue; others the monologue and still others a different method that employs a higher level of creativity.

    When I preach; I ask real questions and expect the congregation to answer them. My experience in doing this has been with smaller congregations. I’m not sure if or how it would work within a larger context; yet I am sure it could be managed. There are also times when I will use a prop to make the message clearer.

    One time I took a saw horse, tools and a length of 4*2 and preached on Noah; linking it to the cross… what I didn’t know was that my 3 year old boy saw me put the tools in the car and put his toy saw there also..and when I was sawing; he came up and helped!…I quipped; “And Noah and his sons built the ark…” later on a visitor remarked; I watched and listened with great interest and asked; “How on earth did you get your son to come up when he did; great timing”

  5. 2-13-2011

    Craig,

    I certainly don’t think teaching and discipling should only be done with verbal forms. However, this post is about verbal forms.

    I’ve written several posts about the importance of teaching and discipling by example, which must include nonverbal forms.

    Of course, in your examples, it seems the nonverbal forms were still monologue.

    -Alan