The Lost Art of Dialogue

As last Friday’s church met over a shared meal (nothing fancy — KFC this week!) around a kitchen table, someone asked a question that opened up a great discussion on God’s sovereignty and human will. We must have spent at least an hour in dynamic exchange — with amazing questions, comments and seeking Scripture together as God’s truths opened up for everyone.

Learning Through Dialogue The Friday night group will remember far longer and understand far deeper what they learned around that table — as they laughed and discussed and had a chance to actually think and become engaged with each other and God’s word — then they ever would from sitting passively in a pew and listening to a monologue “sermon”.

When teaching is done through dialogue rather than monologue, it’s much more transformational because there’s much more life imparted!

In the New Testament, the Greek word most often used for “teaching” or “to teach” (in the context of the church) means dialogue. It involves dynamic interchange in intimate settings rather than performance-based monologues from remote podiums to passive pews.

Unfortunately, our leaders seem to have lost the art of teaching via engaged dialogue, and it’s a skill that I’m having to work hard to learn and constantly sharpen. The Apostle Paul, however, understood the need for this dynamic approach to ministry as he “taught (i.e., dialogued) in public and from house to house.” Acts 20:20.

I’m not saying monologue teaching is never appropriate. But I do feel safe in saying that a careful exegesis of the original Greek language in the New Testament confirms that dialogue, unlike today, was the prevailing mode of teaching.

Sometimes I think the church has morphed over the centuries into podium-dominated monologue because transparent, life-giving and dynamic dialogue requires a level of secure and engaged leadership that is uncommon today.

Few church leaders are willing to risk:

  • sincere but hard questions and engaged discussions before a group, where issues outside their nice tidy theology may come up and make them look bad;
  • intimately relating to God’s people beyond counseling or other “professional” ministry to (but seldom with) the average Joe;
  • trusting God to meet needs and supply answers apart from them; or
  • equipping believers for ministry one to another according to the gifts of each, and thus no longer being indispensable.

So they resist stepping from behind the security of their podiums, sharing an intimate meal around a table in real relationship with real people, and interactively teaching “house to house” through open dialogue where everyone participates.

Teaching through dialogue rather than monologue also takes much more time than a 20 minute, once-a-week sermon. But as Paul knew, it’s so much more fruitful.

After our time together on Friday, I thought about how our whole paradigm for “doing church” needs to radically shift if we are to reach this new generation. They are tired of monologues delivered from detached podiums that safely isolate our leaders from intimate fellowship. They want to address real, but often “off-script”, issues through dynamic dialogue rooted in authentic relationships.

Fortunately, that’s what God is birthing around the nation, and the world, as his people begin recapturing New Testament principles on what it means to “be the church” once again.

(c) Copyright 2009, Fulcrum Ministries. All Rights Reserved.

8 responses

  1. Yes, this is the rabbinic method of teaching and learning (in fact, the Hebrew word for teach and learn is one and the same; meaningful discussion and interaction as we share insights as the Holy Spirit (our True Teacher) guides our learning. The teacher is more in the role as facilitator as he or she navigates the discussion and keeps it on track. But, the job of the teacher is to make disciples; get them to think and to struggle and interact with the Scriptures as they are being transformed into the image of Christ. Teaching should facilitate the transformation process.

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  2. You are describing the type of Bible studies (formal and informal) I grew up with as a young Christian in California. I am now in North Carolina and have not found a church I feel comfortable with. Every church I’ve visited here, no matter which denomination, uses cookie cutter pre-digested material for their Sunday School classes. I have suggested having real Bible Study where we read on our own and come together to talk about what God has shown us, or discuss Biblical concepts, but I got a negative response. It was a scary concept for the poeple I presented the idea to – one person that responded thought she needed a “real” teacher to teach rather than allowing God to teach. How sad.

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    • Sorry to come late to the conversation, but I want to respond to Doreen.

      I am thrilled to hear your desire for “real Bible study.” I thought I was the only person who felt like that! I crave deep Biblical study. But it is a lonely business studying alone. For example, I always want to share what I’ve learned, because that is the nature of the Good News. I also need to speak aloud the new ideas to see if they ring true. Part of the process of learning is to initiate dialogue with others. We need opportunity to discuss various ideas, to hear cautions, and to be invited to join the enthusiasm of a group member. (I daresay, this is why Jim likes to blog.)

      Often I go to the commentaries to see what has been said about the text after I’ve studied a passage. Even though I think one needs balance, I wonder when I will cease being amazed at the variety of interpretations, most of which are 180 degrees opposite each other. (I don’t think the exegesis of both sides should be considered “in balance,” even though it seems the interpretations are sitting on opposite ends of the teeter totter!)

      Any group, large or small, needs a leader or facilitator, but most group leaders are too busy or lazy or scared to do so without someone else’s lesson plans; so Bible study groups and Sunday school classes opt for pre-written study guides. I think this unwittingly allows members off the hook for doing their own private study. The result is that members who haven’t truly studied either skip or come to the group unprepared, but with the expectation the teacher will spoon feed the prescribed study. And it also allows the member to feel good about participating in the group without ever having to face the pain of change that will indeed occur, because transformation is the result of Bible study that is real and personal.

      It is rare to find a leader, let alone an entire study group, who is motivated enough to study and think on their own. What is rarer is to find leaders who are willing for members to do so. It is safer to spoon feed pre-digested study guides.

      I wish we lived close enough to become a small group!

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  3. Jim,

    I enjoy your posts, as they always provoke me to a deeper walk with the Lord and a deeper study of His Word. Thank you for always thinking outside the box. This particular post sent me back 35 years to your parents basement, as Wes, Robin, you & I tried to envision what New Testamant life looked like in 20th Century Annapolis. I remember us talking about having passion for causes and having passion for people. Would that God give us both!

    I will move to South Africa around Sep 1 to help build kingdom among the Ndebele. One of my passions will be teaching through dialogue … engaging these precious people in what NT Christianity looks like in 21st Century South Africa. Whenever I read something fresh in the Bible, or in a book, I always ask myself, What does this look like? How does this work? And this is where I love your posts. You always make me look at things from a fresh perspective. You help me analyze the implications of what I believe. Thank you. Keep up the good work!
    Bob

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  4. Which of the 9 her brews words for teach were you referring to?
    Shanan
    Sakal
    Lamad
    Yarah
    Yasar
    Yadah
    Zahar
    Bin
    Alaph

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    • None of those. The NT was written in Koine Greek, not Hebrew. The Greek word often translated teach but rooted in the idea of dialog is διαλέγομαι, in its various forms.

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  5. Pingback: Becoming The Body of Christ | Crossroad Junction

  6. Pingback: Participatory Church « Crossroad Junction

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