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.
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 fundamentally 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.
~ Jim Wright