Most churches I’ve participated in have held to the model where the minister or pastor stands up on Sunday, and preaches a monologue. In a large congregation, this is usually the most practical approach to preaching. A good preacher or teacher will have worked diligently on the content of their message which will be full of worthwhile content.
Despite this, much of the time, a congregation member will be unable to share what the main points of the message were, after the service. In one ear, listened to with interest, then out the other. Or worse, if they’ve heard it all 10,000 times before, not even in one ear.
Most of us who participate on this blog will have found ourselves picking up the bible to check what we are writing, or what someone else has written. We have probably all read various commentaries as well on the topics that interest us. It’s a more interactive way to study scripture, and because we discuss things to and fro, when we participate, we ultimately learn more than we would just listening to a service – or even just reading scripture on our own.
I think one reason I am personally learning more here over time, is that we are a group from a variety of church backgrounds, and its guaranteed that we will find ourselves both presenting and hearing views that we wouldn’t come across in the same fashion if we only discussed things with people from our own local community. Admittedly at times our mode of discussion is challenging, but putting that to one side, I think we’ve all gained something more from it than we would have listening passively to someone else. Often, the person who gains the most from a sermon is the person who writes it. Here, we all write, so we all gain.
I’ve come across an article by Stuart Murray Williams (see note below), which reviews a book by David Norrington, ‘To Preach or Not To Preach’, examining monologue preaching. Murray Williams when responding by looking at the history of monologue preaching comments:
… Common to all these movements was an expectation that the Spirit would lead them into truth, that the Spirit worked through all, not just through preachers and leaders, and therefore that interaction and multi-voiced church life was crucial. We will concentrate here on the Anabaptists, who explored this issue in their writings and congregational practices.
Although the Anabaptists did not abandon sermons, they were wary of monologues and critical of the lack of participation in the Catholic and Protestant churches around them. They were outspoken about this issue and argued from Scripture that something was wrong. An early Anabaptist tract quoted Paul in I Corinthians 14 urging that all should contribute when the church met together and complained: ‘When some one comes to church and hears only one person speaking, and all the listeners are silent…who can or will regard or confess the same to be a spiritual congregation?’ The reformers had proclaimed the priesthood of all believers but the Anabaptists, their contemporaries, were not impressed with what they found in the reformers’ churches. The monopoly of the Catholic priest seemed to have been replaced by the monopoly of the reformed preacher. Experts were still disempowering the congregation and hindering it from becoming mature.
Read the entire article here. The history raises interesting questions.
Most of our churches today are looking for ways to be relevant to people, and to genuinely encourage their congregations to grow to maturity. While not all of that growth can ever happen by listening, or dialoguing, preaching and teaching are a vital part of that process. Is there a way for modern churches to take the preacher down from the pedestal, and encourage greater participation by the congregation in the learning process? Does a steady diet of monologue preaching really have a biblical mandate? Is there another way that is practical? Or is it that we just prefer to outsource everything in our busy lives these days, whether it be our fast food, our entertainment, or our spiritual input?
NOTE: Stuart MURRAY-WILLIAMS spent 12 years as a pioneer church-planter on the east side of London in Tower Hamlet. He continues to be involved in church-planting as a trainer, writer, and consultant. For 9 years, he taught evangelism and church-planting at Spurgeon’s College in London. He is president of the UK Anabaptist Network, editor of Anabaptism Today, and author of several books on starting new churches, urban mission, and the challenges of a post-christian world.