Recently I read a brief review of my book, What Is a Healthy Church Member? The writer of the review kindly commended some of the things I’ve written and my ministry in general.  Then he went straight to his critique of my book.

It seems I lost him with the first chapter entitled, “Expositional Listening.”  His concern wasn’t that people should be good, active listeners.  Rather, he felt the chapter fell into a major weakness of modern church services–the sermon as monologue.  For the reviewer, one of the most significant problems with the contemporary church is the tendency to structure the bulk of our services around one man speaking while everyone else listens.  He prefers a service where dialogue is possible, where people may ask questions, interject, and engage with one another during the sermon.

Not surprisingly, the writer also rejected what he sees as an unbiblical hierarchical and authority relationship between pastor and people, between the proclaimer and the listener.  He sees the traditional sermon as monologue inherently reinforcing patterns of hierarchy where the NT appears rather flat in structure and relationship.  He thinks that the traditional sermon undermines the priesthood of all believers.

The review left me asking myself: Who’s doing the speaking in our church gatherings?

The fatal flaw in my reviewer’s comments was his tendency to think that the service at its best is a conversation between man and man, a human dialogue, a gathering of people of rather equal status speaking to one another.  But is that really what’s happening in preaching and in the gathered worship of the church?  How we answer this question reveals much about our theology of the church gathering and of preaching in particular.

Our services at FBC are pretty typical in element and order:

Songs of Gathering and Praise
Welcome, Announcements
Call to Worship
Songs of Praise
Scripture Reading
Prayer of Confession
Songs of Praise
Pastoral Prayer
Sermon
Song of Praise
Benediction
Moment of Silence

The very structure reflects a running dialogue–not between the people gathered, though we “speak to one another in songs,” etc.–but fundamentally between God and His people.  We come singing to our God, but He speaks the first word in the “call to worship.”  We respond in song.  Then God addresses us again by the reading of His word.  We then speak to Him in prayer of confession.  Following the confession, God speaks to us in the “assurance of pardon” taken from Scripture each week.  Hearing His promise of pardon, we then respond in song.  God speaks next in the sermon.  God gets the bulk of the service to say what’s on His mind, disclosed in the word of God.  Following God’s word to us, we respond in praise.  We then receive the benediction or words of blessing from God, before sitting in silence (hopefully awe) before the God of the universe.

The Christian worship service is inherently dialogical.  The dialogue, however, involves a more important party than any living human.  The Lord of the Universe speaks during the service.  We have the wondrous privilege of being able to speak to Him as a community of saints.  When God speaks through the exposition of His word there certainly will be many reactions, but as our Sovereign speaks there should not be an interruption in favor of our pooling our comments and sharing our insights.  Our best wisdom is foolishness before God.  Better to first listen to the One who speaks, then talk with one another about it afterward.

Aren’t we all irritated when we’re constantly interrupted by people who’re supposed to be listening to us?  How much more inappropriate that we should interrupt God when He speaks from the word.  Can you imagine Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul or Stephen preaching in such a way as to invite the people’s commentary on the word of God, as though the people may fairly negotiate “what the Scripture means to them”?

I’m afraid that my reviewer’s objections betray a low theology of preaching.  He characterizes it as a man droning on in monologue as the audience is made passive.  But the classic Protestant view of preaching understands preaching as something else entirely.  As Augustine put it: “Where the Bible speaks, God speaks.”  Bryan Chapell puts it in a very compelling statement: “When we speak the truths of the word of God, we are not only speaking about Jesus, nor are we simply speaking for Jesus.  We speak as Jesus.”  As the Reformers put it, “The preaching of the Word of God is the word of God” where it’s done faithfully.  And lest we think these statements claim to much, we should consider the testimony of the Scripture itself.  The Thessalonians “received the word of God” and “accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God” (1 Thes. 2:13).

This, of course, is why preaching is inherently authoritative.  The authority of preaching derives from the reality that God speaks through faithful preaching of His Word.  Preacher, don’t fail to proclaim the word of God with all authority, just as our Master modeled.  And don’t fail to call your people to give heed–not opinion–to the word of God preached.  We may yet learn to preach as we ought if we tremble and proclaim in wonder that God speaks through the faithful preaching of His word!  And we may yet hear a word from the Lord if we learn to listen to our Sovereign!

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60 thoughts on “Who’s Doing the Talking in Our Church Gatherings?”

  1. Brother, you have no idea how timely this is. Our pastor, who we love and respect, has been “experimenting” with the dialogical method in our service and it has been met either with apparent enthusiasm or utter dismay. (I confess to being in the latter category, which he knows.)

    Re: your statement presuming Jesus, Peter and Paul not speaking in this way, our pastor disagrees. He argues that in various places in Acts and the Gospels, the word “dialogizomai” (please forgive any unintended butchery of the Greek) is used to describe Jesus and Peter and Paul asking questions of their audience and then engaging with their answers. Thus, in our services, that’s what he’s been doing. He asks a question and has people raise their hands and offer answers. What ensues – has not been a blessing to me, to put it as charitably as I can. And yet many others claim the opposite.

    Setting aside the assessment of an element of ministry by purely pragmatic means, have you heard the arguments about the terminology used in Acts and the Gospels around speaking/preaching/teaching as a means of justifying this approach?

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Rachael,
      Great to hear from you today. I pray you’re well and rejoicing in the Lord who chose to display His mercy in you and me as examples to others who would believe in Him and receive eternal life (1 Tim. 1:16).

      You raise a good question. I don’t think you can finally resolve this from Acts for two reasons. First, we can’t over-generalize the historical and episodic character of Acts. We don’t have in that literature a prescription for church worship in part because we’re witnessing a church in unique historical transition from Jewish sect to a new community of Jew and Gentile. Doesn’t mean there isn’t much to learn about preaching and church life from Acts, just that our generalizations need to be carefully considered. Second, Acts isn’t the only pertinent book; we have the epistles which do attempt to give us a normative picture of the gathered life of the church. So, the pastorals, for example, shout loudly about the centrality of preaching and the work of pastors/elders.

      Having said that, here’s how I’d respond to Acts and Gospels argument: Are we reading in those books a description of NT Christian worship or more often evangelistic/missionary/episodic/itinerant encounters? I think overwhelmingly the latter.

      Here’s why I think that’s important. One: we shouldn’t generalize from them too quickly by arguing that because they sometimes contain some elements of dialogue that NT preaching is dialogical. Two: Even these itinerant addresses tend to be recorded as monologues, which may weaken considerably the claim that preaching should be dialogical. If the addresses in the most dialogue-ready settings, in Acts for example, tend to be monologues, one might reasonably suspect that preaching would tend toward monologue as well.

      A survey of the preaching passages in Acts illustrates what I mean.
      Acts 2–Peter’s sermon at Pentecost–prompted by the mocking of the crowds but basically a long gospel sermon in biblical theological categories. Verse 40 clearly indicates this is not a full transcript, so it’s possible there was more back-and-forth. But it seems the flavor Luke wants us to get is one of monologue, unfurling a great amount of biblical data leading to Christ and the call to repent and be baptized.

      Acts 3–Peter’s sermon following the healing of the crippled beggar–again recorded for us as an evangelistic address.

      Acts 7–Stephen’s sermon at his defense before the Sanhedrin–A glorious sermon! Praise God for this monologue!

      Acts 10–Peter’s sermon at Cornelius’ house–Following the invitation by Cornelius, Peter delivers a gospel sermon. The Spirit comes upon the Gentiles just as He had the apostles, thus ending the sermon. No dialogue recorded.

      Acts 13–Paul in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch–Paul delivers a sermon at the invitation to give a “message of encouragement.” Again, he preaches the gospel in biblical theological categories. On the next sabbath, “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord,” which can only mean the preaching of the Apostle.

      Acts 14–Paul speaks in the Jewish synagogue, “so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed” (v. 1). Preached in Derbe and won disciples (v. 21), and in Perga (v. 25). We read similar things in Acts 18.

      Acts 18 in particular contains statements about Paul “reasoned” with the Thessalonians and Atheneans in the synagogue and market. Some wish to use this as grounds for more dialogue. Two comments. Again, these scenes better approximate street preaching and evangelism than gathered Christian worship. Generalize with caution. Second, it’s worth noting that whether the word ‘reasoned’ was used or not in earlier scenes, nearly all the sermons recorded as monologue are long persuasive arguments. Reasoning and persuading are not limited to dialogical forms. Monologue may be and was quite persuasive in the apostolic ministry.

      Acts 19–Paul in Ephesus–The apostle spoke boldly and argued persuasively in the synagogue for three months before renting the lecture hall of Tyrannus for daily discussions.

      In all honesty, I hardly think the word choice for scenes like those in Acts settles the issue. In fact, it would seem that even these itinerant settings include heavy monologue. As you can tell, I’m not persuaded by appeals to Acts. If anything, I think the monologue evidence is stronger with even a brief survey.

      Grace and peace,
      T-

      1. Thanks so much for such a thorough answer, brother. The argument for the epistles being prescriptive, vs. Acts being descriptive, is compelling for sure.

        I echo some of the others’ sentiments with regards to previous experiences of feeling somewhat passive towards Sunday morning “messages” (what my Baptist preacher Dad calls them – that terms seems kind of “retro” now :) ). I either didn’t know what to expect, or didn’t expect much, and received less. The question is, why?

        I believe the answer is threefold.

        First – the people in the pews don’t know what they should be expecting, nor how to pray for it to happen.

        This is what you’ve articulated so beautifully in this piece. We should be expecting to hear from God. Literally, to hear Him speak to us about who He is, about what He calls us to, and about what He’s done for us in the cross. If we belong to Him, that’s what we should want more than food or air or anything else. We need to be lifted out of a week’s worth of discouragement and fear and sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, and pointed to Christ, who is our life, and who has answers for all of that stuff. Not Christ as a means to our ends, but Christ as the end of everything, for all eternity.

        When Christ is preached in this way, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to His people, who expect it and have prayed for it, good fruit will abound in both the hearts and lives of the hearers. I could name sermon after sermon, not just of the “namebrand” guys, but by my pastor as well, where, when this happened, not only does my heart burn within me in the service, but the truth of that sermon moves out of my heart into a changed mind and changed actions.

        But, where Christ is not preached in this way, all kinds of things that are not this happen. That’s a gentle way of offering up the second possible reason why people are restless and dissatisfied on Sundays. As respectfully as I can say, I believe that there are many men who do not preach this way because they either don’t believe in it, or they are not actually called to it.

        They do not believe that preaching is about God speaking to His people, and to those who are not yet His, about who He is and what He’s done. They believe it’s about God helping people with their marriages and their stress levels and their financial problems, so they can be all they can be.

        Or, if men do believe that preaching is about God talking to His people, they have the desire to do it, but they do not have the necessary gifts.

        Their sermons are either what we call at home “random thoughts while strolling”,

        or they’re carefully constructed, parsed and alliterated, lifeless, gospel-less theological abstracts – dim light, no heat,

        or they’re just rhetorical monuments to the speaker’s intellectual and spiritual pride.

        IOW, what many men on Sundays are doing is not preaching at all. But they have seminary degrees and they’re ordained. So most people in the pew will think that their confusion and restlessness is their fault, because they’re just not that smart. And other people will suspect that the problem isn’t with them, but will never say anything, because to question a man’s calling to preach would be disobeying God’s command to “touch not the Lord’s anointed.” And still other people, especially those who’ve suffered under the third category of prideful preachers who forget God and preach themselves, decide that the problem is with the methodology of preaching altogether. All bad fruit. All from the single bad root of bad preaching.

        Which leads us down a long rabbit trail into the role of the Holy Spirit in calling, gifting and enabling the preacher, and in enabling the hearers to respond and to discern that response as from Him, etc.

        The third reason would have to do with whether the person hearing actually has the Holy Spirit in the first place. We forget that to those who do not yet have ears to hear, even the most eloquent sermon will be either incomprehensible, or offensive.

        And that then leads to yet another rabbit trail – that of how the pastor who is called, who is faithful to preach in this way, responds when he sees little to no fruit for his faithfulness. When God talks, and the people don’t listen, some preachers begin to blame themselves and look to other methods. As hard as this is to say, that’s really pride, masking as discouragement.

        Thank you again for this discussion, Thabiti. You don’t know how providential it is. Here in the spiritual wasteland that is California, there are a lot of solid churches who are being slowly sucked in to the arguments for dialogical preaching. And for those of us who believe it is unbiblical, it’s discouraging and frightening.

  2. Bobby says:

    I always enjoy reading your blog, even when I disagree. I haven’t yet read this particular book of yours but I would like to sometime in the future. (I’m still catching up on some of the T4G freebies from the last conference…among others) I would like to read the review you refer to. I agree that the monologue form of gathering and the clergy/laity divide is impeding the building up of the body. I’m hoping to avoid the strawman arguments in our disagreement. For that let me begin with where we agree regarding preaching:

    -Preaching is authoritative as it remains faithful to God’s Word
    -God speaks to us through preaching and teaching

    Where (I think…maybe?) we disagree:

    -preaching can and should be done by every gifted member of the body as we gather together.
    -God speaks through a faithful preacher even if they are not standing behind a pulpit after earning their M.Div.

    I love you brother and I am thankful for your faithful ministry as a servant of Jesus Christ. I only hope to be used to reveal the outright pride and arrogance coming from those entrusted to be leaders. It is a dangerous thing to believe that because a man is a pastor and preaches a prepared sermon that what He delivers is now “God speaking” and everyone else could offer no more than comments and insights that amount to foolish interruptions.

    To see you come to these conclusions greatly grieves me. The priesthood and the authority of the Holy Spirit is not confined to the stage, alter or pulpit. The assembly of believers you look down upon as you preach has the same Christ and power as you do within them.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Bobby,
      Thanks for stopping by with encouragement and most welcome comments to this discussion. Should the Lord allow you to read Healthy Member, I pray you find it encouraging and profitable.

      I’m glad you started your post with where we agree, and that we agree on so vital a thing as what preaching is and God speaking through preaching.

      I’m not sure we disagree on the heart of what you suggest are disagreements, perhaps more on the implication/practice. For example, I would say that the ministry of the word is wider than the pulpit. It includes “speaking the truth in love” in a variety of ways and settings (small groups, casual conversation, preaching, counseling, etc.). In this wider sense, every believer should participate in the ministry of the word. But the Bible does not commend “every gifted member of the body” preaching. 1 Tim. 3 requires that the teaching office of the church be held by men qualified in character and gifted to teach. James 3 specifically warns against everyone teaching with the words “let not many teach, knowing they receive the stricter judgment.” So while the ministry of the word is quite wide, the scripture restricts preaching in some important ways.

      As for M.Divs, brother, I don’t have an M.Div. I don’t think I said anything in the post that restricted preaching to seminary graduates. None of the apostles had advanced degrees, neither did some of the greatest preachers in church history (Spurgeon, for example). I’m not against M.Divs or other forms of training and education (some people seem to be). But everyone who teaches needs to be biblically qualified and discipled.

      I don’t think you fairly summarize my conclusions in those final two paragraphs. No one asserts the work of the Spirit is limited to the pulpit or denies the priesthood of every believer. Nor does my view of preaching require looking down upon the assembly, “outright pride,” or considering comments and questions “foolish.” Just recently during a sermon on marriage and divorce, a woman shouted out a question about the passage. I answered the question and then invited any others people might have, taking the time to wait for queries. Then I carried on with my sermon. It’s not about pride and condescension.

      Every faithful preacher I know spends a considerable time talking with people about the word of God. Sometimes in follow-up to the sermon. Our Wednesday night studies are entirely dialogue. Much of our Sunday school time and certainly small groups depend heavily on more informal back-and-forth discussion. The Spirit of God fills all of that interaction and uses it wherever and whoever rightly divides His word. Preaching, in my view, is a different activity.

      While every person I know must wage war against pride, might I caution you against assuming the role of revealing what you assume to be the pride and arrogance of others. It might be a matter of pride to assume you can and should play that role with great effectiveness with people you don’t know. Something to pray about, I suppose.

      The Lord bless you and keep you as you seek to learn from Him.
      T-

      1. Bobby says:

        Thank you for such a prompt and graceful response, brother. I am encouraged to hear of all the ways that the church is able to minister to one another throughout the week. I believe that mutual edification is the primary reason for gathering together with other believers. This is the highest form of worship. According to the examples and descriptions given of the churches in the NT one could say it is “regulative” ;) I don’t know what conclusions you have come to. What I do know is what you have said here and elsewhere. What you have written here implies that the priesthood of believers is for all times except the times between the call to worship and the benediction. I agree we are not all gifted the same but what I do not agree with is that the gift of teaching should dominate our primary meeting on Sunday and the rest of the gifts are for the rest of the week. Maybe it is only practices that we disagree on, maybe it’s deeper than that. Our ecclesiology reveals things about our theology on other levels. That, I am sure we agree on.

        Regarding pride, I battle this temptation as well and I to battle that I have been and will be praying that God would use my imperfect ways to bring about His perfect will in you and everyone else He moves me to speak to. It is this hope in His faithfulness and recognition of my inadequacy that keeps my pride in check. Thank you for the exhortation to continue this battle and call for caution.

        There is kindness in critical wounds inflicted by a faithful brother.

        1. Ruth says:

          I am flummoxed that you would say that “mutual edification” is the primary reason for gathering together with other believers (possibly) and that “this is the highest form of worship.”

          WHAT??? (sorry for shouting but I am aghast)

          Mutual edification is not a form of worship at all, and certainly not the highest form. Period. Go learn what true worship is, please. It is an important thing for a believer to understand.

          You are confusing worship with the life of the church. They are not synonymous.

          1. Ruth,

            Would you please support your assertions and conclusions with scripture? Thank you.

  3. Paul says:

    How come the preacher/pastor/holy reverend is the only person in the assembly of God’s people who can be the voice of the Ascended Lord? The New Testament speaks of people who have a gift to teach who may not even hold an office! Where do they exercise this gift if not in the context of the gathered people of God?

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Paul,
      Thanks for dropping by and commenting, brother. Thus far, I don’t think anyone has maintained that the only person in the assembly “who can be the voice of the Ascended Lord” is the preacher/pastor/holy reverend. Nor has anyone doubted that others outside the teaching office may have gifts for teaching. The issue is whether preaching should be construed as monologue or dialogue.

      People with teaching gifts should use them in a variety of settings. It’s clear from 1 Cor. 14 that the number of speakers in a service is to be limited so that everything is done in decency and in order. Paul clearly instructs the church to have speakers in turn and to limit the number of speakers so order and edification are maximized. I agree with the person who said the goal of the assembly is edification. What I think they missed is the teaching in 1 Cor. 14 that shows that order–serial monologues–is the order that maximizes edification.

      It seems to me that the onus for demonstrating the necessity or benefit of “dialogical preaching” lies with its advocates in light of 1 Cor. 14 and the passages restricting the teaching office and teaching to qualified persons (1 Tim. 3; James 3).

      T-

  4. Jeremy Myers says:

    Who was the reviewer? I would like to go read his post.

    Thanks!

    1. Thabiti says:

      I’m sorry, brother, I didn’t keep the email. My wife does the google alerts thing and it was one she came across a week or so ago. If she hasn’t deleted it, I’ll try to dig it up and post it.
      T-

  5. James says:

    Thabiti. Thank you for your fair, and well reasoned response. I am grateful that you took a calculated and concrete position, defended your presuppositions, and articulated your point, as may have originally been intended in your book.

    I must admit, I had never heard nor read, anything by you or about you, until T4G 2008 in Louisville. Your particular address that year struck such a cord with me that I frequently recommend that message to others. At one point you had made mention regarding the idea of race/ethnicity being a non-issue when the grace of God is brought into the picture. Simply stated, “If you are not a son of Adam, you are not eligible for redemption through the Son of Man.” Period. We are equal, and ALL in need of a Savior or we are not, there’s no middle ground. Thanks for that message.

    Regarding the book, I think the Scripture lays out the definition of church members by the requirements presented for one to be a disciple pretty clearly. Therefore, I am not adequately qualified to comment on your book, although I am sure it is well-written and would be a worthy read.

    I do not agree with your ecclesiology, and know debating the ‘particulars’ would not be fruitful at this juncture, but I do want to express something I do believe is crucial to the entire discussion above.

    At what point, and I may be missing it, does ‘preaching’ in the Scriptures become equated with exposition of the bible in the gathered assembly of either Israel (surely we are not ‘reading the law’ or the New Testament ekklesia? I would contend we see the modern Sunday morning example of preaching from the front, or in ‘monologue’ through Paul at the school of Tyrannus, at which point the repetition of Doctrine would be essential to the disciples gathered there, but it is not the ‘breaking of bread’ meeting we see come together of Acts or Corinthians fame.

    So the real issue I think is not a low view of preaching. I think the issue is a misunderstood view of what preaching actually is. Unfortunately, our Christian Culture leaves preaching to be defined by the example of a Sunday Morning Sermon…

    Peace be unto you,

    1. Thabiti says:

      Peace be unto you, too, brother. I’m sure it’s because it’s past my bedtime and I’m reading too quickly, but I didn’t really follow your main point here. Could you please re-state it in a sentence or two? Or are you basically saying you don’t personally see a pattern of exposition in the church gatherings of the NT?

      Thanks,
      T-

      1. James says:

        Sorry for the conflated message…Yes and yes. I cannot find a biblical example Old or New of the exposition style of preaching, or any justification for its preference over ‘dialog’ in the assembly. I would shore that up with the ideal of what preaching is, and aside from the NT example of preaching, it is not exposition. Preaching occurs outside the meeting in the NT.

        1. Thabiti says:

          Okay… it’s really past my bedtime now. What, are the rest of you all on the west coast or something :-)

          Off the top of my head, I’d point you to Nehemiah 8 for a clear example of OT exposition. As for NT, seems clear that the letter of Hebrews is either a collection of short expositions or an extended exposition.

          I’m not sure what you’re calling “the ideal of preaching,” but I think the case for biblical exposition can be made on exegetical and theological grounds, as well as by illustration. I’m assuming, or course, that exposition is not narrowly defined as verse-by-verse commentary, but perhaps more broadly as taking a passage of scripture or the redemptive narrative of scripture and explicating it in light of the saving work of Christ Jesus the Lord. Exposition in that sense is everywhere from Neh. 8 to the Sermon on the Mount to most of Acts to the letter of Hebrews.

          Perhaps I’m missing some light on this issue (I mean this sincerely). But at this point, I’m not aware of a passage in the NT that commends dialog in the assembly as either an ideal or a preference to preaching. Help???

          T-

          1. Arthur Sido says:

            Brother,

            I think it is telling that when seeking an example of a monologue in the assembly, you are left with an Old Testament example and the Book of Hebrews. I am not sure I am buying the Hebrews example but I think the point James and others are making is that in the New Testament, in the church, we never see an expository sermon being delivered to the assembled believers. There is certainly lots of preaching going on. LOTS of it, praise God for that! It is all directed at unbelievers. I would agree that we ought to be preaching the Gospel to unbelievers but when the church gathers it is crippling to discipleship for one man, typically the same man, to get up week after week and deliver a sermon to a mute assemblage. The model of ministry modeled in most of the traditional church with one or a few men doing all of the speaking, teaching and edifying is the core reason we have so many spiritually immature believers and so many burned out pastors.

            1. Thabiti says:

              Hi Arthur,
              Welcome to the conversation. Could you provide me any clear instance where the teaching of the assembly is dialogue? I did ask for a little help with that at the end of my comment. So, if you want to provide that, I really am eager to consider the passages.

              I’m glad we agree on the necessity of gospel preaching to unbelievers. I assume (?) we’d also agree on the necessity of Christians hearing and applying the gospel too, since so much of the NT writings is the clarification and application of the gospel.

              What I can’t figure is the insistence that the traditional sermon (as we’ve had it since the apostles and fathers) is the culprit in “crippling discipleship.” I think that assertion errs in at least two ways:

              1. It assumes that the primary or perhaps exclusive way of making disciples is the Sunday morning sermon. Wherever that’s being assumed, it seems to me to be wholly in error. Preaching is necessary to but not sufficient for making disciples. It takes the entire body with every member every day to make solid disciples. The reason we have spiritually immature believers (which we’ll always have in some measure) and burned out pastors isn’t because the pastor preaches every Sunday (which most pastors enjoy doing). The reason we have immature believers and burned out disciples is because so many Christians are not opening their lives, inviting others in, and making spiritual deposits in intentional disciple-making relationships. The problem isn’t that we have preachers; the problem is that every disciple is not themselves making disciples as our Lord commands. I think you misdiagnose the problem.

              2. The assertion errs because it makes preaching to believers unnecessary when the NT makes it necessary. Paul explicitly commands Timothy to “preach the word” in the gathered assembly. What word is that? Likely the OT, which Paul says elsewhere was written for our instruction and example. Insofar as Timothy is to “preach the word,” he’s doing some form of exposition in the assembly. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

              But I await the passages that indicate dialog rather than monologue, and that teach us preaching is not for the Christian community. Otherwise, we’re really left with a pragmatic rather than biblical argument for dialogical preaching. And pragmatism is the pregnant mother of many misadventures in church life.

              T-

            2. Arthur Sido says:

              Thabiti,

              Could you provide me any clear instance where the teaching of the assembly is dialogue? How about Acts 20: 7-12, where we see Paul in discussion with the church all night. On the first day of the week no less!

              On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted. (Acts 20:7-12 ESV)

              I would point out that this is Paul’s final evening before departing so if he was going to deliver a rousing expository sermon, this would be the time. I would also point to 1 Corinthians 14 where the church gathering is shown as one where all of the brothers are expected, welcomed, dare I say permitted to be active participants in the meeting.

              The problem isn’t that we have preachers; the problem is that every disciple is not themselves making disciples as our Lord commands. I think you misdiagnose the problem.

              I would agree that the gathering of the church is not the only way of discipling believers. I would question whether listening to sermons week after week in silence is somehow pivotal or even helpful in creating disciples. Again, for something that is so key to our understanding of discipleship, it seems sorely lacking in Scriptural support. Do you think that the average “lay person” understands being a disciple in a way that transcends showing up on Sunday morning, paying attention and putting money in the offering plate?

              Paul explicitly commands Timothy to “preach the word” in the gathered assembly.

              Where exactly does Paul specify in 2 Tim 4: 1-2 that he is speaking of preaching the Word to the gathered church? It doesn’t appear to be in the text, maybe I am missing something? We assume that “preach the word” is synonymous with “preach a sermon in church” but I can’t imagine that is how Paul intended it. I can point to Acts 20: 7-12 and 1 Corinthians 14 to demonstrate that the model of the early church was participatory and involved dialogue rather than monologue. I can’t find a single example of anyone in Scripture delivering a sermon to the gathered church.

            3. Thabiti says:

              Hi Arthur,
              Thanks for the reference to Acts 20 and 1 Cor. 14. Rather than respond right away, let me allow others who might take your view to comment on these passages and/or offer others. I want to be sure I understand how you all are reading these passages before I talk more. Y’all, let me know if there is more.
              T-

          2. James says:

            Assuredly, I have plenty to say on this topic…However, I am unable to type my full response here and now, and my wife has begun labor..so with all due respect to opinions held, I will try to interject when I can…hopefulle today…we’ll see :)

            Lord willing..

            1. Thabiti says:

              If I were your wife, I’d put you into labor for even thinking of blogging at any point today or tomorrow–except to give a birth announcement! :-)

              You’re obviously involved in something much more precious and important at the moment. My prayers for you, your wife and the baby!! Much grace, mercy, and peace,

              T-

            2. Arthur Sido says:

              FYI, James and his wife had a baby girl yesterday, praise God for the miracle of children!

  6. Don G says:

    Thabiti,
    Very helpful post. Is there room for God to speak through other people during the service in other ways – like prophecy, public prayer, etc? I’m thinking of 1 Cor 14:26. How does this idea fit in with what you’re saying, and how can/should churches allow for that in the corporate gathering?
    [26] What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
    (1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV)

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Don,
      Thanks for the question, brother. Many churches practice their understanding of these gifts during the corporate setting. I particularly appreciate the measured approach the Sovereign Grace family of churches take on things like prophecy. Essentially they provide microphones in the aisles of the church. Persons wanting to share a word of prophecy, exhortation, etc., approach an elder that monitors that mic. The elder examines the intended sharing, and then provides the opportunity. That’s a bare-bones sketch as I understand it.

      In terms of how it fits with what I’m saying… I’d say that most of these things are not preaching. Where practiced, they happen in addition to the preaching of the word. I wouldn’t see a contradiction in having these things occur in the gathering in addition to the exposition of God’s word.

      Does that help?
      T-

      1. Don G says:

        That definitely helps. I’m going to look into the Sov Grace model.

        I shared this with some brothers from church and one commented on the lack of clarity from 9marks (not you directly) on this topic (other gifts in church). Maybe they’re wanting to stay noncommittal? In any case, thanks for the comments. I’m always impressed at how frequently and graciously you interact with your readers.

  7. Joel Zehring says:

    Thabiti,

    I landed at your post from another blog that featured a critique similar to the one you reference. Preface: I don’t have any specialized training in preaching or proclamation. Instead, I’ll comment from my 30 years of participating in services from church pews:

    I sense a thread of discontent across these posts and comments. I feel a slight twinge of this discontent each week when I settle in to listen to another sermon. While God is certainly able to use weekly sermons and services to express himself, I’ve felt for a long time that something has been missing from these expressions.

    The weekly services to which I’ve become so accustomed lack the incomprehensible majesty of the God who has revealed himself through his Word. These weekly experiences have become utterly predictable, which is not a malice in and of itself, except that I seem to be deadly accurate in predicting the lack of fruit that such services produce. The congregation may hear the Word, but there is little action from the several churches of which I have been a member.

    Instead, the Sunday morning service (and even midweek studies, to a lesser extent) serve as a summary of the overall body life: one or a few select leaders do the work of God while the rest sit back to watch and receive the blessing.

    Perhaps I’ve attended the wrong churches. Perhaps your church body is far different. However, the sense that I get from my reading and correspondence is that I’m not an edge case, and this problem is clearly endemic to a wide swath of evangelicals.

    To characterize my discontent simply: It’s one thing to hear the Word preached, it’s another thing for Jesus, who is the Word, to express himself through all the members of his body.

    I’m restless to be an active part of Jesus’s unique expression in my neighborhood. My concern is that if I continue to submit to the habit that I’ve grown so accustomed, I may miss out on this great work that Jesus wants to accomplish through myself and other obedient believers, because we’re too busy completing compulsory services.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Joel,

      I pray you’re well, brother, and that the Savior would refresh you with grace even as He stirs you in great zeal for His name.

      I’m certain you’re correct about the evident lack of awe and majesty in many gatherings of local churches. And it can’t be denied that too many approach congregational life with a passive attitude.

      But it’s worth asking whether the “fix” to this is simply another form of preaching or better preaching. I suspect John Piper is correct when he says that many people have never heard true preaching. And I suspect that comment applies to an overwhelming number of my sermons. What I doubt, as someone who preaches in a traditional fashion on most Sunday mornings, and who often does Q&A as part of the sermon time in our evening services, and as someone who leads a discussion-driven Bible study most Wednesday nights… is that changing the preaching form to dialogue gets us very far toward the majesty you seek.

      It’s not the form that produces the glory but the God we preach being communicated clearly and earnestly through His word.

      Also, many of the ideas touted as “new” and “revolutionary,” aren’t really that new. They’ve been tried before. Sounds a lot like the Jesus movement a little while back with a few wrinkles here or there. The verdict: These things become traditions, too, and they produce little that lasts.

      I’m empathetic re: the discontent and discomfort. I’m praying the Lord rouses His people from their sleep. I’m just not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Perhaps that’s because I have been a part of more than one healthy congregation zealous for the gospel and good works, whose meetings leave one saying, “Surely God is among them.” I pray that becomes your experience really soon, and that He leads all of us to healthy resolutions of our discontent.

      T-

      1. Joel Zehring says:

        Thabiti,

        Thanks for your quick response! You’re really going the extra mile.

        I believe there is a place for true preaching in a local body, I’m just not convinced expository preaching should enjoy a weekly recurring appointment on the calendar of events ahead of other more productive activities.

        Far more useful, in my opinion, are weekly prayer gatherings (in homes or even public areas) and weekly meetings for confession and prayer between two or three believers. I know very few Christians who can speak to the transformative power of these activities, because these types of gatherings are so few and far between.

        Of course, attendance at these gatherings is generally significantly lower than at a typical Sunday worship service, at least initially. However, I believe God can express himself much more powerfully through a small number of obedient disciples than a large number of nominal attendees.

        I agree that trying to shoehorn Q & A into a traditional service, especially where the attendees are not interested in or acclimated to this type of exchange, is a recipe for frustration.

        Currently, I’ve got my feet in both worlds. I attend weekly services with my family, and God graciously reveals new nuggets of truth and wisdom, despite my insistence that I’ve heard every sermon under the sun (I’m a preacher’s kid, after all). I also conduct weekly prayer walks with my toddler son around our neighborhood. I pray out loud for our neighbors and for God to move in an unexplainable way among them. Sometimes, we even stop to ask neighbors that we pass if we can pray for them.

        What a great God we serve, to use our humble activities (institutional and otherwise) to express the depths of his great character and love!

  8. FedEx MOP says:

    Thabiti,

    Thank you for you analysis of this. I believe as you do that “gimmicks” are no the answer to this problem. I have been in churches that have monologues and those that have open discussions, and in both I have had people tell me they feel disconnected. I think this is just another attempt to blame the pastor for our lack of spiritual growth.

    As I see it this is the result of two things:

    First, as individual believers we refuse to engage one another on a meaningful, honest level; prefering instead the shallow “how are you? I’m fine” approach to relationships. We never really develop deep relationships with other believers that will grow us spiritually because we fear the risk that this exposes us to.

    Secondly, we do not like preaching, either monologue or dialogue, that asks us to sacrifice of ourselves. I would argue that we really prefer the division between the proffessional minister and layity as that allows us to expect that ministry will come from the “staff” rather than from every individual member of the body. People in Churches today tend to want someone else to minister to them and not to be asked to minister to others. This is perhaps the most stunting to spiritual growth. We cannot grow deeper in our relationship with Christ until we are willing to follow him into the places where we are called to actively minister.

    Again, to say that preaching in monologue somehow stifles decipleship, is to miss the larger underlying problems entirely. We hear from disgruntled members, “I am not being fed here”, “I just don’t like his style of preaching”, or “I prefer to be able to interact during sermons”. All of these are the cries of the disobedient heart, blaming the pastor for their own desire to protect themselves from real relationship and from uncomfortable service.

    FedEX
    MOP

  9. Jeremiah Vaught says:

    Everyone, this particular post plus thread of comments, led by Thabiti, has been extremely helpful to me.

    As a proponent of expositional preaching, I am inclined to take Thabiti’s position. And through his response to the article and the many different discussions in this thread, I have seen many questions I personally have had about the necessity of weekly, “monological” expositional preaching discussed well and answered well.

    Thanks to everyone for such a Christ-honoring tone, genuine inquisitiveness, and important counter-points. Special thanks to you Thabiti for taking everyone’s sincere questions, concerns, and thoughts very seriously. I have been served well by all of you today.

  10. Arthur Sido says:

    I would like to echo what Jeremiah wrote, I appreciate the spirit that Thabiti has exhibited in his interactions with the comments. It is all too rare to find such a gracious spirit in the blogosphere.

  11. Michelle Crouch says:

    I would like to expand a little on the comment above that expressed longing for an experience of the “incomprehensible majesty” of God in church. I feel this longing deeply myself, and I do not think it is unrelated to the issue Pastor Anyabwile has raised about the nature of preaching. I would humbly submit that preaching does not happen in a vacuum, and the ability to listen to big, difficult theological truth and to respond with adoration and joyful submission is a learned skill. The preaching can be excellent and still fall on deadened ears.
    One of the primary teachers of deep active listening for me has been music and art. I wonder if the North American church’s wholesale embrace of the chatty “easy-listening,” (aka background) music of our contemporary culture, on which we have put a Christian label and taken for gospel, often to the exclusion of any music of a more complex structure and depth, to say nothing of existing before 1980, has helped to deaden our ears. There is a widespread return to an appreciation of art in the church, and in this my heart rejoices. I wonder with hope and thanksgiving if it will not help to create cultures of deep listening amongst us once again. One of the champions of this return to art in the church is artist, Mako Fujimura, and he asks some profound questions in his excellent essay “Come and See Leonardo da Vinci’s Philip in The Last Supper.” He specifically comments on how our culture trains us to engage in cheap dialogue that fits our darkened realities. I find his comments and questions to be insightful, and related to the above discussion. The essay is found in the collection called Refractions. Highly recommended.
    “We want God to be palatable and to fit our needs and realities so we don’t have to practice a daily discipline. I venture to say what goes on in our worship services has a great impact on the larger cultural condition. Could it be that the reason we have such a divided nation, insistent on quick judgment, is because the church does not fully know how to live and exercise grace? Could it be that the reason we do not have a culture full of beauty is because our worship is not beautiful? Could it be that the cause of our shortened attention span in contemporary society is because the church has not trained us to listen well?”

  12. Chelsea says:

    “The very structure reflects a running dialogue–not between the people gathered, though we ‘speak to one another in songs,’ etc.–but fundamentally between God and His people.” Amen!

    In response to Joel, FedEx MOP, and Michelle, I’d like to recommend a sermon preached by Pastor Mike Bullmore entitled “Living for God in our Ordinary Lives: Gathering as God’s People.” In it, he discusses three “stages” of coming together on Sundays to worship God: eager anticipation (Psalm 122), arrival and enjoyment (Psalm 133), and engagement and worship (Psalm 134). You can find it here: http://crosswayonline.org/component/biblestudy/?view=studydetails&id=418. This was a great source of encouragement to me, and I pray that it will be to you as well.

    1. Joel Zehring says:

      Chelsea,

      Thanks for the recommendation. I listened to the entire sermon. Some points really resonated with me, as well: believers gathered together are God’s dwelling; God’s presence is the blessing when believers gather.

      I didn’t detect any kind of lobbying for expository preaching in the sermon. Was this implied? Perhaps when the pastor described believers assembling together, he was promoting a meeting similar to the one Thabiti describes in his post, complete with signing, preaching, and benediction.

      Here’s my question for general consideration: Is this kind of meeting the only meeting where God will bless his people with his presence? What are the minimum requirements to achieve dialog between God and his people? Is a pastor required? A sermon?

      Is expository preaching the only way that God will authoritatively speak to his people?

      1. Chelsea says:

        You’re right, Joel, he doesn’t lobby for expository preaching. Although, Pastor Bullmore is definitely an expository preacher as you could probably tell from his sermon! I referenced that sermon because, in reading through people’s comments, I saw references to a lack of the “incomprehensible majesty” of God in churches which engage in expository preaching without dialogue. And I think Thabiti raised a good point when he said,”It’s worth asking whether the ‘fix’ to this is simply another form of preaching or better preaching.” In my own life, I’ve found that if I don’t come eagerly anticipating the Word of God, I end up missing the “incomprehensible Majesty of God.” It’s not something that’s missing in the service. God speaks through his Word during the service. As you said, God reveals himself through his Word, so to say that his incomprehensible majesty is missing wouldn’t be true. I have just failed to “show up.” I haven’t asked him to prepare my mind and heart for Sunday morning worship. I haven’t been eagerly anticipating this event throughout the week. In that case, the onus is on me. Does that put the sermon in better perspective?

        1. Joel Zehring says:

          Chelsea,

          I don’t think the answer is another form of preaching or better preaching. And, while I agree that an audience member must actively prepare and engage to benefit from a performance, I have to ask, why do we feel so compelled to participate in sermons and worship services with such frequency? Do we believe this is the only way God will dialog with his people?

          I am not against good expository preaching or liturgy. Rather, I am against a perceived obsession with expository preaching and a co-dependence on liturgy.

          I agree that we must choose to dialog with God. However, I also believe that God’s Word is written on my heart through Christ’s indwelling presence. While I may benefit from an expository sermon, I don’t need one to hear from God. Through Christ, God will dialog with me through the Bible and the Holy Spirit.

          So, how can I engage in and maintain this dialog with God?

          Chelsea, perhaps you’d be willing to consider a another vision of the ordinary Christian life, presented by Neil Cole in the following video:

          http://www.cmaresources.org/video/search-and-rescue_n-cole

          Around 22:35, Neil unpacks what he calls spiritual respiration. We must exhale by confessing our sins to one another in complete honesty, then we must inhale by reading the Bible to be awakened to Christ’s life and activity within us.

          How often do you need to breathe? All the time! Consistent confession and scripture reading are just as critical to spiritual life as consistent respiration is to physical life. I’ve found that participating in these activities weekly (at least) yields far more fruit than weekly worship services.

          A PDF version of the Life Transformation Group plan for confessing, reading, and praying with another believer can be found here:

          http://www.cmaresources.org/ltg

          I’m anxious to hear your thoughts and experiences related to these suggestions.

          1. Joel,

            I’ve been following this thread closely and don’t have time today to respond at length, which is no doubt providential. But I’d honestly be thankful for Thabiti’s thoughts here. Your assessment of those of us advocating adhering to God’s Word , as well as to the faithful conviction of scores of church fathers through two millennia – that the foundation (certainly not the entire edifice – that is not what Thabiti is arguing) of the spiritual life and vitality of the church is the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word by gifted men,

            as an “obsession” is way, way off, brother. The model that you appear to be advocating for is a house with paper-thin walls and no foundation. It’s possible we’re misreading eachother. (Which, if we are, would be an argument for the value and need for authoritative preaching, BTW).

            1. Arthur Sido says:

              Rachel,

              Your assessment of those of us advocating adhering to God’s Word , as well as to the faithful conviction of scores of church fathers through two millennia – that the foundation (certainly not the entire edifice – that is not what Thabiti is arguing) of the spiritual life and vitality of the church is the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word by gifted men, as an “obsession” is way, way off, brother.

              Keep in mind that for more than half of those two millenia, the foundation of the “church” was dictated by the Pope in Rome. The “gifted men” were Roman Catholic priests and the central focus of the church servive was on the Mass, not on preaching which was done in a Latin and not the language of the people. I would say that if we are as committed to adhering to the Word as you say, we ought to turn there to guide our practice and that is where the monologue sermon falls apart. I would rather we build our practices on the firm foundation of the example, command and principles of Scripture and not on a system that the Reformers retained when they left Rome.

            2. Joel Zehring says:

              When I used the word “obsession,” I suppose I was writing my own personal experience into my comment. Lately I’ve noticed that I’m better at listening to the word than doing what it says.

              One other quote from Neil Cole has really convicted me: “The church in the West is educated beyond its obedience, and more education will not help. What is needed is more obedience.”

              The churches to which I have belonged have featured very solid programs established for education. None of these churches have been especially effective at empowering believers to obey the word.

      2. Joel Zehring says:

        EDIT: complete with *singing*

        1. Chelsea says:

          I guess I’m not understanding why we can’t benefit from expository teaching on Sunday and continue to take part in daily bible reading, confession, fellowship, etc throughout the rest of the week. Our pastors and teachers are a GIFT from God used by Him to equip the saints for the work of His ministry (Eph. 4). Why would we reject this precious gift?

          Also, I think it’s important that we remember whose throne we’re going before on Sunday. It should never be about us or our emotional response, but instead about HIM and His glory.

          1. Arthur Sido says:

            Chelsea,

            Do you really see people being equipped for the work of ministry by listening to sermons? The entire point of Ephesians 4: 11-13 is that older, more mature brothers teach others so that all of us come to a maturity but that is not what typically happens to sermon listeners and it lacks a clear command or example in Scripture.

            BTW, the throne we go before is the same one Monday through Saturday as it is on Sunday.

  13. MDL says:

    I’m starting to think my little church might just combine the best of both worlds here. During Sunday morning worship service, we have traditional expositional preaching (no discussion/interruptions).

    On Wednesday night, we have a much smaller group (maybe about 10-12 people). Our pastor exposits the Word, but in a less formal atmosphere. If people have questions or comments, the pastor allows the person to speak, then answers according to Scripture. I guess you could say our Wednesday nights function more like a pastor-led Sunday School class or small group Bible study than a worship service.

    I think there is a place for questions and comments (as long as all things are done decently and in order), but it’s better for that type of discussion to take place in a more informal, small group setting than in a formal worship service.

  14. Guy says:

    Thanks for a good post. A quick question that really has nothing to do with the main thrust of the post though…in your listing of the typical service at the church, you have the sermon, song, benediction and then a moment of silence/reflection. How do you do that “moment of silent reflection”? What purpose does it have in the service and why there at the end? How long does it last and how do you end it? Just some practical thoughts.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Guy,
      This is something I learned at Capitol Hill Baptist, and I think Mark picked up in England. I’ve loved it from the first time I participated in a service that featured it. I think I love it, in part, because “white space” is important in services (and life). There’s so little quiet in our world, and very little of it in evangelical services, too. Consequently, we need to inject times for sitting and listening (to God, to ourselves, to others, to nothing).

      Essentially, following our closing song the preacher comes up for any final words of exhortation followed by the benediction. The words of exhortation are sometimes instructions for how to use the silent time to respond to things shared through the service (could be the sermon, could be a key idea from that final song, etc.). In any case, after the benediction, the key words are: “Please be seated.” And if you want, do that preacher thing where you motion downward with your arms :-).

      The first few times you do it, you’ll likely need to explain that element. Our purpose, very simply, is to give people opportunity to gather their thoughts, offer individual prayers, hold fast to the word or an application before going out to the world again. Lots has happened and we want folks to quietly lay hold to God’s truth and its implications before they leave. That’s why we put it at the end.

      The moment lasts 60 seconds or so. People are dismissed when the pianist begins to play softly, perhaps the tune we sang last. Also, these instructions are typed at the bottom of the order of service: “We invite you to spend the next few moments silently reflecting on this morning’s service and your life as a disciple. When the music resumes, go out and serve.”

      It’s been interesting to note how many people come to me afterwards, especially visitors now, and comment on how they like the moment of silence at the end. Again, I think we thirst for quiet spots in our lives but we don’t always know how much until we get one.

      T-

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  16. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

    This is off topic – but hopefully not WAY off topic. :-)

    I liked your book. I read it quite awhile back, so I’m sure my memory isn’t perfect… But what I remember bothering me at the time is not so much what you did say as what you didn’t say…

    I seem to recall getting through the book and wishing you had addressed “what does a healthy church member do when something is going significantly wrong in my church?” Someone who is devoted to the Word, prayer and evangelism and is an imperfect but healthy church member may often be employed by God as a change agent in the local church, where change is often needed. But wisdom, discernment and humility are needed in how church members approach these issues – when eldership disagrees that change is needed or agrees but has different priorities or when the eldership is divided over whether the change is needed / how important it is.

    I know as a leader, it is often easy to assume that criticism from members is always wrong or they just don’t understand the big picture. And it is easy for the member to assume that the leader should just see it your way and make the desired change. So, both surely need humility, but what I was hoping there would be guidance on is the situation where the church is overall a healthy church and you don’t feel called to leave but the healthy church member still desires to see change in an area and how to approach that.

  17. Timothy says:

    Is this debate, dialogical versus expositional, depending on rather slim biblical evidence?
    I would think that a better place to ground the debate is in group dynamics. If the group is small, dialogue is the most effective, and we have examples of that in the ministry of Jesus, while if the group is large the monologue is the most effective.
    So when the community coming together is 50+, the monologue is practically the only sensible way to do it but for a small group of 5-12 dialogue is the sensible way. And it is healthy if everybody takes advantage of both sizes of group if that is possible.

  18. Josh Parsons says:

    Thabiti,

    I know I am joining this conversation a bit late but I had a question about the order of service you include in the post. I have been a pastor for a relatively short period of time and desire for our services to reflect this the dynamic you speak of. I was wondering where you put elements like collection of offering in your services. I serve in an older congregation where the choir sings “special music” each week, where would you suggest something like this fitting in? I would appreciate any input you or any poster could offer.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Josh,
      Glad to have you in the conversation! Thanks for the great questions.

      Our congregations are probably a bit similar in this regard. We do a special piece (either choir or solo on occasion) during the offering. We do the collection after the pastoral prayer while the choir does a final piece or we do a special.

      Hope that helps, brother. May the Lord visit you powerfully each Lord’s Day.
      T-

  19. Noel McRae says:

    As I have studied this, read the scriptures, studied many books – including your fine book (as a “layman” not a trained theologian). I have come to my personal three conclusions that people make, either intentionally or by default.

    1. We can/should conduct our gatherings as developed by our culture and our theologians as accumulated and developed over the centuries. We are comfortable in our culture, traditions and how we conduct our services now. Each culture and time is free to develop what they feel reaches and meets their needs.This view assumes that God’s plan for what happens was open to evolve and develop throughout history. He had no specific plan for all believers, but each culture and time could develop what fit their needs.

    2. A second (or maybe primary – to some) belief is that instead of merely reforming what has developed over the centuries and through various cultures is a restoration back to biblical instruction. They feel really looking at Phil 4.11-16, Hebrews 10.24-5, and 1 Corinthians 14.26ff were what God (through Paul) set up and expected of believers when they met – interaction, teaching maybe by some leaders all the time, but all people some of the time.

    3. A third view, which I kind of favor now is sort of a combination of the first two. I know we are so comfortable in our traditions and style of “worship” that to change it much is often ver unsettling and disturbing. I would like to see the principles of interaction (#2) included more into our culture-driven worship styles. I think the intent an excitement that was in the NT church was seeing and hearing the reality of changed lives, the Holy Spirt inspiring and working through individuals, the loving interaction of the group of believers.

    It can happen – to some extent – in mid-week or small groups, but we then have developed cliques and and leave out the impact this can have on the whole body and the unbelievers who visit and miss seeing and hearing the reality of God’s blessing in real lives. As it is they hear only the “mouth”, the “truly gifted” and miss what God is and can do in real people. How to work this out in our “services” is something to think about. My own pastor is an incredible communicator and I do want to hear him, but I would love to have more involvement and interaction of the whole group. In a spread out society, even in the age of the internet, it is hard to have that privilege if not when the “church” meets.

    I am planning on using your book for the small group I lead.

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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