Monologue or Dialogue and Interactive Preaching
I recently read a very helpful post about preaching and listening from the Gospel Coalition Blog by Thabiti Anyabwile, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman. Pastor Thabiti was responding to a review of his book, What Is a Healthy Church Member?, in which the reviewer commends but then critiques Thabiti on a chapter about expositional listening as worship. Read Pastor Thabiti’s response. From Anyabwile’s response it seems as though the main concern of the reviewer was that preaching forces the audience to be passive because modern worship gatherings put too much emphasis on one man talking to the audience. To say it simply, there is not enough interaction in our modern worship services because of preaching. It needs to be more interactive.
This is a legitimate concern. Hearing God’s word proclaimed ought to be more than a grin and bear it, lifeless act for 40 minutes every Sunday. I believe that Pastor Thabiti is right to suggest that part of the responsibility falls to the listener to be an active listener instead of a passive listener. After all, if the very word of God is being explained and proclaimed then God’s people ought to listen with ears wide open. It’s not always the preacher’s fault that people are bored with God and what He has chosen to say to those who should be listening.
But what can the preacher do to make the sermon an interactive time of worship in which he is worshiping by explanation and proclamation and the listener is worshiping by hearing for obedience? Maybe tell a joke and get ’em laughing? Be more interesting? Smile more? Kill an energy drink right before the go time? Maybe, but the preacher must do more than entertain, he must engage the whole person and especially the mind.
Here are few ideas to facilitate active listening:
- Press hard the truth that the Bible is the authoritative word of God. This happens in the way the pastor preaches but it also happens by constantly saying it. If we don’t constantly say it and model it then people will come to the conclusion that the Bible is a truth and not the truth. There is a massive difference and if the people who listen do not grasp the unique authority of the Bible they will not listen like the Bible is special revelation from the only God.
- Ask two or three questions a week that create an inner contemplative dialogue? Questions create dialogue, even if it is non-verbal and happening only in the mind of the listener. Jesus was a master of questions and the preacher should be as well. If the preacher is not asking questions from the text for the sermon, then why would he expect his listeners to ponder the text. There is nothing better than a good open-ended question to make the listener interact with the text and take ownership of the conclusion.
- Provide opportunities for people to ask questions. We have tried to do this a couple of different ways in the church that I pastor. We have invited people to text questions in during the sermon and at the end of the service I come up and answer the questions on the spot. This was very interactive but time was a limiting factor as we only had about five minutes at the end of the service. Five minutes isn’t much time for announcements much less answering good and not-so-good questions. The other thing that we have tried is a spin-off of the on-the-spot questions at the end of the worship gathering. We still ask for questions but then answer them on Monday afternoon via a recorded podcast of about 30 minutes. On average about one to three questions are submitted per Sunday, but we have found this to be another way to interact with people during the course of the week. Additionally one of my seminary professors suggested that once a month the pastor ask a family to host a Q&A time at their home and that people come prepared with any question they have about what the pastor has been preaching. Space could be a limiting factor with this idea, but the concept could be adapted simply by doing it at the church building on a special Sunday Night.
- Correlate the small group material with the sermon series. For the last year our small group ministry has been using the content of the sermon to further discuss and apply the text that was preached. Some people were leery at first for fear that it would be undesirably redundant, but this enables people to hear the text explained, think it over, come back to their group within the week and hash out the meaning and application of the text in a very interactive way. Hopefully, the anticipation of discussion makes people more active listeners.
Back to this idea of moving from monologue to dialogue. I maintain that there is a way to encourage active listening, dialogue and interaction without abandoning preaching as many have come to recognize it. But what if pastors did go to dialogue? What would be lost if we moved away from monologue? Is it possible to interact with 300 people in a room without experiencing some of the same problems encountered in speaking to people? How much could a pastor really accomplish in trying to explain the text and then fielding questions in a time span of 40 minutes. How long would it take to get through Acts if the method were dialogue? If a preacher were dialoguing with a crowd would he really be able to assert the commands of the Bible if people were dialoguing with him about those commands? I agree we need interaction and I think we can implement strategies to make the sermon more interactive, but dialogue in a worship gathering might not be as simple as it seems.
(By the way, what’s the difference between reading the Bible and listening to preaching when it comes to interacting? Which one is more interactive? Is this why people don’t read their Bible, because there is no one to interact with? Maybe we expect too little and so do the people who are listening and reading.)
My conclusion is this: Preaching should be worship and listening should be worship. If they are worship there will be interaction. Both the preacher and listener must learn to be skilled at their act of worship for the glory of God.