Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Look Who's Talking!

I read a blog today that deeply troubled me. To many it may be old hat, but for me...when I see someone coming to these conclusions and publishing them I am deeply troubled. Especially when that someone is a greatly respected leader of mine. I am talking about a post today from Thabiti Anyabwile entitled God's Doing the Talking.

His post is in response to a review of his recent book What is a Healthy Church Member in which the reviewer noted his concern with Thabiti's term "expositional listening" and how the traditional worship service built around the sermon undermines the priesthood of all believers.  (I wonder if he is referring to Eric's blog post ????)

Here is what Thabiti writes:

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?
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.
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.
These conclusions imply that God only speaks through a well prepared expositional sermon delivered from a pulpit by a professional pastor.  God speaks beginning with the call to worship and ending with the benediction.  Everything else is just "after" talk.

Brothers and sisters, let me encourage you.  God dwells within his body, the church.  There is no part of the body that is not necessary, not needed, or just an afterthought.  We are all servants of Jesus Christ and we are expected to minister to one another as He leads us to when we gather together.  Ministry is for professionals and we are all in the business of doing His business of advancing the kingdom therefore we are all professionals and our reward is in Heaven with Christ.  There is something very special about faithful preaching that is true to the Word of God and we are ALL called to be preaching that word.  We are not all , apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers but we are something special.  We are members in the body of Christ.  The preeminent, righteous, sinless, soveriegn, benevolent, maker and master of the heavens and earth dwells within you.  Walk by faith in that truth and study God's Word.  God will speak through you.


  1. Bobby,

    It would be weird if Anyabwile was responding to my puny blog, but it certainly seems like he was. Anyway, I agree with you brother. We Christ-followers must all preach the edifying word to one another and to the lost. We need this from each other. We have been given the gift and duty of living the active priesthood of all believers. May we graciously challenge all practices that artificially elevate some members over others.

  2. Bobby,

    Excellent point and post. I used to be an expository preacher in a church that wanted me to do nothing but study and preach.

    Frankly, I still miss those days, and wonder if there is a way to redeem such a format.

    But one thing keeps bothering the back of my mind... what about the spiritual gift of teaching? If someone has it, and another does not, shouldn't this mean that in a gathering of people, the one with a gift of teaching might have more... talk time...than the one that does not?

    What do you think?

  3. And Eric,

    I went and read Anyabwile's post. I believe he is definitely referring to you...

  4. Bobby,

    I would agree that Thabiti's post is probably in response to Eric's blog post.
    As soon as I read this post from you, I was going to comment that I thought that, maybe, you read too much into what Thabiti was saying. However, before I commented, I read Thabiti's blog post, your comment, and his response to you.

    Bobby, I'm going to say this because of a sincere brotherly love for you and your family. I think that Thabiti responded in a humble, thorough, and brotherly way to you. It is obvious he doesn't hold himself higher than you. I think you need to listen to him whole-heartedly, and prayerfully spend time discerning your influences, from bad church experiences, to recently read books, blogs, friends, etc.

    Again, please listen to Thabiti. I believe God did speak to you through him..not because he is a "preacher", but because he is a brother that holds fast to the Word and lets himself be used by the Spirit. If I sound as though I'm begging you, I am.

    I love you, brother.

    Grace and Peace,

  5. Eric

    Your blog came to my mind as I read his post. Hopefully there are many others pointing out how these practices demonstrate such a disregard for the priesthood during our primary gatherings.

  6. Jeremy,

    yes the gift of teaching is a necessary and essential gift that must be exercised during our gatherings. Biblical illiteracy is prevalent among believers today and it would be a failure of the indwelling Christ if the only way to hear sound teaching and preaching is in an institutional church pew. Christ is not failing and therefore those who are gifted to teach will do so. Some from a pulpit, others from the other side of a living room or other gathering place.

    Should they have more talk time? I don't know. I wouldn't be inclined to preplan and regulate how a gathering should look. I believe Christ can effectively manifest Himself through His body in an organic expression without our structures, planning and schedules.

  7. Tam,

    Of all the brothers and sisters I have who read my blog, especially of those who disagree with me, you have been the most faithful. Thank you.

    I was greatly encouraged by Thabiti's response. We disagree on things and I think that is okay. I responded to him accordingly and I took his caution to heart. I think he is a faithful brother and preacher. I still consider him as a leader of mine (as far as teaching is concerned).

    You obviously have some very heartfelt concerns regarding my spiritual health resulting from recent experiences and influences. I would love to listen to these concerns sometime. We should have coffee or get our families together for dinner soon. I would greatly look forward to that opportunity.

  8. Sounds good, Bobby! I'll coordinate with Jessica. Haha..maybe even a Chuck E. Cheese night? We have to live vicariously through friends with young children, you know.

  9. Tam,

    our boys have a few tokens left over from our recent CEC escapade. We were there on Sat. Going there in the near future may be a bit much but to get together with your fam it would be well worth it. Whatever you ladies decide I'll be along for the ride. I'm excited!

  10. Brother Anyabwile makes it clear that when a non-hired believer talks to another non-hired believer, they cannot speak God's truth. He must believe the gift of mercy has not mouth or no capacity to build up the saints in mercy. The gift of giving has no mouth and has no capability from God to build up the saints in their giving, etc. Only the gift of teaching has a mouth and capabilities from God to express truth. Col. 3:16 which calls ALL believers to "let the word of Christ dwell in them richly as they teach and admonish one another" must be crossed off or relegated to a space outside the "sanctuary".
    "You are a royal priesthood that you may PROCLAIM the glories of Him who called you from darkness to light" must also be crossed off. So many scriptures and commands from God must be nullified to accommodate his beliefs. Is this being faithful to the Word or to traditions of men?

    Just as it was very hard for Nicodemous to come away from the Pharisees traditions, it is very hard for hired believers to walk away from their livelihood, their pedestalized titles and "calling". It is very hard for non-hired believers to move a way from their perpetual dependency and convenient silence to live in full spiritual reproductivity and body building through intimate mutuality (spuring one another on to love and good works). There are many twisted scriptures used to justify all this that need to be unwound one by one. The process of deconstructing neverland is a job for each of God's anointed people who will "examine what they are told with the scriptures daily to see if it is true". Acts 17:11

  11. @Tamara, text me :)
    @Tim, I agree with your post and I liked your deconstructing neverland comment, that was cool :)

  12. Tim,

    I don't see where the brother makes that distinction. In fact, if you read his reply to me, he says the exact opposite. His position is not one that intends to stifle the gifts of other believers. He has a high view of preaching the word, and rightly so. Our disagreement lies along the question of whether or not our primary gathering should be dominated by the teaching gift of one man. Thabiti an I would likely both agree on everything else you have written with that one exception. We would do well to be very careful when making definitive statements about the beliefs of others before giving them an adequate hearing.

  13. When the members of the Body are removed from being an active part, forming the whole, the entire Church suffers. The eventual outcome? Spiritually depraved and ignorant followers of other men (ie: the current state of far too much of the Body). It's time She shakes the dust of laziness off, rise to Her feet and begin to feed Herself.


As in a biblical church gathering, my word is not complete or final. Participation is allowed, encouraged and expected. Please, don't leave without adding something.