Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Trying out something different

For two weeks now my family and I have gathered with a local church plant that is a part of the Acts 29 church planting network.  Several months ago I visited one of their "village groups" and had coffee with one of the planters.  The village group was great.  It was comprised of mostly unbelievers, new believers and the core planting group.  We talked about some of the materials from the "gospel in everyday life" curriculum for small groups.  There was lots of participation, questions and answers, and edification.  Heck, we even shared a full meal together and sang songs.  It was great.  The following day I met with one of the leaders for coffee.  That conversation was where things went south.  He was uber-excited about beginning to have a more traditional Sunday gathering with a building and preaching, a bulletin, some liturgy, the whole nine yards.  I was not enthused.  I was very anxious to remain a part of their home fellowships and to join with them in serving the community (which is one of their core beliefs that they put into practice very well) but not so excited about going to a more institutional gathering, as you might expect.  Because of that I was no longer involved with their village groups because for them, the two went hand in hand.  Like love and marriage:  you can't have one without the other.  One guy kept in contact with me after the coffee shop conversation and seemed genuinely concerned for me.  He and I have had a few conversations over the phone since then and we also spent an afternoon in the park talking church and life in Christ.  I love the relationship that has begun and has been building.

Fast forward to last week.

I went to their Sunday gathering. As far as my christian consumeristic preferences go, it was fantastic.  They had guitars and drums and great singing that blended newer songs that were rich in doctrine with some older classics that can be found in a hymnal - only without the organ, which I appreciate.  The sermon was a introduction of sorts to the upcoming trip through the gospel of Mark in which the speaker tried to go through the entire Old Testament narrative in his time slot and point to Christ in each type that came to mind up to the time of John the baptist's appearance.  A very lofty goal.  Nevertheless, the entire spoken piece was centered on the person and work of Christ typified in the Old Testament and that was a major plus.  I was certainly edified.

This past Sunday the brother I have spent the most time with from the body there (who knows a little about my ecclesiology) gave me a very interesting piece of info via text.  He said that the preaching pastor was going to try his hand at a more dialogical approach to the sermon time.

I was very interested, so we went ... again.

They said the theory was that since they were a new church plant they could try things (within biblical parameters) and if the idea bombed, it was okay.  A big advantage was the fact that this was only the third week in so there aren't any established traditions and things this particular body is comfortable with.  They are all still feeling their way through the larger, corporate gathering.  Reasons for giving it a shot:  many people learn better through interaction and dialogue, that is the way Jesus taught.  True dat!  I can also think of several more very good reasons to promote participation in the church gathering.

Now granted it was not a participatory gathering according to a simple/organic understanding.  It was more like a Sunday school type of setting where the guy up front read the text and asked questions to which the congregation responded.  I remember four or maybe five (including myself of course) who participated in the exercise.  I'm not sure if they consider that to be a success or a bomb but one thing is for sure, in my own opinion, it was interesting.  It was the first time I had ever seen dialogue attempted during the time slot for the sermon.

I think more churches should try this.  Especially if the leaders of that body have been convicted that edification is the primary act of worship described in the NT when the church gathers.  Not everyone is ready to jump right into a participatory gathering and so this would be a good way to encourage and equip the members of the body to minister to one another.  Of course I know of other folks who are trying to lead believers to participate like this in Sunday school with minimal results and Sunday school isn't nearly as idolized as the liturgy of the worship service by the long time members.  Trying to change something at the 11 o'clock hour may become an exercise in shooting yourself in the foot and causing a big stink.  Still the question is there, is it worth it?  Or should we just keep going along with business as usual?  I guess that is a question every leader must ask themselves every time the Bible challenges our practices.

Have you ever been in a more traditional/institutional gathering where the preaching pastor employed a dialogical style?  If you are a pastor, have you ever tried this or thought about trying it?  What was the result?


  1. Bobby,

    When we started meeting together, our gathering focused on the one person sermon-monologue. Over the years, we've shifted and changed until our teaching is primarily discussion. Dialog was part of that transition, as was add time for anyone to share/speak (whether it was in response to a specific teaching/sermon or not).

    I do think the dialog approach (even simple Q&A approach listed here) can be a good change. Like you said, it will take time for people to understand that they really can talk. It's not only OK, it's good and beneficial and... necessary.


  2. oh... one more thing. No, everyone did not like the changes.


  3. Messiah Baptist (Alan's church gathering) was the first thing that popped in my mind when I read this post. I think they employ a workable balance of someone leading the teaching with anyone being able to share, comment, add on etc throughout the teaching -- to us, it was the the right mix. I believe some house churches may shy away from having someone lead the teaching for fear that they are taking a step back toward the institutional gathering... but I think that might be a "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" response. In Christ, Talya

  4. Alan,
    thanks for sharing that. It is a great encouragement to me. I really like this group of believers...a lot. They even know how radical I can be but they love me just the same and I think we can grow together. At least, I hope so.

  5. Talya,
    I agree. I've always thought MB had a nice hybrid mix. I love what I've learned about their journey. I also appreciate the gift of teaching very much and that gift should be allowed to be expressed without restriction along with every other gift. I'm encouraged to see the more institutional minds recognizing the benefits of dialogue in the gathering. I'd also be encouraged to see simple gatherings take steps toward encouraging teachers to teach.

    In my mind, both teaching dominated gatherings and teaching deprived gatherings both have many things to learn about the extraordinary benefits of the gifted members in their midst.


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.