Monologue & Dialogue

BIBLICAL INSTRUCTION: Monologue or Dialogue?

Natural Extremists

We are prone to extremes.  One issue we tend to go to one extreme or the other on in the church is that of biblical learning.  On the one hand, there are those who are committed to preaching the Bible in the form of monologue.  When they think of Christians learning the Bible, they envision a lone preacher standing before a crowd, delivering a studied and crafted sermon in the power of the Holy Spirit, spitting presuppositions and propositional truth.

On the other hand, there are those who are committed to learning the Bible through sharing and dialogue.  When they think of Christians learning the Bible they picture a group of friends sitting down together to share how the Bible impacts them personally.  They see themselves sitting with friends over lattes in a coffee shop, or over dinner in a home, informally discussing what a portion of scripture means to each person in the group.   They value the contributions and interpretations of each person who is present.

I’ve seen some people who are so committed to teaching and preaching the Bible in monologue, that they are skeptical of any kind of sharing context where multiple people contribute opinions and perspectives on the meaning or relevance of the Bible.  Still I’ve seen other people who are so committed to the truth that “God can and wants to speak through all believers” come to a place where there is no room in their thinking for monologue preaching, or designated pastors who serve as primary Bible communicators for a specific community of believers.

Both/And

My contention is that both extremes are wrong, and that this is one of many areas Christians need to have a Both/And way of thinking.  I believe the reasons the monologue crowd values their preferred method are generally biblical, and that the reasons the dialogue crowd values their preferred method are generally biblical as well.  I believe that helpful leaders will help those entrusted to them by God to see the value and place of both monologue and dialogue in growing the church in the knowledge of God through His Word.

A Small Case for Monologue

1 Corinthians 12:29- “Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?”  These are rhetorical questions in context.  The apostle Paul is arguing for the unity of the body through the diversity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Because we all have different gifts, we all need each other.  God has designed the body to be dependent upon Him by being codependent upon what He’s doing in each other.  Not all have a Spirit-given gifting to teach God’s truth in the same way, or at the same level.

Ephesians 4:11-12: “And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  Each of the gifts described here are Bible communicating gifts at their core.  Apostles preach the gospel and plant churches.  Evangelists major in preaching the gospel and equipping Christians to do effectively do the same.  Prophets have a teaching ministry that is trans-movement/denomination, and a ministry which applies biblical truth to timely issues under the spontaneous leading and enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Pastors and teachers give biblical counsel and didactic instruction of the Word to God’s people.  But four times we are told that only “some” are given by God to perform these functions in the ways these men do.  Only “some” are to build the body in these particular ways.

1 Timothy 3:2 tells us that an overseer must be “able to teach.”  This is not a requirement for deacons.  This implies a unique teaching ministry for those called to serve as the governing body of the church.  We can add to this verse 1 Timothy 5:17-18: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.  For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages.’”  The Bible is to be our method for determining how to think about these issues.  That’s why Paul built his case from “Scripture.”  And what Scripture demands, according to Paul, is that some of the governing leadership work hard at teaching the Bible more than any other Christian or leader in the church.  Their job is so important that they are to be paid to fulfill that role as they do it well.

We could go on, but these texts amply demonstrate that God intends there to be monologue-style Bible preaching and teaching in the church.  He has not gifted all to teach the same way.  He does not gift all to deduce the meaning of Scripture the same way.  Specifically, men who are called to be the leader of the leaders in the church are Spirit-gifted to preach the Word, and be the doctrine-setting authority in the local church.

A Small Case for Dialogue

But I’m not just for monologue in the church, but for dialogue as well, and so is the Bible.

Colossians 3:16- “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”  This exhortation was given to all the members of the Colossian church.  They were all to play a part in “teaching and admonishing one another.”

Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  If there are a couple verses that support the idea of believers encouraging each other in small group community over lattes, these are them.  Considerately stirring each other up to love God and people, and serve God people as we “gather,” is the job of “us” as believers, not just “me” as a pastor.

Conclusion

Preaching the word in monologue is biblical and necessary.  If a Spirit-gifted man isn’t at the helm, preaching the Bible faithfully in collaboration with other Spirit-given leaders in the local church community, heresy abounds, and the church becomes a pool of ignorance.  Men who are specifically called to fill such a “leader of the leaders” function are not allowed to function in their gift.  Frankly, some need to repent of their radical commitment to the autonomy of the individual in the church.  Some would reduce the church to a leaderless weak state in the name of all believers being “equal” and “usable by God.”  We are all equal.  God does use us all.  But the question is how does God use us?  For some, they are called to be primary teachers and preachers in the church in ways others are not.  Let them do their job for the health of the church and the glory of God.

Additionally, God really can and does speak through every believer.  God wants to display how He has changed His kids through sharing in dialogue in small group type contexts and house churches.   The Holy Spirit wants to manifest Himself, and His edifying work, through every Christian.  This means that while pastors need to uncompromisingly engage in the monologue preaching of God’s Word with authority, they also need to help the local church develop contexts of dialogue and sharing.  We need to get over our need to control everything that is thought and said, and remember that Jesus is the real senior pastor of His people.  To be sure, you are His instrument in a unique way when it comes to teaching His truth.  But the goal of your ministry is to enable the body to do “the work of the ministry” which includes “teaching and admonishing one another” without you standing over peoples shoulder all the time.  As pastor James Macdonald said recently, “The biblical picture isn’t that the pastor ministers to the body, but that the body ministers to the body.”

So, pastors, lets preach the Word like crazy, and take no guff for doing our God-given job.  But let’s also make sure we don’t quench what the Holy Spirit wants to do by not developing and encouraging contexts of sharing, where each member of the body of Christ can have a voice and be used.  I don’t do this perfectly, but I’m working on it.  Join me.

9 replies
  1. Tommy O'Keefe
    Tommy O'Keefe says:

    Hi Kellen, good post.

    A couple of thoughts:

    Depending on the size of the group/congregation, I don’t think there has to be a strong line of demarcation between monologue and dialogue. The congregation I am pastoring is about 120 adults, so that size allows for dialogue within the sermons I preach. However, that dialogue takes place within the context of a larger monologue-type framework. I am the one who is called to teach, so I study and prepare diligently, I outline my messages and I have a main theme or concept I believe the text is communicating that serves as my goal to get across in preaching. When it comes to delivery I have found myself utilizing dialogue more and more in the Sunday morning sermon context. I ask a lot of questions (non-rhetorical) to tease out specific perspectives held by people in the congregation or in the surrounding community. I have found that the answers to those questions shape the applications we might have for the truth we are looking at. I often ask questions around the theme of what would it look like if you lived like this was true, or imagine what it might be like if we all as a community embraced this concept. I realize this is more difficult in a larger context, but I bring it up to serve as an example that dialogue/monologue can coexist within the same framework/meeting/message.

    Another thing we have been doing is responding to Sunday’s teaching in our small groups. Here there are still elements of monologue (we often start with a passage reinforcing the points of the last Sunday sermon) but the bulk of the time is spent in discussion and dialogue.

    Just my two-cents! I am grateful for the careful study and prep that goes into the articles you share… it’s a blessing!

    Reply
    • Kellen Criswell
      Kellen Criswell says:

      Thanks for the feedback and encouragement brotha. That’s cool to hear how you lead your large gatherings. I think some of the differences with guys on this comes down to some of us being more comfortable with teaching as opposed to preaching. A strong teacher is able to lead a meeting in the format you describe. A guy like myself is much more comfortable simply announcing the truth than talking through it, and err on the side of just preaching. But I think everything you describe can be faithfully done, and its exciting to hear about. As you noted, one down side to the monologue approach (so I hear) is that it by default is too difficult to do if a group is going to grow exponentially. Is that an issue of concern to you?

      Reply
      • Tommy O'Keefe
        Tommy O'Keefe says:

        If we get to be a size where the dialogue elements of Sunday morning get to be too much to manage we will pull back from doing it. I think we will address that problem if and when we get there.

        Reply
  2. Bill Holdridge
    Bill Holdridge says:

    Kellen,

    A needed topic to address!

    I have done many post-service “raps,” wherein I open up the mic to questions, comments, etc., especially related to the message that morning.

    I know several pastors (including my son) who open up for questions that have been texted in during the message.

    So even in the public sense, a monologue can become a dialogue.

    In smaller groups, I love the idea of studying the Bible inductively, as the leader/teacher guides the participants through a back and forth exchange aiming at reaching the heart of the text … its observations, interpretation, and applications. The trick there is for the leader/teacher to “get it” himself, and for him to help the folks arrive at the Biblical conclusions while giving them freedom to come up with their own thoughts. It’s exciting!

    Thanks, Kellen. Either way, preachers/teachers cannot be timid or ashamed of their roles. We are God’s spokesmen in these situations.

    Reply
    • Kellen Criswell
      Kellen Criswell says:

      Thanks, Bill. I think the way you, Nate, and other guys do the both/and approach is awesome. The key biblically seems to value both dialogue and monologue. There is no prescriptive pattern for how and when we do so. I think we have great opportunity for creativity on the execution side. But both sides must be there.

      Reply
  3. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Hi, Kellen, you write: My contention is that both extremes are wrong.

    I don’t see these modes of communication as being extremes – but just that – modes of communication. A mode of communication is inappropriate when another mode of communication would have been better employed. I wouldn’t return to a church of 100 if the Sunday morning service was an overall dialogue and I wouldn’t return to a small group of 12 if it was dominated by a monologue.

    I think you’re on to something that maybe needs to be more emphasized – there are giftings in the body of Christ and some are gifted to teach. Some are gifted to monologue. Truth isn’t discovered in community. It is delivered to the community. The Biblical pattern is God speaking to a man and a man speaking to a nation/church. What dialogue does is unfold the manifold ways truth can be and needs to be applied. The quenching of dialogue chokes off application. The Q and A format following the teaching helps to broaden the application to where people live. In one way, it merely reinforces and extends the monologue pattern – the professional expert giving his studied opinion on the question under review. Yet in another way it allows a new window to be opened and the truth of the monologue applied to a new situation.

    Thanks for the stimulating article.

    Reply
    • Kellen Criswell
      Kellen Criswell says:

      Hey, Tim. What I meant by “extreme” isn’t merely utilizing one method or the other, but arguing that only one of the discussed methods is the way to go. If you argue that only dialogue is helpful, that’s extreme. If you argue that only monologue is helpful, I think that’s extreme. Does that make more sense? Both forms of communication are valuable, and the most valuable one (as you note) is the one that meets the educational need of the moment. But both methods must find a place in the community of believers. Both must be esteemed and utilized. At least, that’s how it appears to me in the NT. Does that make more sense?

      Reply

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