The Monologue Culture ~ PART 5
Always ‘DO’ What The New Testament Shows Us
With regards to all New Testament revelation, whether we fully understand it, or see any benefit in it, is not of first importance. If it is clear in the New Testament that Jesus and His apostles acted and worked in a particular way then we should follow their example. But what we frequently discover is, if we simply DO what He says it then starts to become apparent WHY He wants things done in a particular way. In this matter of using the Biblical method of teaching there isn’t any great veil of mystery over the reasons for it for those who practice it. So let’s consider some of the reasons and benefits of adopting the Biblical approach to teaching…
Benefits to everyone ~ Learning & Growth For All
At the outset of this series I expressed the age old, consistently proven wisdom that growth in learning (both natural and spiritual) comes far more effectively through participation than through being passively lectured/preached to. Inner, spiritual growth and growth in our understanding is, in essence, the goal of the Christian life. Putting that even more spiritually, it is God’s plan and intention for every one of His children that they should be changed (continually) from glory to glory and that we all should grow evermore into the likeness and image of Christ. Man is made up of body, soul and spirit (a tri-unity as per the image of God). Those who are in Christ will one day be changed physically and given a body “like unto His glorious body” – so that will take care of that (meanwhile we just need to take reasonable care of our bodies). The salvation of our spirit and soul is a current work in progress (assuming we’ve already been ‘born from above’). Like natural conception, birth and development our spiritual maturing follows the same basic principles. In an attempt to outline these principles of growth I’d like to offer you my highchair analogy…
The Highchair Analogy
In the West many families like to place an infant in a highchair for feeding time. It’s as good a way as any so far as I’m concerned. First the meal is lovingly prepared; it’s tested for temperature – not too hot, not too cold. Next the child is placed into the highchair and spoon-fed the prepared meal with words of encouragement or perhaps even insistence! Once the meal is over it’s time for a quick clean up and the child is then removed from the chair and attention and activity moves onto to something else. This is all quite normal and healthy for a particular period of the child’s development.
But what if we never let the child hold the spoon? What if he’s never at any stage permitted to assist in the meal preparation? What if he’s strapped into that chair and never allowed to get down? Not permitted to crawl or attempt a furniture-clinging walk? What if he’s spoken to but never allowed to attempt a reply? Well, you wouldn’t need to be a childcare professional to know that that child is not going to grow into a normal functioning member of society. The spoon feeding may be enough to keep him alive but it certainly isn’t going to be enough to make him healthy. Yes, there’s a time (a short period in the overall years of life) for the highchair and yes there was some value to the loving ministered meals but ultimately the child ends up mentally, emotionally and physically a mere shadow of what he could have been if only he had been allowed the freedom of exercise.
I’m sure you see the picture already, but allow me to unfold the parable… The child is the young Christian, the mother is the pastor, the food is the Word of God. Is the child alive? Yes. Is the mother loving and well-meaning – of course, I’m not questioning that right now (though it may well be questioned!). Does the food contain nutritional value? Let’s say in this instance, it does. So why did we end up with an ill-developed, incapable, non-functioning, non-standing member of society? (By which I mean, non-functioning member of the church). Why? Because being strapped into a highchair, restricted in movement and being spoon-fed meals only has a very limited value. In its place, for a time, in conjunction with other things it may be fine but as a permanent, on-going ‘diet’ and ‘method’ it will only ever produce week, abnormal children. (By which I mean, underdeveloped Christians of course).
Biblical teaching methods do not forbid a modicum of molly-coddling but the parent who doesn’t let the child out of the chair will never prepare that child for normal adult life – let alone prepare them for being a (spiritual) parent themselves one day.
Benefits to Teachers ~ A Safety Net Plus More Effectual Teaching
Let’s now consider some of the spiritual benefits to those who do teach within The Church. I’m not going to attempt an exhaustive list or offer any kind of order but these are just some of the benefits that come instantly to mind:
When a man in any realm of life is consistently in the business of holding other men’s undivided attention he is always in the firing line for the arrow of pride, it is an inescapable temptation. Whilst it may be possible to keep a level head it does place a man in a position of more excessive enticement to pride than he may have otherwise encountered. Wherever a man holds such attention, especially when coupled with admiration, pride is frequently present, however well hidden!
- Less Liable To A Public Fall.
If pride is quietly (or even more obviously) growing within a man, when it comes to its full fruition then comes the fall – and Oh! How so lamentably frequently this happens! Among the most common temptations to men in visible roles of authority is: money, sex and lust for more power (authority, attention and admiration). Of course, any man or woman can be tempted with such things at anytime but these temptations can be exacerbated for any orator for a variety of reasons. To give but one example, the issues of sexual temptations are increased by the fact that women can be more attracted to men of oration and power. I’ll spare the many more examples that could be given.
I’m not referring just to moral correction but simple factual correction and perhaps more delicate issues of doctrine too. I fear that so many among the ‘audience’ are easily convinced of the correctness of everything that is stated during the sermon simply because the orator seems to know his onions and presents his message with force or eloquence. Where biblical teaching methods are employed there is a vastly wider stream of knowledge and experience at hand to question, query or even correct a teacher. Even those who are relatively young in the Lord have often gained insights or information about something that even an older saint is unaware of (learning in the Christian life is not always linear). If something is gently queried then there is an opportunity for truth and accuracy. Even if a consensus isn’t reached at least it has alerted people to the idea that there are avenues that need exploring in some matter.
- Confirmation & Clarification.
The ‘safety net’ benefits mentioned above are all about sparing teachers from some of the snares that are prepared for their demise and some snares are magnified through the monologue culture. There’s at least one other massive benefit to their teaching ministry that is not designed for their own preservation but exists in order to multiply the effectiveness of their teaching. Through dialogue and participation of other members there is more potential for positive confirmation and clarification of the message. If a man brings a teaching to the church that is encouraging, illuminating and edifying it is a wonderful occasion for others present to bring their “Amen” – not just as a brief ejaculation of approval but in a fuller and more meaningful way, confirming and strengthening the teacher’s message with parallel insights or perhaps helping to hone the message further in some way.
Clarifying The ‘Monologue’
It is important to clarify here that I am not saying that a teacher cannot prepare, make notes and present a teaching. Some have a gift of teaching and this should certainly be exercised within the churches (not creamed off to Theological Schools and elitist gatherings!). What I am saying goes back to our original quotation:
“Tell me and I will forget; Show me and I may remember; Involve me and I will understand.”
“Tell me” – A monologue is the all round least effective teaching method (and persistently engaged in possesses all of the aforementioned dangers).
“Show me” – A visual demonstration can be a powerful tool at times and very often will be understood better than many words.
“Involve me” – This is the point. The Biblical method of teaching “involved” people. The one teaching asked questions. The hearers asked questions. Clearly in the case of Jesus teaching I don’t think it would be appropriate to ‘question His teaching’ but in the case of all other men, without exception, it should never be an offence to question (in an appropriate manner) their teaching. This provides opportunity of clarification, correction and, perhaps most importantly, it causes others to know that the ‘listeners’ know stuff too and the ‘teacher’ does not posses all knowledge and is not infallible. How many foolish and hurtful ‘movements’ could have turned out differently if only the leaders and teachers could have encouraged others to query them instead of retorting with their ‘superior’ knowledge if ever someone should dare question their doctrine! Yes, of course, there is a right way to interject and ask and question when someone is teaching. And yes, there are plenty of things to let go by until another more appropriate moment but through the right kind of “involvement” EVERYONE benefits.
Is There Any Place For Monologues At All?
As I believe that The New Testament contains a complete picture of all ‘essentials’ of church life I’d have to stay consistent and say that there is no essential requirement for monologues in Church life or even academic ‘biblical studies’ (remember the university research results mentioned in Part 1). Christians can, and most certainly will, grow in spiritual things without the need of monologue instruction – Amazingly, the methods employed by Jesus and His apostles work just fine. However, I would just like to address the balance a little here and say that whilst not being ‘essential’ (and being overdone they are positively harmful) there is no ‘law’ stating, “Thou Shalt Not Monologue”. Let me draw a comparison here… The New Testament doesn’t state that groups of believers (en-mass) traversed the land and gathered together for ‘conferences’ (or, ‘conventions’ as some call them) but I, along with many Christians down the years, have personally done so and it has, at times, been of great benefit. Much mutual edification has been gained sometimes by this method. And, returning for a moment to the world of academia… There is no instruction to setup academic institutes for Biblical Studies (I am talking about pure academic study such as Archaeology, Paleography, Biblical History, Creation Science, etc.) but whilst we may be able to live wholesome Christian lives without such institutions and studies I for one am very grateful for Christians who can scientifically present the facts of creation and where would we be without experts in ancient languages and very well educated translators? (I do not include ‘Bible Colleges’ where people ‘train’ for ‘The Ministry’ which is a direct contradiction of New Testament principles). The point I am making is, that so long as we follow the New Testament methods for normal, everyday church life and use Spirit-led ‘Dialogue’ as the chief means of ‘in-house’ teaching there is no reason to legalistically exclude the possibility of ever making use of ‘monologue’ under any circumstances. The ‘rule’ is always simple… if something contradicts or diminishes the inspired New Testament principles – such as continual monologues in place of Biblical-style teaching – they are bad practice and will always ultimately be detrimental to the development of God’s children (and in turn the development of His Kingdom on earth). But so long as our consistent practices are in line with the New Testament then we have liberty to make use of anything at all that has potential to be edifying – as the Spirit leads us. So, in final summary of this, I shan’t attempt to give possible scenarios where a monologue might be perfectly appropriate. It is the spirit of the matter I wish to emphasise not the letter.
Go to PART 6 of this article: Supplementary Notes