I was reading Ryan Bolger’s blog today, and he got me to start thinking about the method of teaching and preaching we use in our churches, etc., and how that might relate to discipleship. His blog entry is titled From Monologue to Dialogue and I think it has great potential for not only students in a classroom, but students in the Christian faith.

The word disciple, mathete in Greek, means someone who is a pupil, a learner; someone who adheres to another person, as one does in learning a trade. It seems that this would entail a process of intimate learning; conversation; dialogue; hands on skills; rather than simply listening to a lecture or sermon.

Sometimes I wonder if we go about the process of teaching and preaching the wrong way. For decades, and longer, we have used the monologue approach to teaching. We do this in hope that what we have to say will help those listening, become better disciples. Most of the time this is not an interactive approach at all. People, sitting and listening. Then getting up and leaving. And we hope that something has stuck in their minds, penetrated their hearts, and moved them into action. For some it does. They move into small groups, or service projects, or mission trips, or hospitality, or hospice care, etc.

But I am beginning to love the dialogue method more and more. It is hard to do at first. People are uncomfortable in the beginning, because they are not used to it. They are not used to being allowed to open their mouth, or raise their hand during a sermon. And it is scary. Scary for the pastor. Who knows what will come out of someone’s mouth. It could be amazing. It could confusing. It could be heretical. It could be in total contradiction of what has been prepared. It could challenge. It is a risk. It takes control away from one person. The person who is speaking. And it opens up a more horizontal level of control, where people have input into a sermon, talk or conversation.

Now. Not all settings may be appropriate for dialogue. Sometimes monologue is what is needed. But maybe dialogue would encourage thinking on the part of the audience. Maybe it would encourage creativity. Devotion. Study. Maybe it would require the speaker to do more homework. To be more prepared to speak off the cuff. And God forbid…not have all the answers.

Maybe dialogue in a sermon or teaching would not allow for each week to be nicely wrapped up in a bow, so the audience can go home, feeling like they have mastered the text. Maybe it would encourage thinking throughout the week. Imagine a pastor finishing his sermon, feeling good about it, then someone raising a huge question? A question that unravels everything, and sends people home pondering, questioning, talking, studying, etc. (Can this be done in a setting of 2000 people? Maybe on some level. But it definitely can be done in smaller groups, and I think is smaller churches. But I think we can create avenues for dialogue in big churches. That doesn’t mean answering everyone’s raised hand. But I have some ideas.)

I used dialogue this last week in a Bible study that I was teaching for Bel Air called Open Word, which encourages a more serious exposition of scripture in a small group setting. Dallas Willard has been teaching this class the last five weeks, and now was my turn. Talk about pressure. I am not Dallas Willard. So I decided to make my approach very much oriented around dialogue, and it was amazing. Everyone was waiting to talk, and give input, and I received a lot of good feeback during the discussion. I would have approached my talk differently if I were not allowed to open up the floor as it were.

One of my professors at Fuller, who I talk about a lot, Dr. Ray Anderson (see my link on the side, under Favorite Thinkers and Writers)told us in class one time that we should be able to shift gears during a sermon. We should be able to discern what is happening in the audience, and be able to take the sermon in four to five different directions. This requires the preacher/teacher/speaker to be constantly thinking, aware of the audience, surroundings, etc. I thought this to be quite a tall order. But maybe the dialogue approach opens up this opportunity, and we as preachers of the word, should be open to a prepared sermon going in a number of different directions.

I am amazed right now at the text in Matthew 5-7. The Sermon on the Mount, which begins with the Beatitudes. Why? Many reasons, of which I am still processing them. But as I look at this text, and then look at the text before, and after, I am intrigued by the constant shifting from speaking to action. There are moments for teaching, preaching, etc. Jesus’ instructions on the Beatitudes for example. He instructs them. I have to imagine there was dialogue as well. Then there are times of questioning, like by those in authority in Matthew 9:14-17, this issue concerning fasting. Then there are times of dialogue between Jesus and the disciples, like in 13:1-23, and the parable of the sower. Speaking, instructing, conversing. And always on the move it seems, from boat to land, to house, to boat, to synagogue. It seems that the gospels present a much more dynamic and fluid view of what it means to follow Christ as a disciple than we do.

We expect people to come hear a sermon, not interact, but be so moved, that their lives will be changed.

Of course. I speak with great generalization on this topic as well, as I am beginning to explore these issues.

But maybe discipleship should be viewed through a multi-faceted teaching approach. Some are doing that already. And some are being challenged to evolve in their style of teaching and preaching. And some will never change. And all will always have an audience as well.

But for me, and the ministry I am blessed to be a part of…I am thinking that it is time for more dialogue.