“Preaching” vs. “Good Teaching”

A close friend of mine who I love and respect asked me this question over text message a couple weeks ago:

“What role does preaching play in simple/house churches? Strengths, weaknesses, ways it could grow, ways it could teach the church.”

This friend of mine has been a part of many types of churches. We have also had the pleasure of starting a house church with his family and some others. He is sharp, loves Jesus, and wants the best for The Church. We have an incredible relationship, and sharpen one another in the areas we may disagree. The mutual respect is refreshing in a day in time where it seems all anyone wants to do is argue their viewpoint. My friend places a high value on “good teaching” (primarily in the form of sermon style preaching) I do not yet have the answer to this “issue” in terms of a house church setting. Below are the initial thoughts I sent back to him via email regarding this topic based upon our observations and past several years pursuing Jesus in the context of simple/organic/house church settings: (Would love to hear your thoughts on either/both ends of the spectrum. Us “house churchers” definitely have a lot to learn about how to champion “good teaching” & placing a high value on the Word of God in our various settings)

“Hey buddy,

The role of “preaching” in simple/house/organic churches is relatively non-existent in my experience. However, in some older generations of house churches their gatherings look much like a typical church service in a living room. The only difference is the type of structure they meet in…(even chairs in rows, and a podium, etc.-haha!=) In our experience (much different from the above described older generation HC’s) we have moved from a desire for good “preaching” to the pursuit of healthy’good “teaching”. (These are not synonymous in my mind, and the minds of many we have observed/practiced with) You see, many of us spent most of our lives listening to sermons. While they are not completely absent from the lives of those pursuing “house church”, it typically does NOT happen in a house church gathering for various reasons, and on purpose. (many may continue to find good sermons online and enjoy listening to them for various reasons) Our reasons for not involving “sermon style teaching” are numerous, but the most basic are below:

1) Practically speaking it has been proven that humans retain about 20% of what they hear. The percentage goes up drastically as you factor in SEEING (visual), WRITING, DOING, etc. So, I look at it (preaching) as a very use of time/energy based upon those findings. I know that growing up I was lucky to remember more than 1-2 “good points” I heard from a sermon. I might remember a bit more if I took notes-rarely would those notes be referenced in the future.

2) In a HC setting there is a high value for EVERYONE participating. If one person is PREACHING this becomes difficult, and we fall right back into spectators coming to hear a sermon. We place a high value on the Holy Spirit speaking to every believer, and know that Spirit speaks to everyone for the mutual edification of the body.

3) So, we seek for what we feel to be more effective ways to “teach”/equip the body. Of course, we are far from figuring this out, and it constantly changes as we pursue being more effective. Here are some examples of things we’ve done in the past:
-Inductive studies: these involve little to no “prep work” on the part of anyone, but make it easy for a believer of any age (including a brand new believer) to be empowered to play an active role. Sometimes ONE person WILL do some before hand research or read commentaries, etc. in order to guide the group as tough questions come up. This usually involves helping the group to understanding the historical context of the scripture, who is writing, who they are writing to, etc.
-Breaking up into groups to discuss portions of scripture. Coming back together to share findings/revelations/etc.
-Sharing at random what the Lord has been speaking to individuals throughout the week during their own personal time, etc.
-Reading through a section of scripture together and then discussing it as a church family. This is so fun because everyone involved has different backgrounds, knowledge, perspective, etc. Everyone benefits, and walks away sharpened, more equipped, and knowledgeable of the scriptures.

These are just some off the top of my head thoughts/responses to your question. I do think that “GOOD TEACHING” could improve in HC’s, and a higher value placed on studying/knowing scripture. However, I’m not convinced that this will be in the form of sermon style preaching. Again, preaching and teaching are much different to me. I also cannot ignore the sermon style preaching that is found in scripture. I wonder, though, if these types of “preaching moments” took place more in the form of evangelistic pursuits rather than the day to day equipping of disciples who make up the Church…this plays into my strong feelings about church services not being for the purpose of evangelism. Most sermons or churches try to accomplish both discipleship and evangelism in a once/week sermon. This is impossible to do, and BOTH get watered down/suffer.”

Again, I’d love to hear any thoughts/additions from you guys from your experience/convictions regarding this topic. Have fun, and keep it civil! =)

 

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The Shack – Don’t Hate.

I love this book, and have read it several times. It has had a bad rap in evangelical circles because a few well-known, and influential pastors have spoken out against it for various reasons. That bugs me a bit, because at least one of those pastors has admitted to not reading the book himself in a blog post about why the book is heretical. Interesting…seems to me that reviewing a book without having read it is a bit more dangerous than a novel about the a man who loses his daughter, and then has a supernatural encounter with the Triune God. I have had several friends “call me out” (Jokingly, of course) for reading the book as well. When I asked them if they’ve read it they replied, “no, but (fill in the blank of well-known pastor’s name here) said in a sermon I listened to online that it was heretical.” Wow. What a lovely culture we have created. People now think it’s ok critique (JUDGE) something based upon what someone else has said who has also judged that same thing based upon what they heard from someone ELSE. Scary.

That being said, I would encourage everyone to read this book for yourself. Yes, even if your pastor said you shouldn’t. It’s a wonderful book for many reasons. Whether you are just looking for a leisurely story, or to glean from the author’s deep insight of the Kingdom and God’s purpose for His Church you will gain much from this story.

Last night while reading I came across a section from one of my favorite chapters (ch. 12) of the book that I wanted to share with you…you will quickly see why I enjoy this book so much, and maybe these little snippets will coax you to read the entire story…

The main character, Mack, is having a conversation with Jesus about life, the Church, the Kingdom, etc.

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Mack, just asked Jesus about heaven…

“Mack, our final destiny is not the picture of Heaven that you have stuck in your head-you know, the image of pearly gates and streets of gold. Instead it’s a new cleansing of this universe , so it will indeed look a lot like here.”

“Then what’s with the pearly gates and gold stuff?”

“That stuff, my brother, is a picture of me and the woman I’m in love with.”

Mack looked down at Him to see if He was joking, but He obviously wasn’t.

“It is a picture of my bride, the Church; individuals who together form a spiritual city with a living river flowing through the middle, and on both shores trees of growing with fruit that will heal the hurt and sorrows of the nations. And this city is always open, and each gate into it is made of a single pearl…” He opened one eye and looked at Mack.

“That would be me!” He saw Mack’s question, and explained, “Pearls, Mack. The only precious stone made by pain, suffering and-finally-death.”

“I get it. You are the way in, but-” Mack paused, searching for the right words. “You’re talking about the church as this woman you’re in love with; I’m pretty sure I haven’t met her.” He turned away slightly. “She’s not the place I go on Sundays,” Mack said more to himself, unsure if that was safe to say out loud.

“Mack, that’s because you’re only seeing the institution, a man-made system. That’s not what I came to build. What I see are people and their lives, a living breathing community of all those who love me, not buildings and programs.”

Mack was a bit taken back to hear Jesus talking about “church” this way, but then again, it didn’t really surprise him. It was a relief. “So how do I become part of that church?” he asked. “This woman you seem to be so gaga over.”

“It’s simple, Mack. It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life. What we are doing right now-just doing this-and being open and available to others around us. My church is all about people and life is all about relationships. You can’t build it. It’s my job and I’m actually pretty good at it”, Jesus said with a chuckle.

For Mack these words were like a breath of fresh air! Simple. Not a bunch of exhausting work and long lists of demands, and not the sitting in endless meetings staring at the backs of people’s heads, people he really didn’t even know. Just sharing life. “Bit, wait-“Mack had a jumble of questions starting to surface. Maybe he had misunderstood. This seemed TOO simple. Again he caught himself. Perhaps it was because humans are so utterly lost and independent that we take what is simple and make it complex? So he thought twice about messing with what he was beginning to understand. To begin asking his jumbled mess of questions at this moment felt like throwing a dirt clod into a little pool of clear water.

“Never mind,” was all he said.

“Mack, you don’t need to have it all figured out. Just be with me….”

“…I really do want to understand. I mean, I find the way you are so different from all the well-intentioned religious stuff I’m familiar with.”

“As well-intentioned as it might be, you know that religious machinery can chew up people!” Jesus said with a bite of His own. “An awful lot of what is done in my name has nothing to do with me and is often, even if unintentional , very contrary to my purposes.”

“You’re not too fond of religion and institutions?” Mack said, not sure if he was asking a question or making an observation.

“I don’t create institutions-never have, never will.”

“What about the institution of marriage?”

“Marriage is not an institution. It’s a relationship.” Jesus paused, his voice steady and patient. “Like I said, I don’t create institutions; that’s an occupation for those who want to play God. So no, I’m not too big on religion,” Jesus said a little sarcastically, “and not very fond of politics or economics either.” Jesus’ visage darkened noticeably. “And why should I be? They are the man-created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about. What mental turmoil and anxiety does any human face that is not related to one of those three? Put simply, these terrors are tools that many use to prop up their illusions of security and control. People are afraid of uncertainty, afraid of the future. These institutions, these structures and ideologies, are all a vain effort to create some sense of certainty and security where there isn’t any. It’s all false! Systems cannot provide you security, only I can.”

“Woah!” was all Mack could think. The landscape of how he, and just about everyone he knew, had sought to manage and navigate their lives was being reduced to little more than rubble…

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It’s just keeps getting better and better. Not sure if you noticed it or not, but there was a section in there that I can see why it would “threaten” the power and control some have over others through the institutions they have started and are in charge of. What the book is suggesting threatens to “reduce that to rubble”. I can see why the book is “warned against” inside the walls of institutions….

I hope you will get the book and enjoy the heck out of it. It truly is a touching story, one that will bring tears to your eyes, and new life to your heart. If you have any comments regarding the book, or this post please refrain from sharing them if you have not read the book (in FULL). If you have, and feel the need to share then please do. I am sure the book is not “theologically perfect”, but what is. We have the Holy Spirit in us to discern truth and untruth. There is a lot of TRUTH in this book. There is also some things that may need to be read with a “grain of salt”, as in any book you read that is not the Bible. Enjoy!

“Good Teaching…?”

CB064071What is “good teaching”? There is one class of people who would name their favorite pastor, or conference speaker to answer that question. (Usually based upon how that person measures up on the laughter meter, or how “deep” & theological that person can dive with their eloquent sermons) Others would say that “good teaching” is a non-negotiable when searching for a “church home”. Many venture out on a journey to find a church with “good teaching”, never to find what they’re looking for. The sad thing is that the phrase “good teaching” is usually measured with an improper “scorecard”. It is usually a question of, “good entertainment”, or “did the person on the stage say anything in particular that caused me to perk up in my seat-based upon excitement, or conviction?” Or, “Did the sermons elicit any emotional response?” What then, really, is “good teaching”, and how can we shift our minds away from an inaccurate perception to a healthy, Biblical one?

My friends Tony & Felicity Dale, along with the help of George Barna, have recently come out with a book I have been reading called, “The Rabbit & the Elephant”. As soon as I am finished reading the book I will be posting a more extensive “review” if you will. Today, however, I wanted to share with you a bit of what the authors have to say about this topic of “good teaching”. I need not add anything to their words…

“Let’s look at the Apostle’s teaching first. If our simple churches are going to multiply rapidly, we no longer have the luxury of taking several years to train a Bible teacher. Anyway, the goal is not a few gifted teachers but a lot of hungry learners. Paul the apostle faced this dilemma as well-in some instances he was forced to move away from the new believers almost immediately. For example, in Philippi he only ‘stayed there several days’ (Acts 16:12, NIV). Therefore, we like to use an approach that allows the Bible to teach itself, enabling even young believers to lead. In New Testament times, teaching was far more interactive. For instance, the word used for Paul’s lengthy teaching in Ephesus is the Greek word dialegomai, from which we get our word ‘dialogue’ (Acts 20:7). Jesus’ informal teaching was frequently discussion-based and interrupted by questions He either posed Himself or was asked by others. Evangelical Christians tend to emphasize the importance of good teaching, but we believe that this is missing the point of helping people to genuinely learn Scripture and apply it to their everyday lives. Statistics show that we learn far more by actively participating than we do by hearing alone. People remember approximately 20 percent of what they hear, 50 percent of what they see and hear, and 70 percent of what the say themselves. In simple church, everyone is involved in the learning process. More than once, we have had people tell us they have learned more in just a few months of simple church than in years of listening to good sermons!”

The authors then go into a few methods of scripture study and teaching they’ve experienced in different simple churches, but you’ll have to get the book if you want to learn about those! Many evangelicals get worried that this type of teaching is dangerous, and allows potential heresy to creep in…

“Many who come from traditional church backgrounds are concerned that such an approach opens the door to heresy. We can attest that in the dozens of groups we’ve been part of over the years, we have never seen anyone sidetracked by wrong teaching. Even with the youngest Christians, we’ve found that when anything too outlandish comes up someone will usually point it out.”

Some other good tidbits from the book:

“Larger groups may run more smoothly if someone acts as a facilitator-to make sure that the study keeps moving, that everyone is taking part, and that no one (particularly the facilitator) dominates. It is not the facilitator’s job to answer questions but rather to direct the questions back to the group…by continually pointing people back to the scriptures, the facilitator ensures that the Bible remains the authority.”

“…The Bible itself is the teacher, and everyone in the group is involved in both the teaching and learning, as well as applying what is learned to daily life.”

“…The hard fact is that listening to long discourses does not turn people into disciples!”

“…Research by the Barna Group has revealed that in conventional churches in the  US, within two hours of having left a church service, the typical attender cannot identify the topic of the sermon, much less the key points communicated within it!”

“While there are many people who appreciate well-crafted and flawlessly communicated sermons, there are even more who appear to get little value from them.”

***All exerpts from “The Rabbit and the Elephant” – Chapter 10: Simply Reproducible***

Click Here to purchase the book!