Or How to keep your church members from witnessing
Of course, this particular error may not be the minister’s fault, but may be due to the traditional practice of the local church, the church programme or way of doing things. One preacher said, “A pastor often hears three remarks when he suggests something new: ‘We tried it once and it did not work’; or, ‘We’ve always done it this way’; or, ‘We’ve never done this before.’”
I sometimes imagine that on the day of resurrection some Christians will arise and object, saying, “Lord, we’ve never done this before!”
What is this mistake that ministers make? It is doing all the talking. It has been remarked that many Christians are like the arctic rivers, frozen at the mouth. But this may be the result of years in a church where they are never allowed to say anything. The minister preaches on Sunday and preaches at the mid-week meeting, and there is no other opportunity for the members to make any contribution verbally.
Now please do not misunderstand what I am saying. Not all are called to preach. Preaching is a specific calling and is vitally important. The priesthood of all believers does not mean the preacherhood of all believers. There is a call to the pastoral ministry. However, that does not mean that church members should never say anything, never witness, never teach or (in some cases) preach. There are at least two lines of evidence about this. First, in Acts 8:1, 4 we read that when persecution arose after the stoning of Stephen the Christians were all scattered abroad, except the apostles. Then we read, “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” Also, both Philip and Stephen, who were deacons, preached the word. The second line of evidence is in the variety of words translated as “preach”. There are at least ten such words, and one of them is the ordinary word for speaking.
However, to return to the pastor’s task, it is very clear that one word used is that of a herald, and there is no discussion or dialogue in that. This is the straightforward proclamation. But another word is that from which we get our word “dialogue.” The apostle Paul “reasoned” in the synagogues and in public. The Lord Jesus Christ both preached and taught. The fact that both words are used implies that there is a difference between preaching and teaching, otherwise that would be a tautology, a mere repetition. When Jesus preached there was no argument or discussion. But when he taught he often asked questions, and these were not just rhetorical questions; he expected an answer. He also answered questions that people asked. It is a big mistake for pastors to do all the talking and never allow time for questions or discussion. Now obviously that is neither possible nor advisable in the public services. For one thing a proper discussion cannot take place with a large number. For another thing this may open the door for false doctrine or other wrong things to be stated in a large public gathering. But it is a bad thing if the church members can never ask questions, never discuss or offer contributions. Why is this a bad thing?
I. The Negative Results of a Silent Church
- The minister may never know whether the members have understood his teaching. They may even have completely wrong ideas, or have misunderstood what he has said.
- The congregation do not learn as effectively as when they can express what they have learned verbally. It is an educational fact that a person does not really know and understand a truth they have heard unless they can express it in their own words.
- Christians, other than the minister, may have valuable insights to contribute from their own prayer and meditation in the Scriptures. If these are repressed the church as a whole loses out.
- The members do not get practice in expressing themselves, so this can hinder their ability to witness.
- Sadly, if they have no opportunity to express an opinion, and the only time they can freely speak is the church business meeting, their questions or concerns take on a different hue in such an atmosphere.
- Lack of knowledge of the and spiritual benefits of discussion. Hearers retain only a fraction of what they hear. But they retain very much more, perhaps all that they can repeat for themselves.
- Misunderstanding of their role as a teacher and a limited knowledge of teaching methods.
- Fear of being unable to deal with questions or insecurity in dealing with discussions.
- With a few, perhaps, it may be pride; they only have the truth; their opinion is always right. No one else has any spiritual insight.
- The minister gets to understand where the church members are spiritually, how much they understand.
- Mistaken ideas, misunderstanding, errors or even heresies are uncovered and may be corrected.
- The members may contribute valuable insights.
- The members gain confidence in expressing themselves on spiritual matters. Until they can express a truth it is not theirs, it is only what the minister believes.
- Leaders may emerge and be trained in easier circumstances than in a public meeting.
- Fears, concerns, criticisms may be expressed in a non-threatening environment instead of being brought out in the highly charged atmosphere of a church business meeting.
IV. The Biblical Basis for Church Members to contribute verbally.
- This is one aspect of fellowship, which basically means sharing. Malachi 3:16 says: “they that feared the Lord spoke often to one another…” Cf. Acts 2:42; I John 1:7.
- The New Testament encourages believers to exhort one another Heb. 10:25. Cf. Rom. 14:19; 15:14; I Thess. 4:18.
- Colossians 3:16 instructs us that we are to teach and admonish one another. CF. Eph. 5:19, 21.
V. When can this take place?
- Group Bible Studies. Many churches have profited from the introduction of All Age Bible Schools. In other words, instead of the Sunday School being limited to children, a full range of classes is organized for all ages from Tiny Tots to adults. In the Teen and Adult sections well-led discussion is a valuable teaching method. One added advantage of All Age Bible School is that teenagers are less likely to leave. In ordinary Sunday Schools there is nothing for them when they reach the top class. In AABS there is always another class to move up to.
- Home Groups. There are too many advantages to Home Groups to mention here. With properly trained leaders not only is there an opportunity for members to contribute, but also an elementary level of pastoral care can be carried out.
The fact is that not allowing an opportunity for members to contribute, hinders their growth personally, and the growth of the church corporately. Pastors would do well to consider carefully how they may provide opportunities for contributions and discussion by the members. The vital thing is that any subsidiary groups should be led by spiritually minded, reliable, loyal, trained leaders.