Monologues, Communication and Church Teaching.

I’ve had some very helpful responses to my last post and to a subsequent request to my teaching friends to suggest how they might teach the text.

The value of monologue for preaching

Firstly in response to the original post which questioned teaching methods in church and the effectiveness of public announcement of the Gospel, two respondents raised similar questions. Both focused on the role of the church preacher as the person set aside for leadership and teaching. One asked what the impact might be upon Spirit given insight to the preacher if sermons were replaced by dialogue. The second person made a similar point, this time related to training. Preachers have generally followed lengthy training in order to preach, how does that relate to a situation where everyone gets to give their opinion?

These are important questions and emphasise the biblical and historical function of church leaders being set apart and given authority. This should not be lost even if new approaches to teaching in church are adopted. In a Reformed environment there is a fine balance between recognising the priesthood of all believers, the presence of the spirit in all and the need for all to have a voice, with the biblical mandate that some are set apart for particular ministries. A change in approaches to teaching should not be allowed to increase biblical illiteracy or theological error.

This is especially significant for the Church of Scotland which is drastically reducing the number of Parish Ministers. How will teaching be delivered to local churches? Will it become more like a quaker or brethren meeting where many people can stand and speak? Or will teaching become the domain of the non-stipendiary minister or bi-vocational minister, maintaining the ‘theologically educated preacher’ but with significantly reduced costs?

Online Monologue Resurgence?

A second important cultural point was raised. With the rise of podcasts, blogging, vlogging, influencers and youtubers; the online monologue appears to be in the ascendance. This is a significant point and the church must engage effectively in this area. Covid-19 forced online many previously reluctant pastor to great effect.

Online communications of various forms can be excellent means of preaching the Gospel. They are very effective at reaching a wide variety of people over great distances. Also they can be paused and replayed which probably aids comprehension. This would allow such communications to fall into the public proclamation category and also teaching category. Through blogging and vlogging etc., monologues can be used effectively in both preaching to those outside the church and teaching Christians. As an aside, many vloggers and podcaster often engage in dialogue through interviews and co-presenters, and this approach can also be used well in churches.

However, the effectiveness of online monologues does not solve the church service conundrum. The monologue may be an effective means of communication in an online setting. But is it as effective for congregational learning in a church service? For example, many online monologues are used as ways of delivering opinion but are they good for the learning and education of the listeners?

Our ultimate answer to this question may depend on what we expect church teaching to achieve. As mentioned earlier, where the aim of the speaker is to convey prophetic insight from God or insight from theological education, monologue may be required. But if at least part of the teaching in church is to help Christians to learn to handle the Bible, the opportunity to ask questions and reflect in community may be beneficial. Perhaps church services require a range of teaching methods depending on the topic and context.

How would a teacher deal with a Biblical Text?

In terms of suggestions from teachers and an educational psychologist of how they might approach the text, the answers were creative and certainly challenging to someone who is used to simply pronouncing from the platform!

I had asked how teachers would approach a biblical text.

General comments included:

  • Education is increasingly about helping children & young people to be self directed, to set their own learning goals and self-evaluate.
  • Ask the children to be curious about the passage and come up with questions.
  • Encouraging curiosity rather than getting the answer ‘right’.
  • Try to get the children to bounce ideas around the classroom.
  • Reduce the dynamic that sees the teacher as the expert.
  • Resist the urge to simply provide that answers.
  • Use coloured pencils to annotate different features of the text. Indicate links and highlight questions.
  • Cut up the text and put it back together in the right order.
  • “Any Blooms Taxonomy activity that gets people to use the information from the text helps people. internalise it and understand it better.”

One teacher kindly gave me an entire lesson plan. I had asked how teachers might approach John 8.1-11.

I’ll summarise some of the ideas here:

  • Consider key vocabulary and think of examples of using these terms.
  • Read the passage perhaps adapting it to related to issues relevant to the children.
  • Use drama to explore the feelings of different people in the story. The children could work in groups to create their own drama. Use freeze frames, as they perform, to ask questions about the characters feelings.
  • Consider the key message in the text.
  • Work in pairs to consider when we might have judged other people. Consider the feelings of those involved. Consider whether the issue was resolved.
  • Draw a picture or write about their experience to be shared with group.

I’m really grateful to those who replied and gave ideas and practical approaches to teaching. It’s amazing to see how children would be encouraged to approach a text in a classroom environment. They appear to be trusted with far more responsibility for and autonomy in their own learning than most adult congregants!

I suspect many ministers would struggle with this way of teaching, perhaps, especially the diminishment of their role as the ‘expert’. But arguably that diminishing would be biblically defensible and in keeping with reformed theology.

Many congregations would also have problems with being asked to work so hard in a church service. It would be a serious culture shift, but might the end result not be worth it? Would it be better, in the long run, for congregations to be better encouraged and enabled to handle the bible themselves?

Clearly there are times when a church leader may need to monologue. But often it might be better for the learning of the congregation to encourage more dialogue, discussion and personal reflection on the text. Ultimately, our approach to these questions will depend upon our expectations of the Church teacher or ‘preacher’ and what the church service aims to achieve.

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