I recently read a statement by A.W. Tozer that clarified for me the limitation of pulpit-style teaching:
"Though God... has provided answers to our questions concering Him, the answers by no means lie on the surface. They must be sought by prayer, by long meditation on the written Word, and by earnest and well-disciplined labor. However brightly the light may shine, it can be seen only by those who are spiritually prepared to receive it." (The Knowledge of the Holy)
As with everything else in life, we want the quicker, easier way. Stop at McDonalds. Shop at a big box store. Drive a mass-produced car and live in a mass-produced house. We want everything efficient, pre-packaged, and ready-to-go.
So... give me an outstanding talking-head spiritual message. In fact, give it to me from someone who has delved deeply into the things of God. Give me a message that has come from that person's diligent meditation on the word of God and well-disciplined labor in the things of God. Then take that powerful message and wrap it up in a 30-minute sermon and serve it to me on an easy-to-reach platter so that I can feed on it quickly and easily.
And there is the problem.
The message may, indeed, come from someone's deep intimacy with God and loving labor in God's word. But I will not be able to digest that message, no matter how well prepared it is, unless I am, myself, putting forth my own effort to draw close to God and know him. There are no shortcuts to actually grasping hold of the things of God. We can hear the messages, and even be emotionally charged and thrilled by them, but transformation that leads to more deeply knowing God comes only by our own time spent in pursuit of him.
The problem with the talking-head preaching/teaching, even the really good stuff, is that we highlight it so much that we perpetuate the concept that hearing these messages are at the core of transformation. This is simply not true. Simply hearing others share their deep insights into God does not bring us to deeper places.
Is there, then, no place for talking-head teaching/preaching?
Obviously we do see "preaching" in Scripture used to motivate people to action, such as to accept the Good News. But, in case you are not aware of this, one of the key words used in Scripture for "teach" is related to the word for "dialogue" referring to a back-and-forth discussion rather than a monologue. Beresford has a good article on this here. The point is that talking-head preaching/teaching is not the norm for gathering in Scripture, and this is so for a very good reason. It is simply not the key to real transformation and knowing God at a level deeper than that which lies on the surface.
In my mind, we are back at recognizing the value of simple gatherings in which 1 Cor 14:26 provides the framework. Here is this verse from the Message:
“Here’s what I want you to do. When you gather together, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. All of these must be offered for the strengthening of the others.”
Why is this type of gathering so powerful?
- Every person learns to dig into the word, find insights, and hear from God
- Our dependency on others to provide pre-packaged spiritual food is reduced
- We develop our personal disciplines of meditating on the word and seeking God even while we are gathered together
- We benefit from the spiritual gifts of many and the stories of God-at-work in people's lives from many
- We are around other people who are discovering the incomparable value of becoming God-pursuers rather than passive receivers of-other-people's-messages.
Yet... the challenge remains! How can we see our participatory gatherings even more powerful, more Spirit-directed, and more fully engaged with God? I think this is a future post coming on. Maybe y'all will be brainstorming this with me over the next few days?