Hope you enjoy it.
Pulpit Monologue v Missional Lifestyle: FIGHT!
‘Expository preaching’ can appear to be a dirty word in some church planting circles. Likewise, for many the ‘Sunday gathering’ is relegated to an afterthought in the pursuit of authentic ‘missional community’. There is talk that ‘Pulpit Preaching’ (at least in a monologue form) has had its day in the sun and in the brave new world of culture busting community discipleship, it is now the unwelcome guest in the global ‘conversation’. Apparently, Twenty-First Century punters don’t want to be ‘talked at’, and they don’t want so-called ‘truth claims’ thrust down their throats for half an hour by some overexcited, right wing Bible basher. Why should we listen to some bloke spout off at us without any recourse to dialogue or even questioning what he is saying? That’s how much of the ‘new enlightenment‘ (I know, makes me smile too) thinking goes.
‘Doing church’ has now become a byword in some circles for doing just about anything but gathering as a local congregation on a Sunday. The Sunday meeting seems to be like the overbearing mother-in-law that pops in for an hour once a week to tell you where you’re going wrong in your life. You know they’re coming but you just grit your teeth for the sake of family unity and get on with it, knowing that the pain will be over soon. Just another unwelcome interruption in your life that you have learned to put up with. Eric Davis has written a sobering article here (the link is http://thecripplegate.com/church-planting-and-pulpit-priority/) on the whole topic and it is well worth a read.
His description of an average congregation left me a little amused:’100 (people). An accomplished M.D. in her 40’s seated next to three 20-something singles, alongside a 60-something small-business owner, who is behind a young married couple‘. A little contextual work is needed here methinks for those of us working in housing schemes! Despite this, he does raise a great question in his article and it is this: ‘What should we be building our church planting ministry around?’ Should it be around a systematic, exposition of God’s Word? Or, should it be around a comprehensive approach to every member evangelism and discipleship? I personally think it is both and he is right when he writes that people are falsely pitting the two against one another. If we want to grow healthy, Word centred, gospel preaching churches then we need to be building them on Word (in all its applications) ministry full stop.
Expository Bible teaching remains (and will so whilst I am the pastor) of fundamental importance to our Sunday Morning gatherings at NCC. It is the ‘meat and tatties’ of what we are doing. It is feeding the sheep of the Lord Jesus Christ. It keeps me honest and stops me wandering off into flights of fancy and jumping on to my favourite hobby horse (social action FYI). It gives my people a balanced diet. It (hopefully) equips them for works of service and strengthens our faith together and brings our will and emotion back into line with gospel thinking and its centrality to all we are and do. Some are arguing that just sitting there for an hour on a Sunday singing, praying and listening to a monologue is not ‘true community’ and they are right if that’s all we do. But, as I intimated earlier, that is a false argument for a church like ours which opens its doors to the community 7 days a week. A building buzzing with people and conversation and service and acts of love and mercy. Then Sunday becomes about the time when we come together to recharge our batteries in the Word, remind ourselves through prayer that it is not done in our own strength and, finally, to encourage one another through song. A cup of tea and a little biccie at the end are a nice little bonus. For me, expository preaching is the petrol that makes the missonal car go around. Without it, mission, evangelism and community dries up. It runs out of steam, power and lacks any deep effectiveness (a sort of mix up of metaphors there somewhere but you get the idea!).
People (generally middle class) still sometimes come to a service on a Sunday and are often surprised that I would even be preaching in a place like Niddrie (their words not mine!). Well, what else would I be doing? ‘But your service looks like mine and we live in a nice area’. That is the most popular follow up line. Acts 2:42-44 is my reply. The early church were marked by what? Preaching, praying, communion and fellowship. I have no special gimmicks. I need no special gimmicks. Changing the Sunday services isn’t going to bring about ‘genuine community’. That comes about by hearts changed by the Word.That Word still needs to be preached unless I have missed something. OK, my language may not be the same as that in a middle class church but that is called contextualisation. People in Niddrie still need to learn about the atonement. They still need to learn about predestination. They still need to see the gathered body of God’s people in Niddrie meeting together to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. I often ask these visitors what they expected when they came to Niddrie? ‘Not sure,’ is often the reply, ‘someting different I suppose.’ And off they wander, disappointed that we haven’t delivered that something special, puzzled by how we could be ‘relating to the community‘ when we run our Sunday services in a depressingly ordinary and traditional way.
Yet that’s what we do, week after laborious week, faithfully plugging away through the books of the Bible. Then we all go home and we open the cafe on Monday morning, release some of our people back into their workplaces, I mooch down to the local paper shop, chat to a few people in the street on the way down and we all get on with the task of living in community, until we get to do it all again next Sunday. You see, at Niddrie we believe that the onus on our evangelism is to ‘go and tell’ but the onus on our Sunday gathering is to ‘come and hear’.
So, nothing to see here ladies and gentlemen. There is no fight, not at our place anyway. They are actually best mates where I come from!