Why offer alternatives to monologue preaching done from behind pulpits? After all, monologue is the only style that many teachers know. Few realize that the Word of God sets forth several different styles of teaching that have proven to be consistently effective, and often far more effective than monologue sermons. The monologue has its place, and many will improve their teaching and preaching by bringing a healthy balance between monologues and more relational methods of instruction.
In the fourth century, the Roman empirical court limited worship to chapel services led by paid clergymen. Thereafter, monologue sermons became an acceptable practice by church leaders like John Chrysostom (347-407 AD), an eloquent bishop in Constantinople. Since then, the monologue sermon, preached by paid specialists, has replaced most New Testament patterns for instructing believers.
Eloquent preachers have often swayed audiences and even nations, and God has used their monologues to win and edify many. However, where churches and cells reproduce in great numbers, as they do in many lands today, few among the new leaders are able to preach monologues well. Inexperienced leaders, who preach monologues communicate poorly, set an example that newer leaders cannot easily follow, and fail to make disciples. Often they merely scold.
Both the New Testament and church planting movements provide effective alternatives to the monologue. Mentors of emerging leaders of new congregations should train others in these alternatives. First, let us consider weaknesses of the monologue sermon.
Five Weaknesses of Monologue
Monologues can make believers become “hearers only” (James 1:22).Where older believers judge worship by the quality of preaching, they easily imagine that merely listening to good preaching pleases God. New believers who hear such preaching soon fall into the same error.
Young men who preach often prove full of pride (1 Tim.3:6). Traditional seminaries and Bible institutes encourage young men to seek leadership of existing congregations, teaching them to prepare monologue sermons. Many such young men become full of themselves; they enjoy standing before others, expounding their theologies and scolding others for holding different ideas.
Most monologues bore those who hear them. Although older believers feel it is their duty to listen to monologues, few can remember what they heard and even fewer consciously apply the message to their lives. Today, many younger people around the globe resist being forced to listen to monologues. After attending preaching services a few times, they stop attending and may seem to have fallen away from the faith when all they want is a more biblical experience. Most of those have not rejected the gospel but dogmatic, one-way communication.
Monologues prove a weak form of communication. With little or no interaction between teachers and learners, messages often prove irrelevant and impart little of value. Thus, monologues often create little understanding, fail to persuade, stifle change, and foster a passive approach to the Bible and Christian truth.
Monologues are hard for new leaders to present well. Most new leaders of new congregations and cell groups have insufficient skill, maturity, experience and knowledge to preach good sermons as monologues. Without broad understanding of the Bible, some new leaders preach too much against bad habits or about their own need of more money. Other new but gifted leaders feel incompetent to preach sermons and thus fail to start and lead new congregations.
Five Alternatives to Monologue
A key to good communication is to become involved with people’s lives, keeping the flow of communication going in both directions between teachers and learners, and using different forms of expression as Jesus, His apostles and the prophets did. Both the Bible and reproductive church movements reveal examples of edifying alternatives to excessive monologue.
Dialogue. Although some translations miss it, Acts 17:2, 17:11, 19:9, 20:7 and 24:25 describe dialogue, not monologue. The apostles preferred to dialogue with both seekers and believers, both individuals and groups. Biblical dialogue is conversation with a purpose; teachers answer questions, ask questions, allay fears, remove ignorance, appeal to conscience, and help believers choose what they will do for Christ. Believers are to teach and instruct one another (Col. 3:16; Rom 15:14). Dialogue is easy in small groups. Since everyone already knows how to dialogue with friends and relatives, doing so in a group is a healthier way to share about Jesus and His way of life.
Gifts of the Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:24-26) A primary duty of shepherds is to ensure that all the believers have time and opportunity to serve one another. In doing so, their gifts of the Spirit will “manifest” and many will be helped and strengthened. In fact, as all the believers share one with another, even unsaved folk who listen to them will see their own need and turn to Jesus. Gifts of the Spirit manifest more readily in small groups where believers see each other face-to-face and have freedom to speak one to another.
Demonstrations of power. (1 Cor 2:1-5; 1 Thes 1:4-6) The reality and truth of the Word of God become a reality more from experience than by listening to logical discourses. A key task of anyone who shepherds a flock is to ensure that all the believers have time and opportunity to pray for one another, and to show love in practical ways during their worship. As they do so, the Holy Spirit will work miracles of healing and deliverance.
Drama, demonstration and role-play. Drama and telling stories remain universally appealing to all classes of society, and are a preferred leaning style in many of the more neglected societies. Men and women, young and old, can act out Bible stories that illustrate every major doctrine of Christianity. So doing also allows children to participate actively in worship. Brief role-plays, presented with little preparation and without costumes, can prove both entertaining and evocative. A skit, followed by reading a Bible text, can open up discussion and help folk apply truth to their lives and their work. Furthermore, even the newest believers can participate.
Questions and answers. People have genuine questions and issues for which they seek help and answers. Yet they are often embarrassed to mention their problems, but will do so if a small group has a family atmosphere of love and freedom. James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to one another. One “know-it-all” with all the answers, who dominates discussion, cancels this non-judgmental atmosphere. Also, if a leader cannot answer a question, then let the leader admit so, and urge the group to help with the answer. Therefore, many big congregations are finding creative ways in which break up into small groups for a time, even during worship services, to encourage questions and answers.