This is probably one of those posts that will have people reaching for the imaginary “Dislike” button on Facebook. And I know how you feel. When I am sitting in the congregation on a Sunday evening it is tempting to want to sit back, listen and not feel I have to contribute very much.
On Sunday evening, though, we held a discussion in groups after I preached on Acts 15. There is always a danger with this sort of thing of course. God’s Word is to be heard, trusted and obeyed- not simply discussed and debated. It can feel uncomfortable perhaps for a newcomer to be placed in a small group with people he or she doesn’t know. And there is a danger when the goal is simply to have a discussion rather than being intentional about encouraging change in the light of God’s Word. However, I want to argue that there are contrasting dangers. 1 Corinthians 14 isn’t the easiest passage to understand but you clearly get the impression that there was more than just a single preacher contributing at the church gathering. A failure to discuss the implications of God’s Word can lead us to accept truths but not apply them to the reality of our actions and emotions. Being positive, a discussion also allows applications to emerge that haven’t occurred to the preacher.
I’ve been conscious of this last point on the last two occasions when discussion has been used at services where I’ve preached. A few weeks ago I was speaking at Myton Church. They have outgrown their meeting space in a school hall and have responded by running two services simultaneously aimed at people with different learning styles. One service seems to be a fairly traditional model of a church service whilst the second features interaction and discussion round tables. For some reason (surely some mistake?) it was felt that I would be a good fit with the interactive service. I was preaching on Mark 4:21-34 and I basically had one main point- though it doesn’t always look like it, the Kingdom of God is the most important reality in the universe. It appears small but it will grow and reach a dramatic climax when the Lamp is revealed and the harvest comes. I made the main application in terms of our ambitions- to put all our eggs in the basket marked “The Kingdom”. I then got people to discuss the implications of that- how does life change if we recognize that the Kingdom is the most important reality in the world? One lady came up with an application that had not occurred to me- namely that she should stop worrying. The most important thing in the world is secure and will happen. Though I suspect unconsciously, she was summarizing the message of Matthew 6:25ff. We should not worry but instead fix our eyes on the Kingdom. I was grateful that I left with something else to ponder that I had not realized before.
The same thing happened on Sunday evening. It was a sermon that covered a lot of (too much?) ground but I wanted to focus on the truth of Peter’s statement- it is by the grace of Jesus that we are saved. Like the truth above about the Kingdom it is easy to accept that statement without fully appreciating all its implications. So again I encouraged us to think through what it would mean if we really grasped this truth. There were a number of interesting comments but I was particularly struck by the observation that it would make us less self-conscious. So often we can be very conscious of our supposed status within the church- do I have a titled position, do I have more or less responsibility than that other person and so on. I well remember battling with those thoughts in my years working with UCCF- I was very conscious of a status built on being asked (or not) to speak at various events. In the end, such thinking though is destructive of peace and becomes the basis for thousands of small resentments. But a true understanding of grace cuts through all of that. My status is as a child of God solely through his grace rather than anything to do with something I have achieved. And I am not to view another believer as higher or lower than me- but as a brother or sister on the same level as a sinner saved by grace. The discussion enabled me to apply the passage to our feelings of status in the church- in a way that had not occurred to me when I prepared the sermon earlier in the week.
It is not my intention to have discussion as part of every service at Woody Road. Often the right response to God’s Word is simply praise or repentance and a break for discussion can remove the immediacy of that. However, I want to make the point that listening to a sermon is only the start of the work. If it is really to change us then we need to explore the implications and applications of God’s Word especially perhaps when considering big truths- and it is good to have others to help us in that task. And that can happen over coffee after the service just as much as in a discussion during it. But we need to do it if we are going to be serious about applying God’s Word to our lives.
How can we do this better? Feel free to comment below or on Facebook and get a discussion going…