the weblog of Alan Knox

How many should speak?

Posted by on Nov 18, 2010 in blog links, edification, gathering | 16 comments

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There’s a good discussion over at Eric’s blog “A Pilgrim’s Progress” and his post “Six Sacred Cows.” While most add “sacred cows” to Eric’s list, one commenter disagrees with Eric’s statement concerning “the sermon.”

Here is Eric’s statement:

5. The Sermon

Each week as churches across this country gather, one man will stand up in front of the assembly and “bring a message from God.” Wow. That sounds impressive. The problem is that, as we have seen before, this is not a N.T. church practice. Simply put, one-direction preaching didn’t happen in early church gatherings.

This is a massive sacred cow. If you challenge it, be ready for a not so friendly response.

When the early church gathered, we see many people sharing teachings from scripture. This may have been pastors, but maybe not. Many people taught; nobody preached – especially not a sermon like we see today.

Here is my comment and my addition to the discussion:

If we only look at 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, we see at least 7 people speaking: three speaking in tongues, at least one (possibly more) interpreting the tongues, and at least three prophesying. However, Paul also includes that others should weigh the prophecy… so that would be more than 7 people speaking. As you’ve mentioned, Paul does not tell us how many should bring psalms or teaching. Let’s assume he would use the same principles: that would mean 3 people bringing songs/psalms and 3 people teaching. So far, we’re up to at least 13 people speaking when the church meets, just from 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. That’s certainly more than I’ve seen at every church that I’ve met with (except one).

But, there’s another part of this discussion. When we say someone teaches, we usually think of lecture style teaching, which means that one person speaks and everyone else is quiet. Is that what Paul meant? Perhaps. But, perhaps not. We have several examples of Paul speaking to unbelievers. But, we don’t have many example of how Paul taught the church. There are two striking examples however.

1) In Acts 19:9, we see Paul and the disciples of Jesus leaving the synagogue to meet in the Hall of Tyrannus (not a home, by the way). It says that Paul continued “reasoning” with them (according to the ESV). This same verb is used to describe Paul’s speech among the Jews in the synagogue in Acts 19:8. What does this verb mean? Well, it has a wide range of meaning, but it is the source of our verb “dialogue”. It could mean anything from a dialogue between two people to a discussion between many, to an all out argument. In essence, the verb indicates that more than one person was taking part in the speaking.

2) Using the same verb (dialegomai, if you’re interested) Luke describes how Paul spoke to the church in Troas in both Acts 20:7 and Acts 20:9 (translated “talked” in ESV).

In both of these examples of Paul speaking to the church, a verb is used to indicate dialogue or discussion. How many people were speaking during this time? It’s hard to say.

So, just looking at these three passages, it seems clear that several people spoke (in order and without chaos) when the church met in the NT.

What do you think? When the early church met, did they meet to listen to one person speak, or did they meet to speak to and with one another – that is, many people speaking (decently and in order, of course)?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 11-18-2010


    Most preachers that I correspond with always use Jesus and Paul teaching in the synagogues as their reason for the Sunday sermons. Yet, those don’t ever seem to match up with what Paul has presented in Corinthian, Colossians and Ephesians.
    Yet they don’t ever mention those scriptures. In fact in all my years when I used to sit in a chair, pew and listen to a sermon, I never heard them use those scriptures when describing how the church meets.
    It truly is a sacred cow they are not willing to give up easily.

    This morning after taking my son to school, I was thinking about how in school you are at least allowed to ask questions of the teacher. Yet not on Sundays in a church setting.
    Also a lot of these preacher friends of mine host “home groups” throughout the week and allow open dialogue (sometimes), and just having been in a lot of those types of meetings in the past, I had learned much more from them than any Sunday sermon.


  2. 11-18-2010

    The church i attend seems to be a hybrid of the synagogue model and the 1Corinthians 14:26 model. But even during the “sermon” it is still open to participation. I am not sure that we can say that the gathering is limited to the verses that describe the NT gatherings. Rather, I would think that the principles in those scriptures must not be violated. I am thinking that its OK to have a sermon and a worship team – but it’s not OK to limit the rest of the congregation.

  3. 11-18-2010


    Yes. I’ve noticed that as well. I think there is a place today for what we see Peter and Paul doing, primarily through proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers.


    I agree with you. I’m not against lecture style teaching. In fact, I have a post being published in a few minutes that states the following: “I think that lecture style teaching (or preaching) can be beneficial in some contexts. I also think it should be combined with opportunities for other people to speak, at least to ask questions or make comments about what was taught (praught).”


  4. 11-18-2010

    When you consider the waking hours of a week at about 100 hours (7 days x 14 awake hours), Sunday morning is only about 2% of our week. Many point out the relatively small amount of time involved and plead that a sermon is the most effective use of that time. Many also excuse the practice by suggesting that the saints can interact before and after the Sunday service and throughout the week.

    But along with the example of Paul, we have I Cor 14:26-32, Heb 10:24,25, I Pet 4:8-11–all of which indicate that when Christians met together, the meeting style was quite open and interactive, with many people active.

    Is the difference a “big deal?” Yes.

    While the typical N American gathering is only 2% of the time in a week, that time is critically important because it sets the pace for the whole week, indeed, for their lives, providing vivid examples for all to follow, as the saints participate in functioning together for those few hours.

    Through this mutual time of open interaction, where all seek to serve others and defer to others (imagine those with something to say following the restraints of I Cor 14:28-30), where all receive from others, all esteem others better, where any may share, ask, declare, encourage, exhort. Where all expected to have something of value to give to others. Where all are glad to receive from others. Imagine the impact of seeing older, well established, mature saints deferring gladly. Imagine seeing them ask questions and listen carefully as several respond.


    Imagine what the lives of those who experience week after week sitting in silence, with little participation or contribution expected of them, where their gifts and abilities to serve hold no expectations from anyone in the congregation, and they esteem their brethren with the same impotency.

  5. 11-18-2010

    When folks think of “lecture style teaching,” often the first thing that comes to mind is college or university professors lecturing – in very similar style to “sermons.”

    I have been a student in public college and university classes, and in Bible School classes (and “Christian conference” settings as well). Other than in very large lecture halls with hundreds of students, the majority of my college and university classes included at least Q&A time – and the better classes were very much discussion style. However, the Bible School classes, and the majority of Christian conference settings, even in small-group classes, were mainly straight lecture.

    Maybe my experiences are different than those of others, but it seems to me that in the public higher-education system there is more opportunity for discourse (and questioning) than in “Christian education” circles. (Although public higher-education may often refuse discourse on overtly Christian viewpoints… maybe because often Christian viewpoints are offered in sermonizing rather than discussion style).

    Where should freedom for discourse be most found? Hmmm…

  6. 11-18-2010


    You bring up a good point. The format of our Sunday meetings (or whenever we typically get together) teach people what we think of ourselves, them, and others. If believers are expected and encouraged to participated when they meet with other believers, they may be more likely to take an active role in the lives of other people that they meet.


    Historically, the university grew out of the church, which took it’s speaking/teaching style from Greco-Roman oratory. I think it is only recently that colleges and universities have begun to use other teaching methodologies besides lecture.


  7. 11-18-2010

    The one time that Paul is described as talking on and on (lecture?), someone fell asleep and fell out of a window. 🙂

  8. 11-19-2010

    I think the main issue is the “sacred cow” aspect of the “sermon.” For most, the sermon is at the heart of all things done on a Sunday morning and that is where it falters. A planned teaching, or spontaneous lecture style instruction can be beneficial. Should it be at every gathering? Probably not. At Connections use the lecture style to open the discussion. For me, our gathering contains elements of being Spirit led but we have not arrived.

  9. 11-19-2010

    It is both mystifying and tragic to me that the Body of Christ is content to sit and be talked at week after week. But we have been taught to see pastors and experts as the enlightened ones on whom we are dependent for God’s truth. I think it stems from a misunderstanding of who we ALL are in Him: we have ALL been given the Holy Spirit, we are ALL capable of being taught by Him (1 John 2:27), and we ALL have important things to share with one another. Perhaps as we begin to experience the reality of “Christ in us” (Colossians 1:27) we will take our places in the Body and function as Jesus intends!

  10. 11-19-2010


    Interestingly, in the event that you’re referring to in Acts 20, Luke uses the verb dialegomai, which can indicate a dialog or discussion. There was certainly a long conversation, but I think there were probably more people than just Paul speaking. The young man probably fell asleep because it was late at night. 🙂


    Yes, I’ve noticed many pastors put more authority on their sermons than when they are speaking or teaching at other times (even if they are lecturing). I wonder where that comes from?


    You’re right. We are all indwelled by the same Spirit and we need to listen to and learn from one another.


  11. 11-19-2010

    Alan, I bow to your superior skill with the Greek. 🙂 Maybe the young man was sleepy because of a full stomach from the church covered dish supper.

  12. 11-20-2010


    No bowing allowed. I can certainly identify with being sleepy after eating with the church, which we know they did from Acts 20:7.


  13. 1-31-2012

    I notice this is an old post, but you tweeted it today so I read it and followed your links. I posted this in response to the original blog post about the Sacred Cows:

  14. 1-31-2012


    Thanks! I left a comment on your post.


  15. 4-11-2013


    I’ve only recently begun to follow your blog and find it extremely though-provoking. I’m glad this post has resurfaced as I probably would have never seen it otherwise. I would like to offer a couple of thoughts and questions in regards to preaching and teaching in church, as I’ve wrestled with this for a while now.

    I believe preaching (prophesy) is used quite regulary throughout both the OT and NT. Moses, the prophets, and Jesus often addressed an assembly of people and explained what God had said without asking others what their thoughts on the matter were.

    As you noted, teaching (reasoning) is often used as well. I also like the idea of public Q&A with a congregation, but my question comes with how to allow others to share their thoughts while still guarding against false teaching. I’ve been in more than one meeting where someone in the congregation was given the opportunity to address the group and said things that were not at all biblical. That the leaves the pastor in a tough spot. If two or more people are yelling out different “takes” on a subject, how will those listening know who to believe?

    At the church that is considering me as a candidate for pastor, we are doing three different services. At one I will preach a sermon, another I will do a lecture-type teaching and encourage interaction and discussion, and the final one we will be doing a moderated Q&A. What are your thoughts on this?

    Thank you and God bless.

  16. 4-11-2013


    Thanks for reading my blog and thanks for the comment! Since you asked for my thoughts, I’ll offer one, and a couple of questions. First, the thought: I would not equate prophesy and preaching in either the OT or the NT. Both are present in both testaments, but they seem to be different. In the NT, preaching (proclamation) is a short, direct message of the gospel to unbelievers, while prophesy is primarily for building up the church.

    Now, for my questions: Why are planning to teach in different ways at different meetings, and are you the only one who will be teaching regularly?

    You can reply here, or if you prefer, you can email me at



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