Open Discussion: November 12, 2023
Travis starts this open discussion by explaining some of the rationale for why we do this as a church. Sincere apologies for not getting the beginning of his exposition. Here are some more of his thoughts behind open discussion:
What is an Open Discussion?
An Open Discussion is a form of teaching during which we have a time of open Q&A led and moderated by the pastor during the worship service. On these Sundays, we have something of a pared-down liturgy that still includes sung worship, Scripture reading, and prayer. In place of the traditional sermon and celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we have an informal Q&A dialogue. During this time, we explore issues of faith raised by questions from those in attendance and seek to give biblical responses to those questions.
The whole of the liturgy leading up to and including the introduction to our time of Open Discussion intentionally labels this as a time of coming before God in worship, with the questions and concerns of our hearts, in order to seek his will and understanding from his holy Word. What this means is that we are still looking for the Lord to speak to us through his Word, just as we do with a sermon.
Sometimes, the discussions are completely Q&A from the beginning. At other times, I will open the time with exposition on a particular topic or question. Occasionally, the Open Discussion will be dedicated to a particular theme, such as questions of application from the current sermon series.
A primary goal of these discussions is to point the congregation to the sufficiency of God’s Word and the hope of the Gospel. In the same way that not every sermon accomplishes this goal perfectly or as effectively as the preacher may intend, so too there is a variance in the effectiveness of each Open Discussion. And yet, this goal remains as the primary motivation in practicing Open Discussions.
What’s the pastoral rationale for doing this?
The practice of Open Discussions has been beneficial to both believers and seekers for at least the following reasons:
- Open Discussions foster a greater sense of openness to discussion and dialogue on matters of the faith. This helps us as Christians to develop a more open and outward posture in general.
- Open Discussions demonstrate practically and tangibly to members of the congregation that it’s okay to not have all the answers and that other people are wrestling with many of the same questions, doubts, and issues as they are.
- Connected to the previous point, Open Discussions help to alleviate the cognitive dissonance many believers wrestle with when it comes to questions of faith.
- Open Discussions can provide a time of worship which is easier to invite non-Christians who are curious about the faith to.
- Open Discussions allow for targeted pastoral response to issues the congregation is currently facing – meaning we’re thinking through, discussing, and responding to the questions people actually have in real time.
- Similarly, Open Discussions often provide hands on training in Gospel oriented discipleship, ethics, and apologetics. Through these discussions, the congregation is learning how to discuss difficult questions with sensitivity, grace, and most importantly, with Scripture.
- Having Open Discussions as a part of our worship rather than as a separate event, demonstrates how serious we are about listening to doubts and questions. It is also a way of practically showing that we can go to God with our deepest doubts and questions, even in the midst of worship, and that his Word is sufficient to answer our questions and to comfort us when there aren’t answers to be had.
Why the Frequency?
Simply put, practical experience has shown every six weeks to be a helpful frequency. This frequency allows for plenty of traditional sermons as the steady and regular diet of the church with regards to the Word. On the flipside, if the Open Discussions were infrequent it would be easy for them to come across as some sort of gimmick, instead of a time for serious discussion and instruction. Having them every six(ish) weeks allows them to be more formative to the overall ethos and posture of the church.
The hope is that, through these Open Discussions, we as a congregation will become more open and honest about our questions and struggles and will learn together to go to God’s Word with these. Also, it is an opportunity for us to become more welcoming and open to those outside the faith who have serious questions and concerns regarding Christianity.
Is this practice Biblical?
While the traditional sermon we’re familiar with in our worship is a biblical and helpful practice, it also has limitations. Some of these limitations can be addressed by different approaches to teaching the Word on a regular basis.
With this in mind, we do see evidence of a more dialogical approach to how the Word is taught within Scripture. For example, Jesus’ public teaching was often conducted in response to direct questions (Matthew 16:13; 17:10; 21:24; 22:23, 41, 46; Mark 4:10; 7:17; 8:27-29; 12:28; Luke 17:20; 18:18; John 16:19).
Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 14 while Paul instructs the church to be orderly in its worship, his description of the worship service seems to indicate something more participatory than just a monologue sermon (1 Corinthians 14:26). This included the congregation weighing what was said (v. 29) and this weighing seems to have been the common practice elsewhere in the early church as well (1 John 4:1).
Additionally, we see a willingness in at least Paul’s writing to engage with the questions a congregation is wrestling with. For example, in 1 Corinthians 7:1, Paul writes, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote”; after this statement, he then spends the majority of the next several chapters responding to particular questions about faith and life which the Corinthians had sent him. It is likely that upon its reception this apostolic letter, engaging the specific questions of the congregation, would have been read in the place of a sermon in the worship of the Corinthian churches.
While not exactly an “Open Discussion,” the texts above show there isn’t one right way to approach Biblical teaching even within a worship service.
In light of these considerations, we have found the practice of Open Discussions to be a biblical and fruitful experience in the life of Grace & Peace. I pray that the Lord continues to use them in our life to grow us both in our dependence on his word and in our willingness to wrestle together with honest answers to honest questions about the faith.