Thabiti, Hello, brother! A question for you-- I am currently in a dialogue with an elder in my church who does not believe that traditional, "monologue-style" preaching is the "preaching" that is modeled and recommended in the New Testament. He believes that a conversation in which the Gospel is shared is a form of preaching. He also believes that preaching could simply be reading a book of the Bible, even possibly on Sunday mornings, without any additional explanation or application. He is, at least in principle, open to the idea of "dialogical" preaching, in which more than one person is allowed to speak. He also thinks that preachers, in general, should be aiming for shorter messages, as in 15-25 minutes.
Our church is a "9 Marks-friendly" church, and as such, officially holds to expositional preaching as the first of those nine marks. This man says that he firmly believes in expositional preaching, as a way of "heralding the Biblical Gospel" (which is how he defines "preaching," rather than as a monologue-style sermon), but that he simply has different beliefs from other elders in the church, as to its "context, look, and length."
Do you have any recommendations as to how I could answer his points about expositional preaching? I am unsure of how to proceed in this conversation, because I have never faced a situation in which one leader has held such divergent views from the others on a subject that I believe is so vital to the healthiness of a church. I have encouraged him to share his views with the other leaders at our church, but he is reticent, not wanting to "offend" them. At the same time, he is speaking to me, and to others in the congregation, about some of his views, and I feel uneasy and don't know what to do. I respect this man, as an elder in the church, and I want to submit to his leadership, but I am not sure what that should look like in this situation. Could you help a brother out here, if possible? :-) Your counsel would be very much appreciated!
Concerned Church Member
Concerned Church member, what a serious and potentially fractious situation! I can well understand why you feel "uneasy" about an elder "breaking ranks" with the other elders by speaking with others about his divergent views. There are biblical words for that: "sowing discord among the brethren" (Prov. 6:19), "carnal" division (1 Cor. 3:3-4), and "contention" (1 Cor. 1:12). He is dividing the body in his actions, and claiming to not want to offend while spreading what he knows will be an "offensive" view is plain hypocrisy. At this point he is not walking "blameless," "above reproach," keeping a "good report" even inside the church, or showing himself "apt to teach" by avoiding the elders and beginning a whisper campaign (1 Tim. 3:1-7). In the end, left unchecked, he will simply undermine the authority of the Word and the teaching ministry in that church by having these conversations outside the eldership with others who are not leaders.
I can't tell you how serious this situation is or can be in terms of jeopardizing the unity and effectiveness of the ministry in your church. Your elder is chipping at the nerve center of the ministry, the preaching ministry.
A couple of thoughts for you:
1. Insist that he raise these issues with the elders directly (Matt. 5:22-25; 18:15) and immediately cease talking with others outside the elders about this (Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10). If the eldership is advancing one view of teaching and preaching, and he another, that should be addressed inside the eldership so that unity may be maintained (Eph. 4) and the sheep led in a consistent and healthy direction.
If he has integrity, he should resign from the eldership if he finds himself out of keeping with the ministry commitments of that church and its leaders. If this is beyond the bounds of acceptable divergence, he should step down cheerfully and voluntarily, if he loves the church and has godly integrity.
2. If he refuses to address things with the eldership, let him know that you will go directly to the other elders along with two or three witnesses, others who can testify to his spreading his basic disagreement with the rest of the leadership (1 Tim. 5:19). Demonstrate your support of the entire leadership by helping them to keep short accounts with one another and pointing out difficulties of this nature that they may not be aware of.
Essentially, you want to close the court of public opinion and limit the potential for this man to "draw disciples after himself" by bringing this to light in the court of the eldership. As a member, you shouldn't have to try and address these things alone with someone charged to watch over you. Insist that he speak with the other elders. If he will not, yet holds to his contrary convictions, involve the other elders immediately. Let them judge the matter and keep the unity of the church.
3. Pray for and support your elders if they must rebuke this man publicly and sharply. That will be to the benefit of the entire body (1 Tim. 5:20) and help to make this man sound in the faith (Titus 1:13). Your elders may find this a difficult thing to do, so your prayers for wisdom and courage are needed. Hold them up before the Lord so that they would be able to teach, care, and lead their fellow elder well, and shepherd the congregation through the process as well. Since this man has been quietly spreading his views with others, at the least the elders may need to address this publicly for concern stemming from not knowing how far the comments have gone.
4. For a short resource on expositional preaching and the biblical pattern for it, you might refer the elders to this 9Marks interview with Don Carson. The opening minutes include Carson responding to this exact issue of whether expositional preaching is modeled in the Scripture. For a short book-length treatment, try Al Mohler's recent book, He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (a review here). Mohler makes a good, accessible case for exposition.
5. In all of your interactions and reactions, seek to love deeply from the heart (Col. 2:14), watch and continue in prayer (Col. 4:2), and joyfully submit to those in authority (Heb. 13:17). Be a model of joyful membership in the church. Do everything to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4).
Praying the Lord gives you every grace, and gives your church one mind and purpose in these things. Perhaps others will leave counsel as well.