Interactive Sermons, Preaching, and the Role of the Sunday Morning Gathering

A friend sent me a message asking me the following:
What is your take on interactive preaching on Sunday mornings? What I mean is, if you have a question or a comment should you share it during the sermon? I have started to study it more. Again, just curious.
Here was my reply in case you are also wondering about it.

We did it for a while, and I liked it.  As a listener, I have a tough time remaining focused once a preacher has stated something that spurs me down a side road.

On the pragmatic side, I don't think interactive preaching can be done well in a large setting, and we keep growing larger and larger.  We want to be a church of 100, so I believe that we need to start behaving like a church of 100.  When we had interactive preaching, we only had a few people interact.  It was these same people every week who had something to say.  Interactive preaching also hampers the point of the message from getting across.  A preacher should be wrestling with what God wants him to say to the congregation throughout the week.  His week's worth of prayer and seeking God's thoughts should not go out the window because someone else brought up a controversial tangent. 

Another alternative if you want more involvement would be to open the mic up for anyone to share at some point during the service.  I have seen this done and have enjoyed those gatherings.  I have not experienced it regularly, and I would assume that the same people would get up and speak week after week. 

As for history of the sermon, you might want to read a chapter in a book by Frank Viola called Pagan Christianity.  I would have loaned you my copy while you were here if I would have known then that you were interested in this.  It is titled "The Sermon: Protestantism's Most Sacred Cow."  Viola is a house church guy and does not like the sermon as it is today.  He has a lot of good things to say, although he also has a real agenda against sanctuary church.  I also have a love for the church meeting in houses, but that is not what everyone is called to.  Viola makes a good argument that the sermon is not mandated by Scripture and really did not arrive at its current form until the 4th century with the speaking of Augustine and Chrysostom.  He has the faulty logic that since it originated in pagan circles, it is automatically evil, but that is another long discussion for another day. 

The sermon is not a Scriptural mandate.  The purpose of the sermon is to educate people.  If there is a better way to educate, then we need to be willing to discard the sermon and use the better way.  After all, the sermon is just a tool; education that leads to action is the goal. 

The key thing to remember is that the purpose of any education is to lead people to a place where encountering God transforms them.  If we just educate people on grand theological concepts or historical information that have no practical value, then the process of transformation is stifled. Bad education is worse than no education at all because the people in the church then feel they have done something they were supposed to do when all they have done is sat through a lesson unchanged.  Religion is the exact opposite of transformation.  Being educated can easily fall into being a religious ritual void of its power. 

A read through of the book of Corinthians would show that the church was definitely not just one or two people standing up at the pulpit while everyone else was led.  It was definitely more of an interactive experience.  Prophets would get up and share a message they felt on their heart from the Lord.  "When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation"  1 Cor 14:26b (ESV).  It would have been a much different experience than what we currently have.  Maybe it is something to strive for.

But here comes the reason why I have a church gathering with a sermon that is not interactive.  It has nothing to do with a scriptural mandate one way or another.  It comes from the realization that visitors are most likely to check out our church and the seeking are likely to come seek God during that one hour on Sunday where we usually have the sermon, and visitors expect to hear a sermon.  That is what they have come for.  As a church, we have interaction with one another and sharing what God has laid on our hearts during our Christian Education time and Small Groups.  Hopefully, that it is also happening in relationships throughout the week. 

As for the visitors, I want to give them what they want in regards to the sermon and not turn them away from our service by making it impermeable to them.  They are coming to hear a message from the Bible.  I want to them to hear about God's grace and His great call on their life to surrender their life to Him and love their neighbor. 
We need to always be reminded that church is not that hour spent together on Sunday morning.  Church is us living our lives together as people surrendered to Jesus.  This gives us the liberty to tweak things during that hour.

Go ahead and give interactive sermons a try if you feel led.  There is nothing wrong with doing that.  Just make sure it is helping the body you are part of achieve the mission they are called to.