Telling the Story in the local church

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : October 15, 2004

My friend Jeff made the following comment in response to the previous post:

I think its the church’s (pastor/speaker) job to tell the story and the people’s job to interpret and apply it.

What do you think of that? My initial response is to challenge it, after all such an approach COULD lead to a distinction between clergy/laity. However, I think there is an insight there that is worth unpacking.

What would our gatherings look like if the speaker–whoever that is–shares the story, but the actually commentary and application were prayerfully discussed by the congregation (I know there are logistical problems with this, but I think they can be overcome. I’m more interested in hearing if this approach would be overall healthier). Any challenges to this perspective? Any affirmations?

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.

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Viewing 5 Comments

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    I would affirm that the body should struggle with its interpretation, commentary and application of the story. In my mind, it actually softens the clergy/laity distinction because it empowers people to grapple with the issues in the context of community.

    My second thought is that this should be done more in small groups, or house church meetings rather than in a large gathering. I think that each has a different function and this is better done with an intimate size of people who are sharing their lives together.
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    I don't see any particular reason for such a distinction. Exposition and commentary on the Gospel is well suited to any setting, and it would only be a matter of a church's personal style to involve only exposition in the sermonic setting. Jesus didn't seem to make such a distinction in his sermons.
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    Good point, Chris. It is making such a distinction that I think affirms a clergy laity distiction.

    Blorge, I agree--everyone should have a role in grappling with the issues. Indeed, this is something that should be tackled in an intimate setting.
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    Wow. I got quoted. What an honor.
    I agree with Blorge that this minimalizes the clergy/laity distinction (which I think is a good thing). Most modern preachers feel they have to tell, interpret and apply the Gospel story for people. I think this is a grave insult to our people. Who would know more about how to apply the story to their own context then the people themselves? This is also a theological presupposition that I have that interpretation and application should be done in the context of community, not isolation (as many pastors do as they study) and that theology is the task of the church, not scholars.
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    I agree with what you are saying, Jeff. You clarified something that I was wondering about--as long as these things are done in community, then we're on the same page. The problem I have with some churches is that they don't create time and space for people to grapple. They preach and then send them on their way.


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