Twitter continually gets a bad rap. And I get it, I really do. But I maintain, certainly for us, the good more than outweighs the bad. Let me give one example.
There was a recent and much vaunted twitter thread by Alastair Roberts. You can read the whole thread by clicking the tweet below:
Now, I’ll say from the front-end, I am perfectly comfortable with the length of our sermons and our approach on a Sunday morning. We tend to have a service that lasts between 1.5 – 2 hours on a Sunday morning and our typical reading, followed by the sermon, usually last around 35-45 minutes. I don’t agree with Alastair that we need to cut things down. We are okay with how things are on a Sunday morning and can’t see any element of the service we would want to drop or shorten.
But what Alastair’s thread did was to encourage people to think about other forms of teaching and how we might make the best use of our time together on Sunday. For my part, I said this:
And, as if by magic, we are now trailing at church the fact that we will begin doing this from September. We are going to have an hour Theology Breakfast before the service. We already have our tea and coffee at the front end. This will provide a natural break for those coming to the Theology Breakfast and will remain the soft start for those who don’t. We will then move into our service as it is currently constituted as usual at 10:30am.
One thing that has been on my mind for some time is our lack of theological input. Don’t get me wrong, obviously there is theology on display in our sermons and midweek groups. But our setup – which we think is working helpfully – is to teach systematically through books of the Bible on a Sunday, explaining and applying the passage to our people, and then taking the applications from the sermon and digging into them further in our midweek groups. In effect, we have two bites at the same passage each week. Once, as it is explained and applied in the sermon – and then prayed, sung and reaffirmed in testimony in response – on a Sunday and then again in our midweek groups as we push the applications much further. This, I think, gives our people a clear sense of a passage and what specific passage of the Bible have to say to them.
But we have little opportunity for theological input. Most of our people have never heard of systematic theology and assume all sound theology is biblical theology, isn’t it? And what does it even mean when we say we stand in the Reformed theological tradition? We just don’t have much opportunity to dig into that in the ordinary run of things. We thought it was important to try and rectify that.
So, it our plan to run a weekly Theology Breakfast, before the Sunday service, lining up with the term dates. As such, we are going to run three 14-week courses, taking a break at the end of each term. Those courses will be Bible Themes (systematic theology), Bible Overview (biblical theology) and Bible Framework (reformed theology). I have already written and delivered two courses covering systematics and biblical theology. I have slightly adapted them to fit our purposes and they are ready to run. I will at some point need to come up with some course content for the third term. But that is the plan.
To be quite honest, in our little church, I’d be glad if we even got three or four people coming regularly to that. I would be absolutely delighted if we got more than that. It works for us to front load it before the Sunday service. We think it will fill a gap in what we are doing and will encourage our people to think more theologically and may even lead them to focus on the upcoming sermon more helpfully than they may have done otherwise.
It would be untrue to say that we only thought about doing this because of a twitter thread. I saw this reply on twitter:
Which was interesting because I saw that in action at CHBC and was convinced – whilst some it was clearly not transferable to our context – the essential principle was. I saw what was possible and felt we could replicate it helpfully and contextually in some form. We were already thinking about how to address the gap in theological knowledge and framework among the average member of the church. This seemed like a helpful way to address that.
On top of that, I saw how Mark Dever gave away free books. I saw how, over time, that would help encourage people to read. Minimally, over time, it would help people learn who were good authors and who they might want to read more of. Whilst we might give away some different books (though some may be the same) that was something we could do quickly and easily in our context. We set up a book stall selling books we wanted people to read, we started giving away a couple of books at the start of most services and we created an online list of books people may want to buy. All of this is to encourage people to read and to engage with theology that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to think about.
We are hoping, these things combined together, might lead some of our people to engage theologically. We hope it will fill a gap that I think is all too common in many churches. We hope it will lay the groundwork for people to grow in their knowledge of the Lord Jesus, the scriptures and will help to equip them for whatever works of service they are called to do.