TGC / Tim Keller

Reasons Not to Host a Q&A After a Worship Service

Mark Jones comments
| Faith

Tim Keller recently wrote a post on why he used to do a Q&A after the service. I was left disappointed with the article, mainly because it seemed to be too heavily focused on "results" or effectiveness (e.g. the heavy emphasis on the unbelievers present) rather than the bodies and souls of the people who find themselves in the worship context.

For example, as a preacher, after leading worship and preaching, I find myself very vulnerable after the service. Preaching is exhausting. I can run 10km fairly easily, but preaching is more exhausting for me. It is not just physically exhausting, but also mentally and emotionally. A minister has to be very careful after the service not to get involved in matters of theological disagreement. He can easily react in a way that he will later regret, but his reaction may not be entirely his fault (e.g. low blood sugar). Plus, I spend roughly an hour after the service making sure I talk to as many people as possible in my congregation. Could I do that if a lot of people went home while I spent time with those who wanted to stay? The fellowship after the service is such an important part of my ministry and I would hate for something to get in the way of that. 

Moreover, what about the spiritual psychology of God’s people? If one of the goals of preaching is to produce conviction – I say "one of" the goals, not "the" goal – then I prefer that my people take time to reflect on their sin, God’s grace, and Christ as the solution to their problems. Not only is the preacher emotionally vulnerable, but God’s people can be as well. A time of reflection is an important part of receiving the Word of God before saying too much right away, in my view. If someone in our church has a question, they are aware that they can always email me or call me in the week to discuss the matter. So I am not against questions and answers, but I think the "when" is crucial for both the preacher and his sheep.

Let’s also not forget that the sermon is merely one part of worship. In Reformed circles we can be guilty of elevating the preached Word to a place where everything else that takes place is subservient. All of the elements of worship are necessary and integral to our spiritual growth. Having a Q&A session only seems to exacerbate this problem. 

There’s also the danger that someone can ask a "question" that ends up causing more harm than good to those who listen. I teach a lot, in many countries, and I can zero in on the types of questions that aren’t meant to edify, but do something pernicious. A sermon doesn’t have to be perfect to be helpful. However, someone can point out an imperfection in a variety of ways and, lo and behold, the usefulness of the sermon is called into question. Not every "sin" in a sermon needs correcting. And I’d hate for a good (not perfect) sermon to be disregarded because of a misstep by the preacher.

Finally, remember that we are talking about God’s word. The sermon is the very Word of God when preached faithfully. We aren’t listening to a lecture. We are encountering God – the God who speaks to us. Our attitude towards God’s preached word is different than our attitude towards a lecture. In our church we have an adult Sunday School before the morning worship service where all of our adults have a time for questions. We also have weekly Bible studies for this purpose. I believe those are the appropriate forums for discussion. Notice that in Keller's first point, he speaks of lecturers doing this. But we are not lecturers. That’s one of the problems with Reformed preaching: it is too lecture-like. A Q&A is, I think, not going to help keep us from lecturing.

I wonder if we might be forgiven for thinking that Keller's article assumes people only show up on Sunday morning so all that is good and helpful needs to be crammed into the morning worship?

There’s also the intriguing point that a lot of Keller’s wisdom on this matter involves "non-believers". While he may have experienced a lot of non-believers coming into church during his ministry, I venture to guess that the vast majority of preachers today don’t have that experience. I get a lot of visitors, but even these visitors are usually Christians. Plus, worship is primarily for God's people, not for unbelievers. What we do is geared towards God's people, not those outside of the covenant. They are merely onlookers until they can, by faith, in the power of the Spirit, approach the true and living God with those present who belong to Christ. 

All of this is to say, I come back to my initial concern: too much of his article smacks of effectiveness. I’m not necessarily against that, but it seems like a pastoral focus on the preacher and his flock was entirely missing, and that concerns me. Keller's impulse is fine. I just believe he puts the Q&A in the wrong context. And that is not fine. But, of course, my idea of the church involves a lot more congregational interaction than you get on a Sunday morning. We have prayer meetings, Sunday School, PM worship, Bible studies, etc. With all of those things in place, the thought of a Q&A seems rather unnecessary and, to be perfectly frank, potentially harmful to the pastor and his flock.


Mark Jones

Rev. Dr. Mark Jones (PhD, Leiden Universiteit) has been the Minister at Faith Vancouver Church (PCA) since 2007. He is also Research Associate in the Faculty of Theology at University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa. He lectures at various seminaries around the world and is currently writing a book titled, "God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God" (Crossway, 2017) and "Faith, Hope, and Love" (Crossway, 2017).

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