In his first epistle to the Corinthians Paul deals with some congregational issues and in 1Cor 14:35 he tells wives: “if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
This strongly suggests that husbands were asking questions in congregations – but how many preachers finish their sermons with “Any questions?”
Imagine the scene – Paul arrives in a new place and preaches a sermon to the gathered people. Does he stand up and leave, or will there be questions? Jesus was often questioned by His disciples afterwards Mat 13:10-11 and Mk 4:10,34; and the Gentiles in Antioch wanted an after-church fellowship, which Paul was happy to encourage Act 13:43. The disputes described in the Acts of the Apostles Act 7:57 and Act 13:45 show that congregations discussed what was said. The disciples gathered in homes to have fellowship Act 2:46 and collective prayer Act 12:12.
“Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God” Act 13:43. Contrary to this, many congregations hurry home and have no fellowship afterwards. Some ministers even expect them to go home immediately and to come back to the next set diet of meetings. The after-church fellowship meeting is an apostolic tradition with apostolic sanction as well as example. After his long sermon before the Lord’s Supper in Troas, which lasted till midnight Act 20:7,9, Paul led the long conversation in the ‘after-church congregational fellowship’ Act 20:11, which would include questions and answers. The congregation took their opportunity in having a visiting apostle with them and the discussion lasted such a long time that it finished only when dawn broke and Paul’s company had to catch their ship Act 20:13. While those with him probably caught up on their sleep on the ship, Paul decide to walk instead of to sail, showing how tough was his constitution. It would be good to witness in our day such active congregational engagement in biblical teaching.
Questions give feedback to the preacher and help relevant issues to be addressed. Answers give opportunity for the congregation to learn collectively and teach Christians the skills of gracious discussion. The benefits are so great that it seems obvious to me that this is how the new testament congregations grew and developed, how congregational life flourished, and how Christian leadership emerged and was recognised. I believe that this is central to spiritual development in congregational life and that it should help the growth of a congregation both spiritually and numerically. Further, the gifts and graces given by the Lord to the congregation are recognised, appreciated, and more effectively utilised.
When catechizing was commoner, the spiritual life of the church was healthier. With the demise of feedback from the hearers to the preacher, a disconnect has emerged in many congregations and denominations with the result that congregations are not edified to the extent that they could.
The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, by W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson, London, 1896, says that Paul’s religious knowledge was obtained from the reading of the law in the synagogue, listening to the doctors and the habit of questioning and answering which was permitted even to the children among the Jews.
This is what the youthful Jesus did: ‘they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions’ Lk 2:46. When did you last have or take the opportunity to do so?
23 Mar 2013: John Knox on asking questions after sermons. Husbands are to study.
10 Apr 2013: a rare example of taking questions during a sermon.
13 Jul 2013: the pope of Rome begins answering questions
9 Aug 2014: Jesus was not static in His pursuit of knowledge in His human nature, but ‘Jesus increased in wisdom’ Lk 2:52. In the Temple He sat among the doctors ‘asking them questions’ Lk 2:46.
24 May 2015: ‘God is not the author of confusion’ 1Cor 14:33 is a well-known quotation. However, the context is not often noted. Prophets were making statements which were not vetted by others in the congregation 1Cor 14:32. So how is this confusion to be avoided in Christian congregations if there is no process for challenging the preaching? Critical listening to sermons is often encouraged with reference to Act 17:11 ‘These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so’. However, the method for challenging teaching is not often mentioned – far less suggested. Without it, there is liable to be confusion and God is not the author of such confusion. Congregational discussion should be peaceful, orderly and edifying.
21 Jul 2015: I have heard that some Baptist churches in Germany have a Questions and Answers session.
6 Nov 2015: the Rev. Brian Norton of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Durham, recently gone to glory, gave opportunity for questions about his sermons afterwards. Also, during the mid-week Bible study he would stop in the middle of the service and ask for any questions so far, and he gave another opportunity at the close of the service.
19 May 2017: the Rev. Partheepan Shanmugam spoke of the advantage in his mission work in Sri Lanka from congregational discussion of sermons after their being preached. The benefit that one person receives is shared with all, and another benefit that another receives is also shared with all.
5 Feb 2019: View from the Pew.
21 Feb 2019: Philip got feedback from the Ethiopian eunuch in order to ascertain where to begin his teaching Act 8:30-35.
8 Apr 2019: most sermons could probably be turned into ‘good’ sermons with judicious Questions and Answers.
17 Oct 2020: questions and answers in Jesus’ sermon.