Participatory gatherings: wonderful, biblical, necessary. Do we really know how to do them?
One of my greatest joys in house church is the participatory nature of the gatherings.
For historical and biblical background on participatory gatherings I refer you to an excellent article by Brian Anderson.
My own transition to participatory church came after many years as a pulpit pastor. I echo the words of Scott William who said:
It seems easy on Saturday night to prepare three points on how to fix your marriage or how to quit sinning. On Sunday I have delivered the message, felt good about it, been complimented for it… but did it really change anything? Really?...
Oh, how I know the frustration he is talking about: trying hard to come up with something that will “feed” others and impact their lives. At the same time teaching them, by my actions, that they don’t need to wrestle with God’s word for themselves… just let me pre-package and deliver it.
How I love participatory church. I am continually moved and amazed to see others, new Christians, mature Christians, children, sharing from Scripture, leading out in worship, and being moved by the Holy Spirit to do so. It’s usually not “flashy” or dynamic in presentation, but Oh the Spirit of God is in it! We teach ourselves to listen very carefully to the Holy Spirit through the quietest person.
Yet, having said all that… Let’s be honest: participatory gatherings can be quite challenging.
The blogger at Radical Congruency talks about trying so hard to be participatory that all structure was thrown out. They were afraid of institutionalizing their spirituality with “five acts of worship” or something like it. The result was that they “institutionalized (made regular and predictable and essential) by default some peripheral things we find ourselves doing every week – reading the comics, eating, making plans, etc.”
In other words, by having no structure around spiritual things, they found themselves, by default, structuring non-spiritual things. (Thanks for sharing this, by the way).
On the other hand, in reaction to a lack of structure, it is so easy (even in a house church) for one person to take control and begin to “lead” the gatherings which, in itself, will tend to move things right on back toward traditional lines.
So… how do we structure so that there is spiritual participation, all utilize their gifts, the Holy Spirit is in control, and no one takes over?
It’s time to brainstorm!
I will share briefly what we are doing, what a couple of others are doing… But I’m hoping we can hear from some others… how, how, how are you doing it?
For ourselves, we have taken a chapter from 12-step meetings and use instructions that are read to guide the group into each section of the service. The gathering is still fluid and open to not following a set pattern, but there is a basic structure. For example, someone reads a “Welcome” statement which is simple enough. Someone else reads an “Announcements” statement that then opens things up for all kinds of discussions, business, birthdays, etc. Then, there is a “Worship” statement read that explains how participatory worship works. This opens our time for worship which is highly participatory, fluid, and open. Finally, there is a “Teaching” statement read that explains how participatory teaching works.
This sounds more rigid then it is… It’s just a framework. But the statements that are read provide some guidelines which invite full participation while providing some encouragement for “talkative” people to make room for the quieter ones.
It is working to some extent. If anyone would like to have more specific information on our actual readings, I can make them available.
Here is a description of the way someone else does it (Allelon):
In our community, we've been starting each meeting spending some time in silence together, waiting on the Lord for direction or just getting centered, getting in touch with the Spirit. Then there is a time in which anyone can bring their "offerings" for the common good-a thought the Lord has been working into their lives over the last week, a poem, painting, scripture, short teaching or testimony that has sprung from their walk with the Lord, or a song they feel will edify. This time together has proven time and again to be "orchestrated" by the Spirit to challenge, teach, stretch, comfort and encourage each of us.
These meetings are governed by three basic guidelines we have derived from I Corinthians 12-14:
A. Everything must be done from the motivation of love
B. It must be easily understandable or it must be explained
C. It must be edifying
There is certainly no “right” way to do any of this. But any attempts to release the whole Body of Christ to engage in releasing ministry through the Spirit… is awesome!
Two quotes sum up the beauty of participatory gatherings. One, by Aaron who commented on this blog earlier in the week:
I have never experienced God more than I have in the past few months since I began fellowshipping in a small House Church. I realize that it has been because I have taken responsibility for my relationship with God... I no longer sit back and wait for the pastor to preach me a sermon or the music leader to sing me a song, or the elders to pray, or ……… I have become an active participant in a wonderful relationship with MY GOD.
And then, I love this Frank Viola quote:
"The Lord Jesus cannot fully disclose Himself through only one member. He is far too rich. In fact, His riches are inexhaustible (Eph. 3:8)! When every member of the Body functions in the meeting, Christ is seen. He is assembled in our midst.”
Jesus assembled in our midst! Yes, yes, yes, that's what we are after!
Please share your ideas and experiences with participatory gatherings!!!!!
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