Thursday, January 07, 2010

Rethinking the Way We "Do" Church

Recently I've been challenged to rethink the way we "do" church.

Because this rethink challenges the way I've always done things, it was easy at first to just ignore it, but it's starting to wear down my passive defense. Since I'm supposedly committed to doing things in a Biblical manner rather than in the comfortable traditional manner, I have to consider that perhaps we do need to rethink our practice.

The practice to which I refer is basically the lecture-sermon format, in which one man spends half an hour lecturing to an audience of passive (and often sleeping/bored) listeners. We have thought this to be a Biblical model, because after all, Paul and Peter and Timothy "preached".

But here's another look at this format, from basically two sides of the same coin:

Side 1:

- much of the early preaching was not "lecturing", but rather "dialoging".

For example, when Paul went to Corinth, he did not preach in the synagogue, but rather "reasoned" (Acts 18:4 NKJV).

And when he went on to Ephesus, "he himself entered entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews" rather than "preached" to them (Acts 18:19 NKJV).

"reasoned" - Acts 17:2

"sat and spoke" - Acts 16:13

This does not mean there was not lecturing, but it does mean that perhaps the "lecture format" with which we're familiar is unBiblically skewed in favor of passive listening on the part of the assemblers.

Side 2:

- the assemblers' participation was not just "listening", but also "sharing".

When Yahshua visited the synagogue in his home town, he stood up, apparently signifying his desire to speak/read, and he was allowed to do so (Luke 4:16).

We see this same pattern later in the synagogue when the leaders ask the visitors if they have any words of encouragement for the people (Acts 13:15).

Even in the first gospel sermon (Acts 2), there was give-and-take between the speaker and the listeners (see esp. v 37).

Paul, when writing to the Corinthians (14:26), seems to point out a pattern with which we're unfamiliar: "Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, [another] language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification." And he goes on to fill this chapter with specific instructions to keep this organized chaos "decent and in order" (v. 40).

Putting this all together, I'm starting to get the distinct impression that the early church meetings were often more of a "sit down and everyone contribute" type of meeting than rather than the lecture format of our modern-day Sunday meetings.

Accordingly, I'd like to suggest the following idea:

Rather than have one man stand up and give a 5-7 minute "sermonette", or a 25 minute "sermon", how about instead having 5 men come to the mic and give a[n] (absolute maximum no exceptions allowed ever!) 2-minute "here's what I learned this week via God's grace that I'd like to share with you" message. (If it can't be said in two minutes, it needs to wait for a different occasion, and if the speaker can't limit himself to two minutes, the speaker needs to not speak at all.)

For example, the other night I learned that "matzoth" is the Hebrew word behind "unleavened bread" (such as in Exodus 12:15). Gives me a better handle on seeing the word "Matzah" on the box of crackers on the store shelf.

See, that example took maybe 30 seconds, and edifies people like me who feed on tidbits of information like this. It won't edify people who need emotional-laden messages, or people who need deeply meaningful messages, but those types of people will be edified perhaps by one of the other four speakers who have a different style of message.

Another example might be someone saying that Proverbs 10a ("A righteous man cares about his animal's health") helped him decide to take his sick cat to the vet, an application of scripture to everyday life via God's Spirit.

A third example might be my previous blog entry about the Sabbath; takes 2 minutes to explain, but can challenge our thinking about our attitude toward "Sabbath-keeping".

There might even be time between each speaker for questions/dialogue.

This format would help to train the men to speak boldly in front of people, without putting pressure on them to work up a whole sermon (or even sermonette). It relieves the regular preacher of always having to come up with a sermon. It presents different information/styles to the people which one man can't provide. It involves people more.

It seems to me to be an idea worth considering.


Anonymous said...

Only men are to share?

Chyntt said...

In the context of 1 Cor 14, Paul gives instruction as to how the sharing is to take place, and just before closing out the topic, he adds:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting.

Now there has been argument for centuries about what this means. Does it mean what it says? Was it only a cultural thing that no longer applies? Was this what some Corinthians were saying there and Paul was correcting this with his next sentence ("Did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only?")? Was this section of text added later by an unknown scribe, the text not belonging to Paul at all? Did it apply only to women who had husbands? Is there some other explanation making it mean something other than the text seems to clearly mean?

It is my understanding that the Jewish synagogue of the first century was basically a "boy's club", and that the first century meetings were largely patterned on the synagogue assemblies. Therefore I suspect Paul actually meant for women to remain silent in the assemblies.

My post was not intended to deal with the issue of women speaking in church; I myself am not fully convinced either way on this issue. But it does seem to me that the Biblical model is that men should be more participatory than they are in our modern-day churches; whether women should be or not is a different discussion. I want women to have "the right" to speak in church, but I have a hard time getting around what seems clear from the text, both here in 1 Cor. 14 and in 1 Tim 2:11ff. Either we're going to be Biblical, or we're not. Accordingly, I tried to side-step the "women speaking" issue in this post; thus explains my masculine-oriented approach. No offense intended.