“When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (I Corinthians 14:26)
If there is a directory for worship in the New Testament, you’d find it in I Corinthians chapters 11-14. There you find a descriptions and proscriptions for Christian worship gatherings.
Two observations: 1) Mainly, it deals with problems the Christian community was having. Those problems were showing up in the worship gatherings. And, while I don’t celebrate their problems (or ours), I do celebrate that those problems were evident when they came together because it says something positive about the authenticity of the early church community. 2) While their worship experiences made allowance for passive observers, most worshipers came expecting to contribute.
Pointing to two values: 1) People came as they really were. 2) They were expected to contribute.
So, how do we apply this at FCMC? We’ll take on #1 today and #2 tomorrow. How do we encourage people to come as they really are?
At this stage in our church’s life, it’s pretty easy to be real with one another. We’re small. Many of us spend time together during the week engaged in discipleship and mission. So we know each other pretty well and see ourselves as partners in the gospel. We pray for one another and even confess (some) of our sins and our struggles before one another.
We are like an extended family that loves one another and that comes out in our worship gatherings. Organizationally, we are two missional communities and a few friends, but functionally, at this point we are like one missional community. While we don’t know everything about each other we know a good deal about one another’s heart-aches, dreams, fears, and aspirations. We earnestly desire the best for each other. That’s healthy, I think. There’s room for privacy, support for openness, and a covering of love. And because we know each other, we can encourage one another in the struggle and remind each other that God is good. Tears, fears, celebrations, laughter, and honest words are okay and normal in our worship gatherings. It’s easy to pause for prayer. By the way, it also helps that we meet on Saturday nights and do not have the pressure of a tight, one-hour schedule.
How would this work in larger, worship-service centered churches? Most larger church gatherings require levels of structure and organization that preclude the kinds of relational expressions we enjoy at FCMC. This can be addressed through organizing other church ministries such as the development of healthy small groups. (Don’t leave out missional engagement!) A more challenging obstacle is western church culture. The culture of many churches encourages people to dress well, put on a smiling face, and pretend everything is okay. This creates a culture of pretending which produces shallow relationships and squeezes out the permission to be real in worship gatherings. One way to tell is by paying attention to the kinds of problems people are open about in worship settings. For example, if prayer requests are routinely taken in worship and no one seeks prayer for themselves apart from health issues, it is probably a pretending culture.
A story comes to mind. God had been at work in a particular families life. For years, they had covered up the dad’s problem with alcohol. Things got bad. The family almost split, but then everything came out when the dad lost his job. And then God provided. God intervened in the dads life. He accepted Christ. He entered recovery. The family also got help. Their family was saved! One day, at a worship gathering, the mom was given space to share the story. It was beautiful and moving. But a strange thing happened. After the service, I asked several people what they thought about the story. Many of the people I spoke with would not even acknowledge what had been said. It was as if they blocked it out of their minds.
I am grateful when I hear of pastors reminding their congregations that really, everyone is a mess, including the pastor. It is so healthy when we are reminded we can be real before God and one another. But be careful if you are a pastor or church leader working to develop a healthier more authentic culture. Cultures of pretending offer a form of protection to people who hide their secrets. Movement toward more authenticity makes secret keepers uneasy.
But it’s worth it! May the Lord bless you on the journey.