If you attend concerts, movies, and theatres, you know action is on stage. You are the audience. Nothing matters except that you be entertained.
The modern church arrangement seems no different. The action is from the pulpit, platform, or stage to a passive audience.
Is there not a more biblical way?
In his book The Courage to Teach, the American educator Parker J. Palmer argues for a “community of truth” as the optimum educational method.
Typically, an expert (the teacher) tells passive receptacles (the students) about a subject. This is what Palmer calls the “objectivist” method. In contrast, the “community of truth” recognizes the subject as the centerpiece of the event in which students and teacher interact actively with the subject and with each other. This engages the students along with the teacher to participate positively in each others’ learning.
Think of the “community of truth” idea in a church. Instead of the congregation passively receiving the flow of truth pouring from the pulpit and hardly engaging with it at all, this format calls for everyone to be fully engaged, whether they speak or not. The theme in the center is always the Word—the living Word as well as the written Word. The pastor/preacher/teacher or his/her designate introduces the particular topic of the day and attempts to moderate the discussion. The congregation, youth, adults, and seniors, new believers as well as mature saints, have opportunity to contribute from their understanding and experience both inquiries and interpretations.
Once the occupants on the platform or stage are no longer seen as the main and only sources of biblical exegesis and theological correctness, and Jesus in the midst (Matthew 18:20) is the focus of the congregation’s attention, the Word of God comes alive for anyone who is at all interested. For the engaged listener, knowledge of God and His interests can become a constant reality that affects every part of life.
When the focus shifts from the stage or platform to Jesus in the midst, several practical considerations need to be taken into account.
Firstly, there will be differences of interpretation freely expressed. These differences must be honored. No one has a monopoly on interpretation. So, neither the moderator nor a fellow participant has the right to criticize or put down another contributor. However, the Apostle Paul is clear that concepts expressed in church can be critiqued: “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29). The King James Version reads, “…let the other judge.”
Secondly, with Jesus in the midst, the church’s arena of theological and spiritual engagement is inevitably around Jesus. It may be prudent, then, to rearrange the seating to facilitate the congregational focus into the center away from the platform. Then instead of looking at or around people’s heads to see the leaders, there is the freedom to look at each other face to face. It also means Christians perceive one another through the Lord Jesus present among them.
Thirdly, Jesus in the midst is invisible to the natural eye, but the night before He died, Jesus directed His disciples to recognize some visible items to memorialize His person and accomplishment. He took bread, and He took the cup. All down through the ages since then, Christians have had these objects to keep focused on Jesus and to proclaim His death evangelistically (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). Today, those same symbols can be center-stage, visible to all.
Fourthly, if a congregation is taking seriously the fact that Jesus is in the midst—He being the subject of their wonder, worship, and discussion, rather than depending on the platform—it will require a plurality of committed participants. Theology will come alive both privately and publicly in those who participate. They will mine the Bible, both New and Old Testaments, for facts, similes, and metaphors relating to their Saviour and Lord. Furthermore, they will search the available literature in a quest for what others in the past have discovered about Jesus in order to share those golden nuggets of truth with the church.
Is there a clear biblical directive for the “order of service” in an up-to-date worship celebration of a congregation with Jesus in the midst?
Let’s refer again to these instructions by the Apostle Paul to a church in his day (1 Corinthians 14:26):
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? 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.
That seems extremely simple and practicable.
To another church community, the apostle wrote (Colossians 3:16-17):
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
This is unquestionably biblical and undoubtedly doable. However, it requires a body of Christians who are in love with Jesus, a spiritually-minded eldership, a humble pastor willing to give up the pulpit for the higher honor of Christ, and a group of believers immersed in the Scriptures, dependent on the Holy Spirit’s illumination and guidance.
Every one of us should take to heart the Scriptural exhortations of Hebrews 10:23-25:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We will spend eternity around the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne (Revelation 5), worshiping and serving Him.
Why not start now in the gatherings of the redeemed—welcoming others who are attracted to Jesus who is lifted up in our midst?
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About the author: Alan Adams’ purpose is “to help others become all they can be for God.”
Alan has engaged in numerous Kingdom-building capacities, including as a missionary in Chile (1963-67). Since 1991, he and his wife, Jeanette, have served with the Free Methodists in Ontario, Canada, and Florida, USA. Alan earned a Master of Theological Studies from Tyndale Seminary (1996) and is currently working toward a Doctor of Theology.
You can reach Alan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: various sources
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