the weblog of Alan Knox

Leader-controlled or Free-for-all

Posted by on Jan 4, 2008 in edification, gathering | 6 comments

For the last year and a half or so, I have been encouraging “open participation” during church meetings. However, I think there is a misunderstanding about “open participation”. Open participation is not the same thing as a “free-for-all”.

During the traditional meeting of the church, the only people who speak are the ones who have been scheduled to speak. The only people who choose songs or sing are the ones who have been scheduled to choose songs or sing. For everyone else, participation is limited to singing along and listening.

Usually, if someone has something to say, they have to tell the pastor or other leadership. The leadership will determine whether or not the other people should hear what the person has to say. Even if the person is allowed to speak, the speaking remains “leader-controlled”.

However, in several blog posts, I have suggested that leadership is not a requirement for speaking, nor is leadership alone responsible for speaking during the meeting of the church. In fact, Scripture says absolutely nothing about the relationship between speaking during the meeting of the church and leadership. Specifically, Scripture says nothing about leadership being responsible for filtering what is or is not said during the meeting of the church.

In two posts, “Who is qualified to speak during the meeting?” and “Who is responsible for speaking during the meeting?“, I said that there are only three scriptural qualification for speaking during the meeting of the church:

  1. The person must be indwelled by the Spirit of God, and therefore gifted by the Spirit.
  2. The person must speak from a motivation of love.
  3. The person must speak in order to edify the body of Christ.

Furthermore, I said that all believers are responsible for determining whether or not they should speak during the meeting of the church. However, this determination is not made according to a schedule or plan, but according to the work of the Holy Spirit within the life of the individual and the group.

A meeting that includes biblical “open participation” will not be a “free-for-all” where everyone makes sure that they get a word in. In fact, this type of chaos is the opposite of the Spirit-controlled order that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14. Instead of all believers at the meeting trying to say something, Paul describes a meeting where everyone considers the other person first, to the extent that if one person is speaking, he or she will sit down if another wants to speak. This is not a “free-for-all” but an order directed by the Holy Spirit.

However, a “leader-controlled” meeting is also the opposite of the Spirit-controlled order that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14. Instead of only certain people being schedule to speak, Paul describes a scenario where the Spirit reveals something to someone during the meeting, and that person immediately stands up to speak. The person speaking yields the right to speak to his brother or sister.

Again, neither extreme – neither a leader-controlled meeting nor a free-for-all meeting – is described by Paul or by any other author of the New Testament. For leaders who refuse to give up their position as the sole speaker to the assembled church, it is the responsibility of mature believers to point out to those leaders that every brother and sister in Christ should be allowed to speak toward the edification of the church. For those who take advantage of open participation in order to always have their say, it is the responsibility of mature believers to help them understand they should consider others instead of themselves.

So, what I have been suggesting on this blog and in person – what I call “open participation” – is neither a meeting that is controlled by those in leadership positions, nor a meeting that is a free-for-all. Instead, I suggest that each meeting should be controlled by the Holy Spirit, and that he should be allowed to choose who will speak and who will not speak. Since he knows who is present, what gifts they have, what has been revealed to them, and what the people need to hear, I think the Holy Spirit is the only person qualified to lead and control a meeting anyway.


6 Comments

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  1. 1-4-2008

    Hi Alan. This is a very helpful and thought-provoking post. We have been experimenting with more open participation in one of our weekly meetings. It’s been going well so far.

    One clarification about something you wrote: “In fact, Scripture says absolutely nothing about the relationship between speaking during the meeting of the church and leadership. Specifically, Scripture says nothing about leadership being responsible for filtering what is or is not said during the meeting of the church.

    Here are some Scriptural examples of leadership being responsible for what is taught:

    • The early Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. (Acts 2:42)

    • Paul instructed the Ephesian elders to guard against false teaching (Acts 20:28-30).

    • One of the qualifications of an elder is the ability to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) and to refute those who contradict sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).

    • Paul charged Timothy to preach the word (1 Timothy 4:11-16, 2 Timothy 4:1-4)

    • The elders who worked hard at preaching and teaching are to be honored for their work (1 Timothy 5:17).

    So we should be careful to recognize the important responsibility of elders to teach and to guard what is taught. Obviously much of this teaching takes place during the gathering of the brethren.

    Grace & peace,
    -mark

  2. 1-4-2008

    I was going to wait until you replied to Mark, because he addresses one of the questions I have. My further question is where is the line between sharing and teaching when one speaks during open participation? For example, as a woman, how much am I permitted to say/share, even exposit, during a meeting? I know there are some that feel a man should not learn from a woman (I would not agree – though I don’t believe a woman should have authority either). Do you feel there is a difference between a woman “teaching” (or a person learning from a woman) and a woman having authority over a man?

  3. 1-4-2008

    Alan,

    Great post again brother. As you know, we have open-participatory meetings in our weekly church meetings. As was mentioned by “mark m” above, there is always the possibility of getting some crazy, off-color comments from folks (usually visitors or children) and if it is heretical or dangerous the elders of our church believe that it is their responsibility to guard the rest of the flock against it (Acts 20:28-30).

    If they have to do so, an elder will immediately stop the person speaking the heresy, explain to them and the rest of the church from the Scriptures why what they are saying is spiritually dangerous, and *PUBLICLY* warn them and the rest of the congregation at that moment against such dangerous doctrinal error (Titus 1:9). Thankfully, we’ve only had to do this one time in the 3.5 years our church has been in existence, so it’s not much of a problem for us, because the congregation in general does a pretty good job of policing these kinds of things since they are encouraged to study, cultivate their spiritual gifts, and read the word for themselves.

  4. 1-5-2008

    Mark,

    Thanks for the comment. I think I was unclear in that part of my post. Certainly I did not mean that elders and other leaders are not to speak during the meeting. I meant to say that Scripture says absolutely nothing about elders and other leadership scheduling or controlling the speaking during the meeting. This was the intention of that part of the post. Since elders are supposed to be mature believers, then I would assume that Spirit would use them often during the meeting of the church. However, this is the responsibility of the Spirit, not the leaders themselves.

    Leah,

    You’ve asked some awesome questions – questions that different Christians answer differently. I’m taking a class in theological anthropology next semester, and these are some of the questions that I hope to answer for myself. For now, I do not think Scripture prohibits women from ever speaking during the meeting of the church.

    Dusty,

    I agree. When someone says something that is heretical – against the gospel – then mature believers (which includes elders) should correct them.

    -Alan

  5. 1-6-2008

    Alan,

    Thanks for the post. As always, I am edified by having stopped over here to read.

    Blessings on you and yours!

  6. 1-6-2008

    David (ded),

    Thank you for the encouragement!

    -Alan

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