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:
- The person must be indwelled by the Spirit of God, and therefore gifted by the Spirit.
- The person must speak from a motivation of love.
- 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.