the weblog of Alan Knox

A quick summary about church meetings

Posted by on Jan 8, 2009 in edification, elders, gathering | 29 comments

According to 1 Corinthians 14, the church comes together to edify one another – that is, to build themselves up toward maturity in Christ.

According to Hebrews 10:24-25, the church should consider how to provoke one another toward love and good works. This should especially happen when they meet together to encourage one another.

According to Ephesians 4:11-16, the church is built up when every believer works together with every other believer, with Jesus Christ alone taking the head position.

These passages seem fairly simple and straightforward to me. It has also become clear (at least to me) that the modern pattern of church meetings does not match what we see in these passages from Scripture.

If only one person teaches (preaches), even if that person has been trained and educated, and even if that person is the most talented and gifted and mature, and even if that person has been recognized (ordained) as a pastor/elder/bishop, and even if that teaching (preaching) is biblical and powerful and Spirit-led, that church will not be as healthy and will not grow in maturity as much as it would be if many people exercised their spiritual gifts during the church meeting.

Look at the summary passages above once more. Notice how often the writers of Scripture talk about “one another” during the meeting of the church – or even when the church is not meeting. In the modern church meeting, the “one anothers” are set aside – for many different reasons, I believe. And, I believe that none of those reasons are valid.

The best thing that could happen in the church is for pastors, preachers, teachers, elders, leaders, to sit down and listen to other people and be served by other people. We must move away from one-way service (the leader serving through his or her gifts) and move toward one-another service (every believer serving through each of their gifts).

The church is not built up (edified) when the people only hear God speak through me – even if I have something very valuable to say. The church is built up when we hear God speak through one another.


29 Comments

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  1. 1-8-2009

    Great point. We are all strong in certain areas, and weak in certain areas. That includes pastors. So, how can one man (with or without a title) be adequate to bring about spiritual growth and maturity on their own?

  2. 1-8-2009

    It is so simple and straightforward yet so often missed. The body is not healthy unless all the parts are functioning according to their purposes.

    No man is an island.

  3. 1-8-2009

    Alan, some of this may come down to how we define a meeting of the church. Is this only the ‘worship service’ time, or does it also include the other meetings throughout the week? (Prayer time, Sunday School/Small Group/other ministries.)

    Different types of meeting will emphasize different gifts.

    But only consider the worship service… I’d say we have edification in corporate worship, the gift of generosity in giving. What else would you like to see? Could you give some specific examples, if I were to try and implement this in our service Sunday, what would we add or do?

  4. 1-8-2009

    Alan,
    This is a great post. I love the points and how you laid them out. It seems so elementary when you read the scriptures on how to meet.
    Thank you, Steven Owen

  5. 1-8-2009

    Mark,

    Yes, we need one another and we need to hear from one another.

    Andy,

    Yes, that’s what Paul says in Eph 4:16.

    Brent,

    Paul said, “Whenever you come together…” I think we’ve made distinctions in types of meetings that Scripture doesn’t make. Since I don’t know the format of your church meetings, I can’t really offer suggestions. I hope would hope that all believers are given the opportunity to exercise their gifts (within the guidelines of 1 Cor 14:26-40), and not just the same few people week in and week out.

    Steven,

    I’ve found that “elementary” is sometimes the hardest ideas to obey.

    -Alan

  6. 1-8-2009

    Alan,

    You’re so right. A human body cannot completely serve itself, unless it is completely functional.

    The operation of the modern American “church” meeting is a kin to a human body trying to serve itself when it is bound and gagged.

    Because the Body of Christ is bound and gagged in the modern American “church” meeting.

    Thanks Alan. I just got that deeper understand even as I was writing it.

    Blessings,
    Gary

  7. 1-8-2009

    Alan,

    What a top comment! “fairly simple and straightforward”: absolutely!

    When we read Scripture without the blinkers of the cult of Christianism we learn that many of our practices, and organisational beliefs, are weakening the ability of God’s people to practice the ministry He has entrusted to every follower of Christ.

    Of course, one way to avoid every believer maturing into the ministry to which they have been called, is to have, as you suggest, a “priest” or “priests” who has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

    Cynical? No! Realistic! I know the inclinations of this human heart, and from long experience, know that it is the common problem of all. If we think otherwise we are deceived.

  8. 1-8-2009

    Gary,

    The body analogy is a very good one on many different levels. Also, I think “bound and gagged” is a good way to describe the church in America for the most part. I know that leaders do not intend to “bind and gag” people, but I think this is the result of many of our church structures and meeting formats.

    Aussie John,

    You said, “We learn that many of our practices, and organisational beliefs, are weakening the ability of God’s people to practice the ministry He has entrusted to every follower of Christ.” Yes! Exactly! Whether we intend to weaken the church or not, I think this what has happened.

    -Alan

  9. 1-8-2009

    Another excellent post!

    Although I am not part of the IC, I was for many years, and still have pastor friends. Some of them clearly understand this concept, but if they want to keep their jobs they have to do what their people want, and this is not what most people want or expect.

    I have “facilitated” small groups for twenty-some years. Curiously, those who have never been part of the IC are all for this idea. Those who have been or are part of the IC expect me to lead, to teach, and to tell them whatever. I have even had people tell me that participating in any way makes them feel uncomfortable.

    On many occasions I have discussed this with church leaders. They tell me that they pay the pastor and they expect him to preach, teach and so on. They expect him to “do”, and they mostly want to observe. Of course, this is all they know.

    There are such meetings, but I have never discovered any within the IC. Have others?

  10. 1-8-2009

    Alan, you said:
    “Since I don’t know the format of your church meetings, I can’t really offer suggestions.”

    Well I’d like a few suggestions if you don’t mind, so here’s a typical worship service order for us:

    Opening Special Music (usually youth choir)
    Announcements (by church member)
    Pastor’s Greeting
    Hymn
    Prayer by Pastor
    OT Scripture Reading (by church member)
    Hymn
    NT Scripture Reading (by church member)
    Hymn
    Prayer by Church Member
    Offering
    Sermon
    Closing Hymn
    Benediction by pastor (a good saying, not a prayer, BTW)

    If we could display the ideal you espouse in this post, what would you add or change?

  11. 1-8-2009

    Sam,

    In many ways the church that I’m part of is still “institutional”, although much less instittutional than most. In our church meetings, all members are given the opportunity to speak, pray, read Scripture, suggest a song, etc. I don’t think we’re the only ones to do this.

    Brent,

    I guess that questions I would ask are: 1) Who decides that this this is the format of the meeting? 2) Who chooses the songs that you will sing? 3) Who chooses the Scriptures that will be read? 4) Who teaches (preaches)? 5) Do the same people do these things week in and week out?

    My first suggestion would be to give other people opportunities to speak during the church meeting – even teaching (preaching the sermon). Give people opportunities to make comments or exhortations.

    By the way, this type of meeting will probably not be as tidy as yours. But, I think it would be more edifying to the church.

    -Alan

  12. 1-8-2009

    I think your blog is fabulous! So I am giving you an award and a shout out at my place. Come on over and find out more.

    See you soon!

    ~ Pam ~
    http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/Pamela/643118/

  13. 1-9-2009

    Pam,

    Thank you very much! I appreciate the award, but I much more appreciate the fact that you and others choose to read my blog.

    -Alan

  14. 1-9-2009

    Alan, those questions do are good ones to think about and I think you may have pushed me to a couple of new ideas for our church.

    Let me give you an example, though, of how an idea (like in your original post) can sound great in theory, but in the actual life of a church not really be possible to accomplish.

    You asked about our singing – who picks our songs. Well I do. Would it be good for someone else to pick them? Yes, I’d even like it – not having that responsibility every week.

    However, here’s the problem I’ve run into. There may be a couple people in our church who are equipped to choose songs from a theological standpoint, but have no musical understanding.

    We have 3 musicians they have a great ear for the music, but no theological training for choosing our hymns.

    I would like to get to the point where we have people in our church that could be strong in both areas – but we just aren’t there right now. In fact, I see it as my job as pastor to GET US THERE.

    But the real world is not as easy as theory sometimes.

  15. 1-9-2009

    Brent,

    Is musical understanding really necessary to request that the church sing a song together?

    You might find that if someone chooses a song that you personally don’t agree with theologically, that you do more good by discussing those differences together than by refusing to sing the song.

    -Alan

  16. 1-9-2009

    “You might find that if someone chooses a song that you personally don’t agree with theologically, that you do more good by discussing those differences together than by refusing to sing the song”

    I think you’re right and its something we’re working on implementing in the next several months. Calling songs out in the service (I’m not sure if that’s what you mean) won’t work because several of our musicians need some preparation time. Taking suggestions a week or two ahead of time may be a good thing for us to integrate.

    I think it may also be good to try a kind of spontaneous Scripture reading – where we have 5 minutes or so set aside and ask people to stand and read a passage they would like. That may be something else we could implement.

    Is this the kind of thing you’d like to see?

  17. 1-9-2009

    Brent,

    Since I don’t know the people, or how God has gifted them, or how God is working through them, it would be difficult for me to suggest ideas for your meeting. It sounds like you already have some good ideas. My only suggestion would be to give people opportunities to use their gifts whenever the church meets.

    -Alan

  18. 1-10-2009

    These are the very verses that led us out of the traditional structures – these and the other “one another” scriptures.

    Really – the five-fold ministry in Eph 4 can only truly be seen in the context of the entire body functioning together – and that changes the job description drastically.

  19. 1-10-2009

    Jerry,

    I’m not as convinced about “five-fold ministry”, since Paul lists them in four categories. But, I definitely agree that the entire body should be functioning together. This is especially evident in Eph 4:16.

    -Alan

  20. 1-26-2009

    “The best thing that could happen in the church is for pastors, preachers, teachers, elders, leaders, to sit down and listen to other people and be served by other people.”

    And with only the pastor speaking, how is he ever edified? I think this is what pastor’s conferences are for. ;)

  21. 1-26-2009

    Steve,

    Yes. That’s one important point. Another thing is that Scripture says that the working of the entire body is necessary to edify the entire body. But, if only one person (the pastor) is “working”, then the entire body is not being edified – regardless of how gifted he is.

    -Alan

  22. 7-6-2011

    There really is no question concerning the manner of a New Testament gathering. The typical Sunday morning just doesn’t exist and is even contrary to scripture. For us it all began to change when we took as our foundation that Christ was in us. If taken to it’s end the result is a body functioning through it’s parts. Any resemblance of Him in a building must be cast down.

  23. 7-6-2011

    We would all have very little to say if we let our actions towards one another speak for us. Or do they already say more about us then we are willing to hear? Letting His Spirit guide our motives and actions everything will naturally be put in His order.

  24. 7-6-2011

    I have a few thoughts. First I do want to acknowledge all the great work you’ve done Alan and all the great discussion you facilitate on this blog. You have done a wonderful job in framing the church through a New Testament lens. You haven’t fallen prey to the temptation to proclaim one specific model of church as biblical to the exclusion of all others. Be encouraged I think you are on the right track.

    I’ve been in house churches for years with participatory meetings, no paid staff, with people using their spiritual gifts. I’ve observed the fruit of these things in the life of the church. It hasn’t been hugely abundant but I’ve been encouraged to see how much of a difference this change makes. However there is one more ingredient I’d throw in the ekklesial stew.

    Love.

    Even we folks in the house church movement can skip from 1Cor 12 to 1Cor 14 and sit satisfied knowing that we have more closely aligned ourselves with a New Testament approach. If the people that come together to build one another up using their gifts actually love each other the dynamics of the situation become amazingly powerful.

    It can be difficult to talk about love because it really isn’t part of the approach but the heart behind the approach. People usually come to love one another by interacting with each other personally in very small groups of 2 or 3. It isn’t something we can structure, it comes mostly from coming to deep knowledge of God and His love for us and being there for each other.

  25. 10-3-2011

    Alan, it seems as though you hit on a topic that requires much thought and restructuring. I see two main issues when simply allowing the indicatives to peak for themselves.

    1- It is difficult to retrofit a method into an existing structure. For instance, when a church has “done it this way” for so long, the chances of reverting back to this method seems challenging, if not impossible without damaging people. Though the damage may take place, it does not mean the move was wrong.

    2- A danger with such a shift is primarily financial. I say this with vocational experience. I also know that this will not be the case church wide but it certainly was for us. I made a decision to shift the gathering and we saw people “moving on”. I have no issue with the moving on of believers to another church, but I did take issue with our resolve. We resolved to go back to the model that satisfied people. This anthropocentric approach seemed to be the driving force within the church I served at. The approach also started and ended with this question. What will we do if the tithes leave? There is no need to expand on that point. I fear we have taken an approach that best serves people and their wants and set aside what God has shown to be best for His church.

    Grated this is offered with much of a bias, but I hope I am not to far off base…

  26. 3-21-2013

    Oh thank God for you…a friend of mine and i were talking about just that subject earlier this morning..I recently joined a church..and over the years have been in several churches…I was skeptical about the church because I was looking for certain things that should take place..so when I first attended bible study..I was waiting for what I call being sat down and given a baby pacifier and just listen..not literally but something like that..well the Pastor told us to go to a certain bible verse he read it and then asked us to raise our hand and give our opinion of what we thought about that verse..I was elated because I know we all must have an input in the church meetings..If a saint has a true relationship with God then He will give us knowledge and understanding as well as a Pastor..we may have an input that will help someone that is going through something that we have already gone through…so again I Thank God for your life…Amen !!!!!!

  27. 3-24-2013

    Cynthia,

    Yes. Everyone’s input and opinion is important because everyone (who is God’s child) is indwelled with the Holy Spirit, is being taught by the Spirit, and can teach others in accordance with that. Of course, we don’t desire to simply offer our input or opinion, but to share what the Spirit is teaching us.

    -Alan

  28. 7-6-2013

    A good one. I can see the practical possibility of this in settings like bible studies etc, what about Sunday service? Are we going to prepare a Sunday service preaching roster with all the names of the congregation on it? , or perhaps the preaching roster could be made up of people who expressed the willingness to take part in this beautiful work ?

    Can you offer some practical suggestions to making this sound biblical advise work , Elder Knox ? Can we all be preachers ? Is preaching the only…….sorry but I tend to ask myself a lot of questions when it comes to living the Bible, please bear with this crank in your class.

  29. 7-7-2013

    Franklin,

    From what I can tell, in Scripture “preaching” refers to proclaim the gospel to unbelievers. It doesn’t refer to a sermon or an exposition of Scripture. And, yes, we can all be preachers (in that sense).

    On the other hand, when the church gathered in Scripture, the terms used to describe that gathering are much more interactive.

    If you’re actually interested in some “practical” suggestions, I wrote a post about that recently called “To encourage active participation when we gather with the church.”

    -Alan