August 1st, 2016

Directed versus Participatory Church: A Dialog

A friend of my mom who is a very dear, older sister in the Lord:

“How are you doing, Jim?”

Me:

“Good. I just got back from being in the jail this morning. I was with about fifty men from one of the housing units.” (She knows I often “minister” in the jail.)

Her:

“Oh, did you teach?” (Years ago, I had a very successful traditional teaching ministry in one of the larger churches in the county, and she was always one of my most eager and engaged students.)

Me:

“No. These days, I mainly let them teach and minister to each other. Sometimes I may say something, but not always and I keep it really short so they can take the lead among themselves.

So NOT church! “Today various men shared verses, testimonies, songs, teachings and we even had some great, improvised Christian rap by two of the brothers.

“One man shared, with tears of joy, about how the Lord had given him peace over the uncertainty of his upcoming trial, and I asked if he would pray for other men facing the same anxiety. He did a beautiful job as a half dozen men gathering around him in a circle, arms round each other’s shoulders, and he imparted to those struggling with the same issue some of the grace God had given him. He had never done that kind of thing before. I didn’t pray for them, but stayed in my seat, because that other brother who was an inmate had the grace needed and I didn’t.

“That’s how it works. We’ve gotten away from directed meetings were a worship team ‘does’ worship for everyone and a pastor ‘does’ a monologue teaching and everyone passively sits there – other than following along with the music and maybe an ‘amen’ or two. We just don’t see how that matches up with what the New Testament says about being the church: the multi-member Body of Christ where every part contributes.

“Instead, I have learned to sit back so they can learn to express what the Lord is doing in them and it always seems to meet the needs of those present. Sometimes I have something to share, usually along the lines of helping to create a framework for them to come forth. This morning, however, like most of the times I join with them, I said a few words as just one of the guys then sat down as they ministered to each other for an hour and half. Like usual, they also ministered to me.”

Her:

Silence, then, “Oh, so you are there to make sure they don’t get off track?”

Me:

“No, they’ve learned to do a really good job of that themselves. I just go to enjoy their fellowship every now and then and be an encouragement to them or maybe add some foundational input.”

Her:

Silence, then “Oh. ”

More silence, then, “So they get together every week or so when you go in?”

Me:

“No, actually, they are their own church. They meet as smaller churches every day after their evening meal. I may see them only every week or two, but they do fine on their own and don’t much need me. We encourage them to be the church, rather than trying to ‘do’ church for them or importing church. That way, they learn to minister to each other and grow up in the Lord.”

Her:

A very, very long silence, then finally, “Nice weather we’re having, huh Jim?”

Me:

Sigh. It’s just about impossible for people to break out of their traditional concept of “church” and to get their mind – and spirit – around the New Testament idea of participatory fellowship rather than directed meetings.

Some day, some day. In the meantime, I just continue to sow seeds as the Lord directs …


Jim Wright is a church sower, public but unassuming, thinker, mentor, teacher, local church elder, motivated by redemption, foe of tyrants, friend of the dispossessed, retired attorney, entrepreneur, private pilot, and so-so bass fisherman. See his website here