In nature, there’s a word for a place with inflow but no outflow: It’s called a swamp. God’s people are not called to be dead, stagnant swamps, but to offer living water: Cool, fresh, flowing and life giving.
Unfortunately, too many church gatherings are about inflow and not outflow. Churches today are focused on meetings and programs where people receive ministry, rather than places where we can minister one to another — as Scripture commands — according to our differing gifts. Getting people out of the familiar, traditional swamp of going to church to receive ministry, rather than the Biblical mandate to be the church where everyone ministers, is very daunting!
This dichotomy is amply illustrated by two ministries I’m involved with in the local jail. One is a highly structured, thirteen week program that provides intense teaching and scripted study materials to about thirty men who live together in a low-security, faith-based dorm. In that program, some of the strongest pulpit ministries in the county come to teach and minister to the men. With two meetings each weekday, they receive the best preaching and teaching imaginable. It’s like “podium church” on steroids.
I am one of the church leaders who regularly ministers there (going back many years), with a reputation for being one of the more “gifted” and dynamic teachers — as well as having exceptional rapport with the men.
The other ministry is an indigenous church I helped start in the jail a year and a half ago in another higher-security, general-population housing unit. That church is comprised of inmates who minister to each other in open, participatory meetings for an hour each day after dinner. See The Church in D Pod. All I do is join them on Sunday afternoons to encourage and lay the foundation for them to be the church among themselves during the rest of the week, without needing constant outside input as they gather daily.
The men in the jail’s indigenous church encourage each other to develop their spiritual gifts, and gather with the expectation that God will meet their needs as they minister to and edify each other. They have a fraction of the input received by the men in the faith-based dorm. Nonetheless, the spiritual maturity that comes out of that multi-gifted church far exceeds the highly structured faith-based dorm, with its emphasis on excellent but nonetheless directed teachings and study guides.
I’m not arguing against structured programs, study guides, directed meetings or monologue teaching. I can see places for those, in limited circumstances that supplement (rather than supplant) fully-functioning, multi-gifted and participatory meetings of the Body of Christ. In fact, the jail’s faith-based dorm is a great program. It’s just that it, or any other ministry that fosters passive receivers (even if inadvertently), will never bear as much fruit as a fully-functioning, multi-gifted, participatory church. Far from it!
Unless your Bible is vastly different than mine, organizing our regular meetings around podium-focused monologue teachings, with podium-focused directed prayers and podium-focused choreographed worship, is not being the church!
Nonetheless, in our culture today, the passivity this fosters is very alluring and few have the courage to risk breaking out of those human traditions.
So what type of meetings do you choose for your church?
Why choose anything less than what we see throughout the New Testament?
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