Enthusiastic Participation: Back in the day, on a Friday night in October, football was a big deal. But if you weren’t a player, a coach, a cheerleader or in the band, you were just a spectator. Today sporting events are quite different. As an old comedian used to say, “Everybody wants to get into the act.” Often we see: fans wearing team colors or crazy get-ups; macho guys with no shirts in December; painted faces; “No. 1” fingers and John 3:16 waving, while everyone does “the wave.” While some of the antics are odd, we can’t help but feel this trend of enthusiastic participation is a good thing.
A Good Idea for the Church? Recently I heard a preacher admit that many in the church find Sunday services boring. One reason may be because attenders are relegated to the role of spectator. Pastors dominate the service, failing to see folks want to do more. After all, worship isn’t boring for the preachers, musicians, singers and other participants. Those sitting in the pews may find it so. Is this a reason many, especially the young, are dropping out?
Before we offer suggestions, we might examine the biblical view of participation by rank and file believers. Peter wrote: Christ is the living stone of God’s temple [the church], but you are all living stones, called to share in the building up of the church; you are priests, called to offer spiritual sacrifices, pleasing to God. [1 Peter 2: 4]. Paul wrote: There are many of us, but we each are part of the body of Christ, as well as part of one another, all of have significant gifts to offer. [Romans 12:5,6]
Scripture says nothing about the division of clergy and laity. All believers are to participate and share in the duties of the worship and service of Jesus, not just a few. The old system of chief priests who do the real work of ministry for the people is out the window. Church Leaders have a new job—to coach and equip members find their place in the body and contribute with their unique gifts no matter what they are.
Sadly, the church is back in the outdated, hierarchal rule of a priestly system, where only a certain class were allowed to do the work of ministry. Does the Bible teach the Holy Spirit limits gifts of communication, leadership and facilitating only to those with theological educations? Is our only task as believers to sit in pews Sunday after Sunday, supporting leaders with our time, treasury, and talents? Isn’t it like sending the coach out on the field to play the game while the team cheers from the sidelines.
Here are a few ideas to increase participation by all members.
- Sermon feed-back. Preachers put a lot of work into their sermons, yet research shows, like water running off macadam, very little really of what they say sinks in. One way to counter that is to create a forum after the sermon for people to offer questions, feedback and comments. A better way is to develop small groups where members meet during the week for fellowship and discussion of the sermon with well-prepared questions for group leaders.
- Prayers of the People: What is the job of spiritual leaders. Is it to do the work of ministry for us or equip the flock to do it? Because someone graduates from a school of theology does that mean their prayers are heard while the prayers of others aren’t? One denomination changed “pastoral prayer” to “prayers of the people”. Why can’t we open up the service for short prayers to be offered from the pews?
- Utilize Members’ Spiritual Gifts. Is it a good idea to offer classes on spiritual gifts when the church is set up so only professionals do the real work of ministry? It’s very frustrating for a member to find he or she has a gift for leadership or communication to be stuck doing the work of an usher, greeter or committee member. One pastor instituted “the witness box” where he prepared members to stand in the pulpit while he asked them questions about their own faith. We used to have this:
- Lay witness missions. Non-professionals were sent out for entire week-ends to other churches to witness to their love and service of Jesus Christ.
- Lay Sundays when non-professionals preached.
- Youth Sunday when young people were given opportunities to share their faith.
Music. “…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord. [Eph. 5: 18, 19] Somehow Paul’s description of Christian worship and our modern version seem quite different. It’s common today for member of near-professional praise teams to be given high powered microphones. Do they all need them? They are very good, but often drown out us worshipers. And isn’t their job teaching and encouraging us to worship rather than doing much of it themselves? Why do we feel sometimes there is more performance than worship going on?
Could we devote a Sunday now and to participation of other worshipers to offer hymns and spiritual songs that have special significance to them? Might we devote a large part of the service to maximum participation of the congregation in choosing and singing these songs?
What works best in your congregation?