Why Not Open Sharing?
In the New Testament church one sees vigor and activity; one sees a living community, conscious of its glory and of its responsibility, with the whole church, as it were, an evangelistic force. The notion of people belonging to the church in order to come to sit down and fold their arms and listen, with just two or three doing everything, is quite foreign to the New Testament, and it seems to me it is foreign to what has always been the characteristic of the church in times of revival and of reawakening.
– D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Knowing the Times)
I once knew a pastor who concluded every service by asking his congregation, “Anyone have a word?” This was his invitation for others to share with the Body what the Lord Jesus had been teaching them or doing in their lives. It was his attempt to encourage Body Life in what was otherwise a very traditional preaching service.
There are, I think, many advantages to opening the floor to the Body. A pastor-teacher who allows for feedback admits that he is a learner along with his flock, one who comes to the Word of God as they do – eagerly, humbly, expectantly, looking to the Spirit of God to minister. He sees his flock as full partners with him in the adventure of knowing and understanding God’s Word. He treats them as people to whom and through whom God can speak as well as through him. He’s not afraid to listen, encourage questions, to admit “I don’t know.”
It’s here, focusing together on the Word of God, that the Holy Spirit creates a oneness that goes beyond organizational form. The assembly becomes known as a “fellowship of learners,” a community of shared life and purpose. In such a setting the pastor does not need to be in control or command; he is to lead others in learning together under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. He’s not afraid of dialogue; he even expects God to speak to him through others.
Consider the following verses and ask yourself, “Does my church function in this manner?” (Because these verses are so familiar, I have quoted them in the New Living Translation. Read them slowly, prayerfully, and deliberately, asking the Master Teacher to help you see their import.)
In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly (Rom. 12:6-8).
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other (1 Cor. 12:4-7).
Since you are so eager to have the special abilities the Spirit gives, seek those that will strengthen the whole church (1 Cor. 14:12).
Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you (1 Cor. 14:26).
Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love (Eph. 4:15-16).
Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. (Col. 3:16).
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near (Heb. 10:24-25).
God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen (1 Pet. 4:10-11).
My question to you, friend, is this: Why can’t a time of more formal teaching be followed by a time of open sharing and discussion in which the whole Body has an opportunity to contribute? For too many Christians, “church” is nothing but a spectator sport, with the result that the average church is suffering from a terrible imbalance among its membership – too many shirkers and not enough sharers. The Christian who opts out of all responsibility in the church and who tries to shelter under the excuse that he has nothing to offer is being nothing short of blasphemous, for the Bible plainly teaches that “each has received a gift.”
What to do then? Encourage your pew-polishers to get involved and watch what happens. You may well find them noble successors of those worthy Bereans!*
* We need to add a special rider here. I realize the danger of one or two people monopolizing the discussion or even of unbiblical teaching or ungodly attitudes being introduced into the congregation. Those who are responsible for the spiritual welfare of a local fellowship of Christians must be fearless in rooting out false doctrine and behavior in the church. As always, Christ left us an example (1 Pet. 2:21). The servant of the Lord is to be gentle, gracious, forgiving, courteous, and understanding – and not to assert himself. When Paul commands Timothy to “convince, rebuke, and exhort,” he insists that in doing so he is to be “unfailing in patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). “Unfailing in patience”! Let us remember that when we are called upon to correct another saint.
October 30, 2006
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.