Monday, December 12, 2011

Open Ministry: Chaos on Sunday? (Part 11: Values & Practices Unpacked)

If you thought our approach to teaching was risky, then this practice might worry you even more.

Our third defining practice we call Open Ministry. Put simply, it's an open time with no preplanned activities or even themes. Every member is expected to prepare throughout the week to offer ministry to at least one other member (based on their gifts) and/or request ministry (prayer, supplies, etc).

Even though I'm the leader of the church, I only prepare my 5-10 minutes of ministry activities, like every other member. And, as I've said to my church many times, if I'm the only one who comes ready to offer something then it will be a very short service! Our members share verses, play songs, pray with one another, give practical gifts (once, a member gave another a potted gardenia as a housewarming gift), whatever the Holy Spirit leads them to do that week. It's never the same.

At this point, you might be thinking, "Isn't that chaos? What about heresy? What about immature members offending people? Why would you allow this mayhem to do destroy the sacred time of Sunday worship?"

First, we think it's helps our members grow faster.

Our core values of Growth Through Practice (see previous post on that core value)drives us to provide regular time to practice. We don't want to only talk about our faith together and hope they plan to practice out in the world. We want to practice our faith together--getting better together in practical ways before we step out into the world.

We design our church more like we're a sports team, practicing weekly to prepare for the games, rather than a philosophy class, discussing ideas with no behavioral expectation after our meeting.

Very optimistic (you might still be thinking), but in real life this wide open time must result in chaos. What about 1 Corinthians 14? Paul gives instructions on how to organize church services and he says, "For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people….everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way" (verses 33 & 40).

Out of context, these phrases sound like Open Ministry is unbiblical. You should sit the members down and let the staff do all the ministry. It's more orderly that way.

But in that same chapter, in fact the verse that begins that same paragraph, is support for open ministry time.

1 Corinthians 14:26 says, "What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up."

In the early church, the expectation was that each of them brought something to the gathering. And Paul's challenge is to find an orderly way to allow everyone to share. Being orderly doesn't mean telling everyone else to shut up and sit down. It's about training the members to operator in an orderly fashion.

Most of the time, even though we all prepared without consulting each other, a clear theme emerges (i.e. many verse and songs about forgiveness). I suppose it shouldn't surprise me, if we're all really listening to the Holy Spirit as we prepare.

Is conflict going to happen from immature members making mistakes? Yes. Is heresy going to be proclaimed by a confused member? Probably. But rather than use that as an excuse to restrict Sunday ministry to the leaders, I see those as reasons to make practice time a high priority. The alternatives are to 1) hope those immature members never try to minister to anyone during the week; or 2) require them to make all their mistakes with those they're trying to impact for Jesus.

Open Ministry isn't preplanned. But it isn't a free-for-all with no rules, either. The leaders of the church have to engage--challenging and encouraging the members as needed. But there's a huge difference between overseeing members who minister to each other and doing all the ministry yourself.

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