Now all of these things are not bad in an of themselves. But as human beings we can so easily make these things the thing. Over the past 2-3 years God has been using some people (like Alan Knox, among others) and some books (of course the Bible, and authors such as Frank Viola, among others) to teach me some things and to help me re-focus on the things that I think perhaps are important.
As a part of this process I relearned the importance of the church community encouraging one another. Our gatherings were polished and ordered from beginning to end. But very rarely, if at all, did others in the community have a chance to share anything. We heard very little testimony of what God was doing in the life of one another. Also contributing to my new awareness were verses such as these:
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. - 1 Corinthians 12:7
What shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
- 1 Corinthians 14:26
Some other verses similar to this one are Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16. Paul's point appears to be that every believer should at least have the opportunity to contribute to the gathering. The contribution should be something that strengthens the church, encouraging and edifying other believers. And it should also be done in an orderly fashion (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:27ff.)
About a year ago we implemented an open sharing time in our gathering. Our church has two gatherings on Sunday morning, one at 9am and the other at 11am. The 11am gathering is larger and I was a little nervous as to how it would be received and work out. But since its inception it has truly been a blessing, our community feels closer together and the people look forward to that time together.
Whenever we begin the sharing time I open by saying, "Does anyone have any words of encouragement, testimonies, praises or prayer requests? What is God doing in our lives?" I specifically use that order because (1) I want people to be encouraged to share their "God stories" with the community; (2) it is important for others to hear what God is doing around us; (3) and while prayer is a great gift and very important, I don't want it to turn into "Please pray for my aunt's, nephew's, brother's, son's, best friend's sister's pet gerbil."
For the first few months we received mostly, if not all prayer requests. But then gradually we began to have others share some testimony. Then others would share a word of encouragement. Now, through the Holy Spirit's guidance, it has taken on a life of it's own. Sometimes we have taken 10-15 minutes during our "traditional" worship time to share what God has done and is doing and what we are praying to see God do. the feedback from the community is that it has become or is becoming one of their favorite aspects of our corporate gathering.
I know that many churches do this, we are not unique in this regard. But I want to encourage you, if you are not offering a time of sharing during your corporate gathering consider starting one. How are you and your church family implementing the verses shared above? I'd love to hear about it.