Sunday, September 7

Why are we so program oriented?

Several years ago I was invited by one of our Baptist churches in Ecuador to preach their Sunday evening message. Even though I came prepared to preach, as I sat waiting my turn, I sensed from the Lord to use the allotted "message time" to lead the church in a 1 Corinthians 14:26 gathering. When given the pulpit, I briefly shared two brief passages about what we should be seeking when the Body of Christ assembles:

Hebrews 10:24-25 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

1 Corinthians 14:26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

I asked the congregation to rearrange the plastic chairs into a circle. Then with a few words of encouragement to literally "stimulate one another to love and good deeds" and "each one has..." for the edification of the saints, we began...

At first there was little understanding of what was expected, and the "how to" do what the Scriptures exhort us in these two passages. With a little prompting and some awkward silences, people slowly began to open up. We sang several songs of their choice, a couple of testimonies were shared of how God had been working in their lives. A sister shared a passage of Scripture that had spoken to her during the week. Someone asked for prayer. We gathered around that person laying hands on them and prayed. One brother confessed he had long harbored in his spirit something against another brother who was present. The two asked forgiveness of each other, hugged, cried, and prayed for one another.

By then we had gone well over the "30 minutes" allotted sermon time, but nobody was eager to break up and go home. After TWO HOURS of open sharing and Spirit-led interaction, I turned the "service" back over to the pastor of the church. He stood, thanked me (didn't he mean the Holy Spirit?) for leading them in a most "interesting" evening. Everyone was then asked to rearrange the chairs back into rows. The offering was collected, and the pastor announced that next week they would resume their regular message series. What we had just experienced was simply an interesting Sunday night special program, but was clearly not the norm for the church to continue to meet in this fashion.

Why are we so programmed oriented when we gather as the church? There is so much that the Head of the Church, Jesus, wants to do in our midst: heal, encourage, build up, teach, yet to risk any embarrassing or awkward moments that might take place in such a Spirit-controlled environment, we end up throwing the baby out with the bath water. Obviously we are much safer controlling all that is said and done by carefully planning of what takes place when we gather, and WHO gets to be the ones to speak/share/lead.

On our previous Stateside Assignment (furlough) I was invited to fill the pulpit at another Baptist church who was then between pastors. Again, instead of preaching, I (and another visiting missionary) shared with them something similar to what was described above. Even though everyone was seated in pews, the same thing happened! The people were freed in the Lord to share Jesus with one another. What took place was a powerful moving of the Spirit as young and old alike were freed to share in the Lord.

This church enthusiastically continued this practice on Sunday evenings for many weeks thereafter. That is, until they finally called a new pastor. Sunday evenings then reverted back to the "normal format" of song service and preaching. The voice of the saints was again given back over to those leading everything from the pulpit. By then we had long returned to Ecuador, but I heard how much they missed gathering in the New Testament way. They tried to understand why, what had been so meaningful to them, had to be discontinued for the traditional song service/preaching format again.

Why are we so program oriented? Why are we afraid to gather today in what is clearly a much more Biblical way, than what takes place in most churches with a controlled program format?


Tom Parker said...


I am afraid there is only one way of worship for so many churches, that is we go by the program, instead of being led by the Holy Spirit. Anything else even if the Holy Spirit manifest himself in a mighty way is only considered interesting. Often there is a rush to get back to what was being done before. I spent 53 days in South Africa this past summer and was blessed to experience many interesting worship services. May people, epecially Pastor's wake up to being less program oriented.

Anonymous said...

Hello Guy,

I am a North American Christian worker (missionary!) in Peru, and have been really encouraged by your blog, as the group I am working with here is experiencing some of the group-dynamic changes that you are describing. I hope to write more soon, but for now, Thank you brother!

John said...

When I read things like this is really grieves me - and I suspect when it happens it grieves the Holy Spirit more.

I can't go back into traditional church settings. I'm not going to spend my time criticizing them, but I can't do that anymore.

I love being with a group of people I really care about where each can share and we can get real with issues in our lives. It's life changing and liberating. I love seeing the amazing work the Holy Spirit does through each person in our gathering.

Thanks for sharing and reminding.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I just get hung up on the word "program," but isn't it possible that the open-ended, prayer and share "format" can develop into just another "program"? I agree that there needs to be a time for Christians to interact with each other, probably in small groups, to stimulate each other to love and good works. But that doesn't mean that a music/preaching program on a Sunday night is wrong.

BTW, happy birthday (9/8/08)!
Randel Trull

GuyMuse said...


Welcome to the M Blog and thanks for commenting. I'd love to hear more about your time in South Africa this summer. I bet it was an eye-opening experience! I too wonder if we aren't grieving the Holy Spirit by substituting His guidance and leadership for our planned programs.

Anon. from Peru,

Thanks for the word of encouragement. I'm glad some of what we write resonates with what you are experiencing there in Peru. I would encourage you to start your own blog and put some of these things down in writing! I know I would be quite interested to hear the kinds of things the Lord is showing you guys.


I missed seeing you at the House2House conference this past weekend. It was great meeting so many of the others in your HC network. I asked about you, but they something about someone having come for a visit. I admire what you guys are trying to do there in the metroplex. Keep up the good work!


Thanks for the B-Day greeting. I'm catching up with you in years! I admit there is comfort and security in doing the same things over and over. We know what to expect when we come. But I fear we have lost the reason for gathering as NT churches when our programs become the norm and we fail to stimulate one another to "love and good works". My observation is that we are more about gathering to learn something from the Word, but rarely are we able to build up one another in the Lord as I understand the Heb/Cor passages are talking about.

Deb Burton said...

My husband and I are struggling some with this now. Our church is asking us to lead a small group Bible study. we enthusiastically want to read from the Bible together, discuss its meanings and relevance, and go out into the world applying what we learn each week in service to each other and those around us. The direction of the small groups committee, though, is to follow a pre-formed program outline with a timeframe and expected measurable outcomes. I think somewhere along the line, pastors, elders, church leaders, etc have read too many management books instead of focusing on the Book of Acts. It's kind of like the complaint against a lot of public schools these days - we just need to get back to basics.
Deb Burton

Anonymous said...

Thanks for commenting on my comment. Let me rephrase my concern: how do we prevent the format of everyone sharing from becoming the new "program"?
Randel Trull

GuyMuse said...


Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed browsing through your blogsite, very interesting stuff!

As for your question, to me there is a difference between a "bible study" and gathering under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Bible Study is certainly a worthy venture and there ought to be times when we gather to study His Word together. But a 1 Cor. 14:26 gathering as described in my post goes way beyond an organized Bible Study. The Holy Spirit is truly leading and we follow his lead. He sets the agenda of what takes place when "two or three gather in His Name". Maybe something to consider would be to spend 2/3 of the time in the prescribed Bible Study as outlined by your leaders, but then open up the last 1/3 of the time for people to minister to one another without the agenda hanging over to stifle what the Lord may want to do in your midst. Just my 2-cents for your consideration!


You ask: how do we prevent the format of everyone sharing from becoming the new "program"?

My experience is that every gathering is different. Sometimes prayer becomes the burden of the group, other times ministering to a particular person's need gets the bulk of the attention and time, there may be a Biblical question that needs addressing, other times praise and thanksgiving is what the Lord leads us in, maybe God has given someone a word of instruction/exhortation that needs to be heard, etc.

I guess there is always the danger of falling into a routine that quickly loses its meaning, but without sounding too mystical/spiritual, our experience is that the Lord knows what needs addressing and will lead us in the direction He has for us when we gather.

On a practical side, when I am leading, I tend to come prepared to the gathering with one or two things up my sleeve (my lack of faith?) that can be used to stimulate the group, but nearly always there is more than enough to keep us engaged, and I usually do not use what is "up my sleeve".

One other thought on this, the 1 Cor. 14:26 says each one is to BRING something for the edification of all. When we do this under the leadership of the Holy Spirit there is little likelihood we will find ourselves falling into a "program routine". Hope this helps. If not, keep asking and maybe some other readers can share their own thoughts from their experience.

GuyMuse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Quinn said...

Hi Guy, it is very interesting what you say about being so program oriented. My experience is that the bigger the church, the more programs they offer and more program oriented they become. When I have been involved with smaller house church / home groups they have been more open to the Holy Spirit. For me that is reason enough to split into two or more groups when the groups starts to get too big.