A few 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.
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? Isn't it time we gave the church back to Jesus?