I was on my way to minister after being picked up by the head of a local ministry. About halfway into the trip back to the hotel, the leader turned to me, smiled and asked, “What’s your program?”
I assumed he meant for the service the next day, and I grinned back. “Whatever God has for me to do.”
That wasn’t the answer he was looking for.
Just as there is an assumption that someone in a ministry must prepare a sermon, there is a general idea that a service must be planned or structured to some degree. Basically, this can mean anything from a loose schedule with specific songs worked out and a message to a highly structured timeframe where the whole ministry team pays close attention to the clock and every detail.
The thing is, I can’t find it in the Bible.
In fact, I find the exact opposit to be the case. In the New Testament, there is a very real sense that the lack of structure and planning within a service is key. From Galatians to Ephesians and especially 1 Corinthians, the rules of order are based not on a specific plan to make sure things get moving but on the lack of one to assure God gets to do what He wants.
If we want to argue anything out of scripture in support of an order of worship, we have to go back to the old Law. This was a system of sacrifices and legalism where many times detail was important. But even during the time of the Law, when God moved it was always spontaneous to the Israelites and interrupted their lives.
Under the New Covenant, however, the old traditions were only shadows of the substance, Christ, and now we have Him within us, which invalidates all the old traditions. While these old traditions may reveal Christ to us, the true revelation is in us.
The idea of 1 Corinthians 14 and the New Testament as a whole is that our coming together for worship should be an expression of the Body whose Head is Christ. There are some compelling implications here.
First, there is no discernible human leader. In other words, things are happening, but no single person has planned it, ordered it, structeured it or ordained it. No committee is responsible foor the flow.
Second, things happen fairly spontaneously, but there is an order and a message or even a theme. Everyone is engaged, but no one is following a program.
Third, and most importantly, it is obvious that God Himself is directly involved and leading the group. There is a sense, even to unbelievers, that something supernatural is at work, that the group HAS a leader, and that Person is the invisible God.
This is a physical witness of the spiritual reality.
We are the Body; He is the Head.
I understand the thought process behind it, and I don’t really think most people desire to usurp the leadership of the Holy Spirit in a meeting. But it is a bondage when you can’t see a different way. What I suggest (actually, what the Bible ordains) is so outside worldly thinking that people in the Western Church today have a difficult time accepting it. Even my more “spirit-filled” friends plan specific songs or teachings for their meeting. I’m even familiar with one ministry that intercedes for revival in a very structured way.
One of the most amusing phrases I’ve heard several times at all types of meetings is, “Lord, have your way today,” or tonight or whatever. Many times it is at the beginning of the metting. Then you look down and God’s “way” is all planned out for Him in the bulletin. Or they might say it before the “altar call” as if we’ve done our thing, now God can move and do His part.
Let me be clear. It is always time to do God’s thing and put our agendas aside. From personal experience, God’s agenda is much more rewarding.
Some people like to quote the verse, “God is not a God of disorder,” as if spontenaity will always breen chaos and disorder. The rest of the verse claims that He is a God of peace. Did you notice that? The opposite of disorder in the Kingdom is not order but peace. Most ministry teams on Sunday morning (or even other times) feel anything but peace while they have to stick to a time schedule prepared for them. If God actually did interrupt their service, they would feel anything but actual peace. I know. I’ve seen it when it happens.
Of course there is a balance of discipline as well. We should show up at certain times in order to assure we can be together for fellowship and worship. Our lives in the world are naturally scheduled, so some basic administration is necessary and is therefore a spiritual gift.
Spontaneity in following the Spirit in our daily lives is an important principle, on the other hand. If I were in line at Burger King and the Spirit told me to go to a specific person and speak to them about Jesus, shouldn’t I obey? Sure, I might lose my place in line or not even get to eat, but isn’t obedience more important?
Where do we learn how to follow God in the moment? As we worship together, following the Head, we become a beautiful witness of Him instead of our ability to organize, tantalize or emotionalize the mood. In most services I’ve ever attended outside of a handful of places, the Body is told by a human being when to stand and sit and sing and listen then shoved back out the door and encouraged to follow God.
Most don’t have a clue what that means from our services.
Ultimately, it comes to what the Bible says. There is no biblical direction to structure services, but there is a biblical mandate to have open, spontaneous meetings. If we hold on to the former and shun the latter, can we blame God for not really moving among us?