-1 Corinthians 14:26-33 (MSG)
Here are two scenes of identical gatherings, with one difference, that I want to share and see what you think.
A group of people are gathered. It could be a birthday party, a graduation celebration or a wake. In the first version, a person, stands up to speak; and they speak for a long time: twenty minutes to an hour, without interruption. In the second version, that same person speaks for one, two, three, four, five or six minutes, if they're long winded. Then someone else speaks for a minute or two, maybe a little more, if they are inarticulate or have a lot to say, like a long story with details.
Imagine yourself at the first version of the gathering. Would it not be strange if someone spoke, without interruption and any conversational back and forth, for ten, twenty or even sixty minutes? It would be surreal if someone went on and on and on, like, "is this a bad dream?"
Imagine a person speaking solo at a gathering to say a prayer, speak a blessing or congratulate someone. I have done this, as best man, at my friend's wedding party. What if that person went on and on, ten minutes or longer?
Would not that be strange and uncomfortable or 'socially unacceptable'? The answer of course is, "Yes!"
But that is what many of us expect when we 'go to church'. Someone from another culture, that is more communal, like African, might ask, "Why does that one speak so long without others talking?"
And we would answer, "Because that is how we do it."
We carve out an hour or three in our schedules to go to a meeting that is not really a meeting, because there is not much meeting happening. We call it a service, but what is the serving? I take it that we maybe serve God by singing songs? Or by giving money to keep things going?
In the New Testament, church 'services' or gatherings are very different than what we normally do. And I am speaking as someone in the Evangelical, North American context.
Two of the things that we hold dear: 'the sermon' and 'the pastor' are not mentioned much in the NT.
There are only a handful of examples, if that, of sermons or preaching sermons inside a church gathering, in the New Testament. And yet, we keep doing it and feel we must do it. Somehow, having a sermon or a pastor speak or a clergy person give a talk, at some point became what defined a Christian gathering.
But Christ and his body, plural, is what describes and defines the church or the Christians gathering, in the New Testament.
I have never read the passage in the NT that says to have a sermon, when you gather. I have never seen the verses that support having one person give a speech, address or sermon; when we gather.
I can find more support for writing articles and books. I can see a lot of support for short teachings, followed by questions and discussion. I see a lot of support for 'show and tell' or doing something and then teaching about what you did.
I see conversations where one person says something and another person challenges what they said and the first person responds, while others join in.
Here is how it should be done: "When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight."
Each person should come to the gathering with something to share, like a pot luck. That is community.
Church is not like going to a show or a restaurant, or even to a class. And the ones who come empty handed are like the prodigal in Jesus parable, who has a heart open to Father. Everyone else comes with something to share, something that God has given to them or that God has done in their lives.