One Mark of a Truly Spiritual Church

by Mike Leake on May 20, 2013 · 10 comments

“We don’t have bulletins”, said the pastor quite proudly.

“Why not?”, inquires a sheepish visitor.

The pastor confidently answers, “We want to give the Spirit freedom to work and move in our worship services. We do not want to be shackled and confined by some order of service”.

That is a real conversation I overheard in a church that I was visiting. At the time I was giving the pastor a thumbs up. I grew up in a Baptist church where the only time you shouted or raised your hands was if somebody elbowed you in the kidney when you nodded off during the pastors sermon. Therefore, this new found freedom of worship was something I was really digging.

Then it got weird.

Nothing like holding snakes or clucking down the aisle like a chicken. But it just got weird. I never knew what to expect from one Sunday to the next. Would we enter into a building with no chairs and start roasting marshmallows while singing Chris Tomlin songs? Would we see a live goat sacrificed as an illustration for the one week sermon series on Leviticus? Would I be called on stage and exposed for something? How long would this meeting last? Who would be speaking?

I never knew the answer to those questions. And eventually I stopped coming because of that. I started believing that it was less about the Spirit and his activity and more about the ideas that this pastor dude got at 2am after a night of indulging in a Chinese buffet. So I went to a church with a little more order.

Some might say that I was simply uncomfortable with the Spirit’s moving. If I really wanted to be in a spiritual church then I wouldn’t need a crazy church bulletin. Maybe, that’s true. But I kind of think the apostle Paul agrees with me.

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace…But all things should be done decently and in order.

According to Paul one mark of a truly spiritual church is a godly order that intends to build up the congregation. It’s the exact opposite of we-don’t-have-bulletins-because-we-have-the-Spirit dude. I’m not saying that bulletins are necessary. In some instances they are just a waste of paper. But order is necessary. The Spirit works in the midst of order not against it.

So the next time some dude invites you to his church that is really spiritual because they just do as the Spirit leads, you might consider 1 Corinthians 14 before signing up.

You can follow Mike on Twitter (@mikeleake), his personal blog, or by building a secret tree house in the tall trees behind his house.

1 Robert Vaughn May 20, 2013 at 8:43 am

Mike, I think I’d come down somewhere in between the position you advocate and the extreme of the church you present. When we consider the
decency and order of 1 Corinthians 14, part of the context is not talking over one another — the first speaker should stop if someone else has something to say. So it’s not so much about an order of services, what sermon will be preached or how long the service will last.

2 Mike Leake May 20, 2013 at 9:26 am

I’d almost bet that our positions are not that much different. Notice that I said, “I’m not saying that bulletins are necessary. In some instances they are just a waste of paper.”

At our church we don’t typically have an order of service. But we do follow a pretty specific format so that most people know what to expect. There is order. Of course there is freedom to shake that up. What I’m saying here is that for some “Spirit-led” equals “disorder”. I’m saying it’s the opposite. There is a Spirit-driven clarity that falls upon the church.

3 Robert Vaughn May 20, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Mike, you are probably correct that we aren’t much different in our positions. We follow a general pattern week by week, yet aren’t afraid to change it when necessary/if we want to. About a month ago we compacted our roughly 2 hour morning service into about 1 hr 15 minutes because of a funeral service impacting much of the membership. Even though the service did not specifically interrupt our service time, we wanted to not work a hardship on members who had a direct part in the service. This is a rare example of what we feel we can do if we want to.

Some people seem to equate “chaos” directly with the moving of the Spirit, but I don’t. But other situations like you describe above are likely over a self-enamored leader who ultimately is following his own leadership and not that of the Spirit.

But I think being in one long rut is only slightly different from being in a grave.

4 Bart Barber May 20, 2013 at 10:01 am

Mike,

I’m with Robert (and perhaps with you, too). I think that SOMEBODY ought to have some plan for the service before it starts. We have a printed order of service. I really don’t like having it, not because I don’t want us to have a plan, and not because I don’t want to be constrained by it (I’m not…I do what I think is best, whether it is on that piece of paper or not…I deviate from it regularly), but because I find that printed orders of service can sometimes lead people to miss what’s happening in the service now because they’re counting how many items until the end or fixating on what is next.

The leader needs the map. The followers just need the leader.

5 Mike Leake May 20, 2013 at 10:22 am

Yeah that is one of the major reasons why we do not have an order of service. It turns into a checklist. And we can save money on paper as well.

6 Clark Dunlap May 20, 2013 at 10:11 am

We print an order of worship and I’m glad we do. many people probably never look at it, but some like to have a sense of where we are going. Sometimes you get a better feel for the overarching theme or goal when you see it printed in front of you. It’s like learning styles. Some people are visual, some are auditory or aural, some are tactile and/or kinesthetic, etc. etc. Why can’t the visual get a little kindness here? They get the words on screen or in a book or in a hand-out and they like it.
Sometimes, being the leader means not saying “Just follow me and don’t worry about it.”

7 Greg Harvey May 20, 2013 at 10:27 am

If you don’t have a bulletin, what will the people do who normally color in the closed portions of characters with their pens like “o”, and “e”, and “a”? One of my earliest memories of “big church” (at University Baptist in Fort Worth) was keeping myself occupied doing that. I would, therefore, not want to go to a church that didn’t have “bulletins” because THAT was an authentic experience and clearly is “how it’s done”.

I’ve joined various Episcopalian friends for worship for various reasons. There are aspects to a more liturgical service that are extremely orderly and provide consistency over time that at least at some level appeals to me. Methodists (I was one for a couple of years at A&M) have some of that, too, though their specialty–order-wise–is Methodism not liturgy. And I regret to say that their Methodism isn’t spectacularly more successful at the thing I hoped it would actually provide: rigorous discipleship. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t exist, but they’re no more committed to it than the Baptists are.

To the further extreme, of course, are the Catholics and the various branches of the Orthodox church. They teach specific physical actions for prayer and entry into pews to put a fine point on it. And the one thing about the sacraments–even if you disagree with sacramentalism itself–is that they’re well-developed and defined rituals (for the most part.) Raised as a Baptist: these things strike me as both overdone and missing the point. But my Catholic friends enjoy the sense of orderliness that it provides (or so they tell me.)

I agree with the view that a pastor winging it and trying to really do things that keep it from being TOO de rigeur can undermine a sense of community and commonality. But I also remember very clearly the kinds of folks that appeals to: when I worked in production of software games, the artists were “push the envelope” kind of people and they fed off of each other doing that. It had a strong element of rebelliousness but it wasn’t without purpose. The best art always is original and expressive and sometimes is also offensive to those who are comfortable.

I actually think there is value to discomfort in a church setting. This isn’t an argument for hard wood pews, per se, though there is certainly nothing wrong with them. But the idea that we should get comfortable in church and get “used” to it strikes me as, perhaps, avoiding knowing God. It’s a cliche at this point to refer to the C.S. Lewis characterization of “not a tame lion” when describing God. But it’s also true and might have been one of the more useful elements of his Chronicle of Narnia series as storybooks for children.

I guess my point is that there is lots of variation that can be appropriated to either build in order or to avoid ruts (“a grave with both ends kicked out”?) And my experiences tell me that in and of itself either more order or less aren’t exactly characteristics of a well-executed worship experience. They can be very fulfilling, in fact, and still lack at many levels the commitment of a true worshiper to God (though I’ll offer that only God can know what is in the human heart.)

Going back to my artist friends: I don’t think they are wrong. Worship is art, “not science”. And we need a balance between sameness and new expressions. Even my more rigorous, music-making friends constantly looked for opportunities to either write new music or to re-arrange it. The key is to incorporate that into the worship service in such a way that it clearly “fits”. And each congregation is practically different and will have a different comfort level for fitting things in.

Yeah: the situation Mike describes would be offputting to me as well. But three songs (first, second and last verse only), an offering, a special, a sermon, and an invitation isn’t exactly a biblical pattern. We humans choose the order of worship. Presumably to please God, not ourselves. Or is that really our focus?

8 Dave Miller May 20, 2013 at 11:00 am

The idea that the Spirit can only work where there is no structure or plan is a little disquieting. There is a balance there. The Spirit can lead in preparation as he can lead during the conduct of the meeting itself.

9 Chris Roberts May 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Then of course one might ask the pastor for any biblical justification that the Spirit would lead the service in the manner the pastor seems to think would happen. We have this notion that Spirit-led means some sort of promptings and movings of the Spirit directing us along a certain path, when Spirit led in Scripture means something altogether different: living life according to the ways of God as revealed in Scripture rather than the ways of the world.

10 Bart Barber May 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Good point. The Holy Spirit, did, of course, sometimes show people just what to do and when, but following the leadership of the Holy Spirit means, biblically speaking, so much more than just that.

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