I received this question from Mark:
“While we are Southern Baptist, we are definitely reformed in our theology. We also do not believe that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased. When we were attending the Worship God conference , we were moved by those who shared from the prophecy mic. It was an incredible part of our worship to hear scripture, illustrations and such. Can you share with me how you introduced that to your church? Any guidance and input you could give would be great as we pray and seek God’s leadership in introducing this to our people. There’s no question that this is scriptural. But, we want to make sure we present this correctly so that our congregation will understand the purpose of adding this to our worship meetings.”
I’m not sure that everyone reading this blog believes that “there’s no question” that having a microphone for congregational participation is Scriptural. But, for the sake of space, I’ll assume that you’re at least open to the idea. Also, while the title of the this post focuses on prophecy, there are many ways that a congregation can meaningfully contribute to a Sunday meeting.
But let me begin by stressing that congregational participation is always subject to and led by elders who shepherd the flock, exercise oversight, and are over their congregations in the Lord (1 Pet. 5:2; 1 Thess. 5:12). One of the primary purposes in gathering is to hear and apply God’s Word that is proclaimed by those he has raised up as pastor-teachers. But another important aspect is the ministry we bring to one another. Col. 3:16 says we’re to teach and admonish one another. The nearly thirty “one anothers” of the New Testament indicate that meetings include more than a group listening to a single person. 1 Cor. 14, and especially v. 26 imply that various contributions from members of the church are God’s intention.
How that’s done depends on a number of factors, including the size of the church, the maturity of the people, and the church’s history. In Mark’s church, these are some of the ways I’d move ahead.
1. As with any change you want to make, begin by teaching what God’s Word says. Teach the church on the nature of the church and the place of mutual edification in the corporate meeting. David Peterson’s Engaging with God is a great resource. Teach on the variety and importance of the spiritual gifts. 1 Cor. 12-14 are obvious passages for that. A few books we’ve found helpful are Wayne Grudem’s The Gift of Prophecy, Showing the Spirit by D.A. Carson, and Max Turner’s The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts. Sam Storm’s The Beginner’s Guide to the Spiritual Gifts can be helpful as a simple and practical introduction to the nine gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12. Explain that you’d like to create opportunities for members of the church to serve other members through verbal contributions. Teach on the importance of spiritual leadership and orderliness in the Sunday gathering. Inviting members to contribute isn’t abdicating your role to shepherd and lead the flock.
2. Provide a microphone for ministry from members of the church. Spell out what kinds of contributions you’re looking for. They might include Scripture readings, prayers, and prophetic impressions. Generally, they’re spontaneous, but they can be written down beforehand as well. You can also invite people to come up and pray for a specific situation. Even though it may not be “prophecy” strictly speaking, it can lead to people becoming more familiar with contributing to the meeting. If you’re in a very small church, a microphone might be unnecessary, but I’d still recommend having a place people can go to if they have something they’d like to share with the church. We have an on/off switch at this microphone so the sound engineer doesn’t have to control it.
3. We believe the gift of prophecy functions in submission to the gifts of leadership and pastoring. So we station a pastor at the microphone to screen contributions before they’re shared publicly. Sometimes having two pastors makes it easier to evaluate what’s being shared, because there are times when you’re not quite sure about what someone’s bringing. This is one of the ways we obey the command to test prophecy (1 Thess. 5:20-21). At the start, I’d lean towards allowing more contributions than fewer. They may all not be “home runs” but people will be encouraged when God speaks to and through them.
4. I’d evaluate contributions in at least five areas: content, attitude, communication, length, and timing. Is what they’re sharing faithful to Scripture? Are they sharing to serve people, or to not-so-subtly communicate their own perspective to balance out someone else or correct the church? Can the person share their contribution effectively and with appropriate emotion? Is their contribution brief and to the point, or does it wander aimlessly or go on for a few minutes? Is what they want to share going to contribute to the flow of the meeting, or does it seem out of place, tangential, too late, or too early?
5. Personally thank and encourage anyone who comes with something to share, whether or not the church actually hears it. If nothing else, thank them for being faithful to obey what they sensed was God encouraging them to share with the church. At the same time, follow up with anyone you think is wrongly motivated or lacks the gifting to share publicly. It’s better to speak to them directly than try to address them in a veiled way through a sermon or general announcement.
6. Finally, encourage and train those who are particularly gifted. I invited a group of men and women to study Grudem’s The Gift of Prophecy once a month for nine months. We’re currently offering a four week class on the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts.
We don’t have contributions from the congregation at every meeting, for different reasons. Sometimes what we’ve planned for the morning doesn’t leave much space. Other times no one come to the microphone. But at those times, we’re very aware that the Spirit is working in many other ways to display God’s varied grace and to bring glory to the Savior (1 Pet. 4:10-11).
I trust this is helpful. It’s difficult to get too specific without knowing the details of a particular church. But I think these principles could be applied profitably in most churches that want to encourage edifying verbal contributions from their congregations. Please feel free to follow up with any questions or comments.
For more resources on this topic you might want to check out:
A People of God’s Presence by Jeff Purswell
Encountering God’s Presence: What Should We Expect? by Bob Kauflin
Manufacturing, Marketing, and Minimizing God’s Presence by Bob Kauflin