We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with
our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—
this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and
heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son Jesus Christ.
--1 John 1:1-3 NRSV
Each Sunday at PHCC, I finish my sermon, say “amen,” go sit down and then I get to experience my favorite part of worship at our church: an elder giving a call to offering.
I love this part of the service, because church members share about, well, whatever they want to share about. Sometimes it is about giving faithfully to God’s work in our church and other times it is about something God revealed to them during the preceding week. I love it, because it is honest, often vulnerable and therefore real AND most of all, it is not me saying these things!
I’m deeply humbled to preach and lead worship, but I often feel like there is an unspoken understanding that I’m supposed to say these things since I’m the minister. Yet, when laypeople share in front of the congregation, they don’t really have to do this. I believe what church members share in worship often has a much greater impact than what I say as minister.
In many churches, it is common for laypeople to offer testimony to what God is doing in their lives. Sometimes this can be meaningful, but other times it can be someone who likes the spotlight getting attention only for themselves (the same thing can happen with ministers too). Sometimes there may be some questionable ideas shared, but other times there are moments of authenticity and vulnerability. There are risks in letting “just anybody” share in worship, which is why many denominations, including ours, have tended towards limiting this occurrence.
I grew up Southern Baptist where “testimony time” was a regular happening in worship, especially on Sunday evening worship when the pastor hadn’t had time to finish a second sermon for that week. (Yes, we were expected to go to worship twice on Sundays and the minister was expected to preach two distinct sermons each week) Often the testimonies were just the same people who liked to talk enjoying attention, although every once in a while something genuine might be shared. I’m well aware of the risks of the testimonies of laypeople turning into a shallow time of show and tell.
Churches that limit laypeople sharing their faith, however, make an equally erroneous mistake. When it’s only the “professional Christian” in the form of the minister speaking, a very clear message gets sent--regular people don’t have anything to say about God’s activity in their lives. Between the two extremes of sharing too much information and sharing too little, I think the latter is probably worse. What could be more damaging for the church than the idea that Christians have nothing to share about God?
I suspect one of the reasons the so-called “mainline” or non-evangelical churches have declined is because laypeople got the idea that they had nothing worth sharing about God. That’s the minister’s job and not ours! It’s a small step from thinking it’s not okay to share one’s own experience of God to believing one doesn’t actually have an experience of God at all.
Personally, I regret that in the Disciples of Christ the role of elder is largely determined by who is willing to speak or pray in public. Folks who don’t like to speak in public or feel they have nothing to share never do so. The entire church is impoverished because it doesn’t hear from all of its members--I guarantee you those who feel anxious about speaking in public still have something worth sharing which would benefit all of our faith journeys. I am really grateful to hear what our elders have to say, but I long to hear about what God is doing in the lives of all PHCC’s members.
Here’s an assignment for you. Spend some time praying, thinking and meditating on what you would want to tell your church about your faith journey and what God is doing in your life. Maybe speaking in public is too big of an ask, but what if you could write it and we shared that with the congregation? What would you share with your church? I’m dying to know.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
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We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.