What’s the difference between a classroom and a book club? They both involve learning, they both (usually) include a specific book from which the learning is to be taken, and they both involve systematically considering and analyzing a topic. What makes them so different from each other? They’re often even arranged differently: a book club would be more likely organized in a circle, or around a table. In a classroom, chairs generally face only one direction: toward the teacher, who stands at the front.
The main difference that I see, in making my illustration, is the nature of the learning. In a book club, the learning is usually considered to be mutual: there’s discussion, give and take, opinions shared and talked about. In a traditional classroom setting, the learning is meant to flow only one direction: from the expert to those less informed.
Which of these two paradigms does the standard church service fall into? I think it’s pretty clear: we listen to the experts sing to the Lord (hopefully we join in ourselves, but sadly many don’t do that either, or do so only half-heartedly), and then we sit down and listen quietly while the expert expounds upon Scripture. If there’s praying to be done, or counseling to be done, or sharing to be done, we expect the expert up front to do it. That’s what he’s paid for, right?
That’s not how I see Paul describing a church service, though. What does he say in 1 Corinthians 14:26?
“…Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification.”
It sounds to me like Paul’s vision of church is that each of us is involved: actively encouraging, teaching and helping one another. It seems like Paul’s expecting each of us to seek God for how we can individually contribute, and be obedient to Him to step out and do something. Paul gives guidelines throughout the chapter emphasizing that what’s done can’t just be chaotic and disorganized, so obviously there’s a time and a place for these things, but I think we as laypeople need to remember every day that God wants to use us to minister to each other; it’s not just “the minister’s job”.