Some churches, especially larger ones, never allow anyone to participate from the front unless they are thoroughly vetted first. At the other extreme there are churches that really have little choice who is up front – whoever is willing! But for the rest, in between the extremes, there is a tension.
On the one hand, it is good to involve people and give them opportunity to grow, as well as giving the church opportunity to hear different voices. On the other hand, it can be a challenge to maintain appropriate standards from the front. Actually, perhaps the real challenge is to find the right balance.
Here are three ways people get “involved” and some comments on the tensions faced:
1. Bible Readings – Often this is seen as an ideal place for people to overcome “public speaking fear” because all they have to do is read the passage in front of them.
The balance needs to be found. After all, the public reading of God’s Word is actually a critical event. It is easy to read into a microphone . . . dispassionately, monotonously, haltingly, without clarity, etc There are times when it might be worth hunting for the best public reader, rather than settling for participation alone. On the other hand, listeners will sometimes concentrate more for someone obviously uncomfortable than they would for an overly polished “performer.” The balance needs to be found.
2. Personal Testimony – Everybody expects the usual participants to have a certain testimony, but it can be very effective to hear from “normal” people during the service. It can make a real impression to hear somebody’s personal experience of God’s grace in their lives.
The balance needs to be found. Testimonies do make a real lasting impression, so it is worth trying to make sure that impression isn’t heretical or misleading. How many times have well-meaning testimonies stated, “Of course I can’t prove any of this is true, but that’s what faith is, isn’t it, a leap in the dark!” Include testimony, but pre-screen or coach appropriately. The balance needs to be found.
3. Special Event Preaching – It seems the obvious place, as far as some churches are concerned. For someone to “cut their teeth” as a preacher, it seems set up: a shorter message, freedom to choose the passage, longer time for preparation, no expectation of fitting in to a series running at that time.
The balance needs to be found. All the positives are agreed, but what about the other side of the coin … it is hard to speak at Christmas since it feels like it’s all so familiar. It is hard to speak on Mother’s Day, just because it is. What’s more, special occasions are prime time for guests to visit … what experience do you want them to have of the preaching at your church? The balance needs to be found.
Involving people is a great idea, but enter into it with eyes open and make sure it is the right occasion, the right role, the right timing.