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Intentionally Informal

We want our ministry meetings to be occasions in which Taiwanese working class people can come and hear the gospel in a comfortable environment. Communicating to the working class needs to be the main priority. If they do not feel at ease in the environment provided, they won’t come, and inevitably won’t hear the message. We have seen that a working class gathering of friends is often defined by two things – a relaxed, informal environment and a lively discussion with many people participating.

Based on this insight, our team started a regular meeting two years ago. It was a casual time with some singing, Bible stories, discussion, sharing, and praying. There was no real firm order of service, no liturgy, no ceremony. It was just a gathering of friends talking about and worshiping Jesus – very basic, very simple, and a little chaotic at times. We felt that there was no right method that had to be followed. The important thing was that our working class friends felt comfortable and were able to hear about the great news of who Jesus Christ is.

Having been away for a short summer home assignment this year, my kids had not been to the house church meeting in a while. After house church my daughter asked, “Have you guys changed house church, because it seemed different this time?” At first my reaction was “Of course not,” but as we discussed it, I realized that she was right. The house church meeting had been changing. What had started as freeform and relaxed had developed its own structure and ritual.

The activities we had done naturally had become group routines. Then in turn those routines had become the norm for the group. Singing time, opening prayer time, Bible time, sharing time, and fellowship time had become set in stone. Does that matter? Yes, it does, because we had begun to move away from a meeting style that our Taiwanese working class friends feel comfortable with. A structure that is unknown to people makes them feel on the outside. Keeping a meeting format less rigid comes down to attitude and presentation, and these things are subtle. We shouldn’t force a sharing and prayer time; our group should respond naturally to people’s needs and the leadings of the Spirit. We present these activities to our Taiwan working class friends as things a healthy body of believers does, not what we must do in a specific way at a specific time.

The other tendency of a growing group is that it can become led by a few, rather than having many people participate. One reason for this is that some don’t feel comfortable sharing in a large group. The other reason is that people don’t like chaos in a meeting. We think that we need to stay on topic. We want to make sure every activity is done correctly. If someone does not direct the program, we are afraid that we may miss something. But having a master of ceremonies makes it into a formal meeting. And if the meeting is more formal, the missionary winds up leading by default, which really works against the idea of the priesthood of all believers. It also changes a casual gathering into a formal meeting. When the leader asks questions for discussion, participants can feel that they are students being called on by a teacher. Moving from one activity to another becomes scripted and managed. Does it matter? Yes it does, because having a formal meeting creates an uncomfortable environment for our Taiwanese working class friends. Our non-believing friends will quickly pick up that someone is leading a meeting, not inviting discussion and sharing. It does not matter how smoothly and on time the meeting runs if people aren’t comfortable.

We have been thinking a lot about these issues and just how challenging it is to maintain that relaxed atmosphere. We have a lot questions we have yet to answer on this, but if our goal is to make an atmosphere where the working class are comfortable we need to keep this in focus.

Jennifer McCracken – Taiping
First uploaded 29 October 2012

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