This week was the final meeting of the year for Fresh Start Community. One at a time, each person chose a wrapped gift from under the Christmas tree, handed it to somebody else in the group, and spoke words of blessing to them. People lifted each other up and said wonderful things about one another. A homeless lady visited for the first time. We told her she didn’t have to speak if she didn’t want to – but she was delighted to give a gift, and said some beautiful and insightful words to a woman she had just met. There was an intense mood of encouragement, and acceptance, and love in the room. It wasn’t the gifts that mattered, it wasn’t even receiving them that gave a thrill – it was the act of giving, and blessing, and ministering to others that brought such joy.
The New Testament letters to the churches are full of instructions to minister to one another. We are told to encourage one another, build one another up, teach one another, challenge one another, confess to one another, accept one another, serve one another, pray for one another – and above all, to love one another. With over 50 mentions, we could easily say “one-anothering” is the most frequently mentioned ministry in the early church.
It’s surprisingly simple to set up spaces for God’s people to minister to one another in our weekly gatherings, and they often learn more from these moments than from any sermon. They learn by watching how the mature brothers and sisters interact with others. They learn by putting theory into hands-on action. They learn by observing, experiencing and reflecting. They learn they have just as much right as any paid professional to use their voice, their gifts and uniqueness to minister to others – both inside and outside the walls of the church building.
God’s people don’t become spiritually mature by listening to lectures – they need to have good role models and opportunities to put theory into practice. Every person present has something significant and beautiful to contribute to the gathered community. Sure, it can be messy and unpredictable to let everyone get involved during a church service. You can’t rehearse it in advance. You can’t determine the outcome. But maybe, just maybe, we could make the best use of Sunday mornings by spending a little less time in singing and sermons, and a lot more time intentionally creating spaces for mutual ministry to occur.