Body, we have no plan!

By Andy O'Connell

In our worship service yesterday, worship leader Chris Fulton said, at one point, "We have no plan! Over to you!" I don't know how you responded to that? Did you see it as an act of brave faith, or of reckless leadership?

"We have no pre-determined plan! Let's see what God does as we meet!" has long been a core practice of our sort of church. When I found myself becoming part of Oxford Community Church in the 1980s, it was standard practice to meet for 'body meetings'. 

That term - 'body meetings' - simply meant "meetings where the members of the body of Christ came together and ministered to each other", but as the terms needed explaining almost every time we used them(!), they dropped out of our vocabulary. But, even if we let go of the language, "the body ministering to each other" remains a deeply held core value for us. 

Of course, body ministry isn't limited to Sunday worship gatherings. The idea runs right through the teachings of the early church: We're told to encourage one another daily. To do good to people, especially those in the church (we look out for others beyond the community too, but authentic 'doing good' surely must start within the community?). To use our diverse gifts and skills lovingly for the common good, not for selfish ends. (Hebrews 3:13, Galatians 6:10, Romans 12)

But while serving others with our diverse gifts is not uncommon human behaviour, the "We have no plan! Over to you!" approach to worship is uncommon.

As I said above, in 1986 I "found myself in OCC"! I was from a traditional Baptist background, and had also dabbled with attending an Anglican church, so prior to trying OCC, I'd had little experience of 'body-led worship'. 

My first experience of such an approach to worship was in an OCC meeting in 1986. I can't remember exactly what led me to come along to OCC, but I had heard rumours on the pre-internet grapevine of this slightly wacky church out in the suburbs. My introvert-self was not quite sure whether I really wanted to be there. However, as I observed, I found myself deeply enjoying the ebb and flow of sung worship, and even the potentially-random spoken contributions that people brought somehow seamlessly weaved together. I found myself caught up in a greater level of worship, awe and encounter with the living God that I had experienced before.  

In terms of body ministry on Sundays, as you would expect we've blogged about this before: "So as we gather for meetings of the community we come ready to share, as the Holy Spirit gives gifts. I may pray out in praise to God. I may bring a prophecy, helping us see how God sees something. I may read a scripture that has encouraged me. I may share a story (testimony) from my week, something God has done in my life. A 'word of knowledge' may help someone respond for prayer. I may share a tongue, and we will wait for the interpretation."

In the wider church in the UK this "no plan / open mic / spontaneous" style is not that common. There are various reasons: size (it's a challenge to be spontaneous in large meetings); concern for quality control (we're rightly concerned that people will say odd things, see 'Good order but not British order'); theology of gatherings (churches variously put the emphasis in gathered worship on the preached word, the Lord's supper, liturgical recitation, ministry from appointed or anointed leaders).

All of that is true: size does affect things, we have a right concern for 'good order', and we've learned from the global and historical church that worship is richer and wider than perhaps we first thought. So I'm definitely not looking back with rose-tinted glasses!

But OCC, as we meet from week to week, I'm delighted that the current constraints on singing are forcing us to look at other ways of worshipping together, and I'm delighted that part of that is that sometimes "We have no plan!" So in these coming weeks, as we gather on Sundays, over to you!

Andy O'Connell