Reports from the Front

On Sunday, we Christians rightly hear what we are to believe and do. We also hear what God did back in Bible times. But how often do we hear what God is doing today in our neighborhoods, workplaces, families, and other arenas of our scattered-church lives?

A few churches regularly include what Alan and Eleanor Kreider call “reports from the front.” That can mean reports from the “front lines” where we live out our daily lives. Or it can also mean reports we hear “from the front” of the meeting room.

Evidence of God at Work

As the Kreiders say in Worship and Mission after Christendom, “If we receive no reports from the front in our congregations, we are in trouble. . . . God seems powerless and inactive. And Christians who do see evidence of the missional activities of God in our time may only whisper about it in the church’s hallways or discuss it during the week in house groups or on the telephone—but not in worship services.”

Such reports were once called “testimonies.” Why have they fallen out of fashion in our church meetings? The Kreiders explain: “Testimony is a term that bores some people and alarms others. It bores people because at times testimonies are oft-repeated stories about long-ago conversion experiences. . . . Testimony in worship alarms people when the stories become embarrassingly personal.”

The faculty member of a seminary told me, “When I have been in a church where there is an ‘open mic’ time, the sharing is seldom about anything except sickness and personal problems.” Sadly, many believers have suffered through similar experiences.

Pastoral Coaching

But rightly done reports from the front will neither bore nor alarm. In some churches, leaders resist spectatoritis by coaching believers in how to put into words what God is doing in their daily lives. (My book, Curing Sunday Spectatoritis, includes guidelines the pastors in one church use in coaching those who will present reports from the front.) While conversion stories have a place, reports from the front should cover a much wider range. For example:

  • This week I saw God at work in my workplace when he . . .

  • Would you please pray for me about . . .

  • Do you ever struggle with the temptation to . . . ? Let me tell you my story . . .

  • We just saw God open a whole new opportunity in our neighborhood by . . .

  • Here is how God has answered a long-term prayer. . .

  • Yesterday God used [name] to encourage me when she . . .

  • As I was reading [Bible passage], the Holy Spirit moved my heart with . . .

Hebrews 10:24-25 explains the importance of shared church, our gathering with other believers: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Most encouraging and spurring on involves speaking to and hearing each other—the very activities involved in reports from the front. 

People gave reports like this even in the Old Testament. For example, the Psalmist encouraged telling stories of God acting in the workplace: “Let them [merchants God had delivered from perils at sea] exalt him in the assembly of the people” (Ps. 107:32). How much more are such reports possible now that each believer has received the gift of God’s outpoured Spirit!

What do you think? How would giving and hearing reports from the front encourage you in your faith and spur you on to act it out?

The Faith-Voice Divide

A friend phoned this morning to say that someone close to him, a believer, had died a few days ago. My friend had been called on to offer some words of comfort at the memorial. “Could you,” he asked me, “help me find some Bible verses that would be appropriate for the occasion?”

Of course I was happy to do so and responded with three different passages he might want to consider. When I did so, he made a comment that left me sad and pondering. This man, probably around 60 years old, said, “I’ve attended church all my life, but still can’t find Scriptures when I need them.”

My friend is a Christian, but when a moment of opportunity comes, he is unable to locate or vocalize Scripture. His faith and his voice remain disconnected. This is one of the disabling symptoms of Sunday spectatoritis. In his decades of church attendance, no one has expected him to become an apprentice or student of Jesus and his words—in other words, a disciple.

In his book, Preaching as Dialogue, Jeremy Thomson says, “it is as people have the opportunity to put their own words together that they become conscious of their thoughts and realize new paths of behavior.”

Paul noted that the disciples in the Roman church were “competent to instruct one another” (Rom. 15:14). He wrote that the Colossian believers were to “teach and admonish one another” (Col. 3:16). Instructing, teaching, admonishing—those all require a linkage of faith with voice. And if the meeting formats in those churches followed the pattern of the church at Corinth (I Cor. 14:26), everyone had opportunities to develop and practice using that faith-voice connection when they gathered.

 What do you think? How might the meeting format of your church be modified so that Christians like my friend could practice connecting their faith with their voices?