Over the last week, for various reasons, I've been in three different churches, with three different styles of 'doing church'.
The most noticeable difference between the three approaches was in the way each of the three offered ministry - that is, the opportunity to have someone pray for you or pray with you.
In the first (the most traditional), the opportunity 'to have someone pray with you' was offered right at the end of the service. As most of the congregation went to get a coffee, three folk remained near the front, one who wanted to be prayed for, the other two to pray for her. The 'prayer ministry' was carried out seated, with the lady who was to be prayed for explaining what her need was before the other two proceeded to pray for her.
In the second, after the sermon, the pastor said 'we want to pray for you' and explained how, in the next section of the service, the various (badged) members of the prayer team would circulate round the congregation and pray for everyone - if you didn't want prayer you should make your way to the back of the room where a couple of rows of chairs were designated as a 'no go' zone for the prayer team. During this ministry time the band played quiet worship songs, but the words were not up on the screen, so it was clearly not intended for the congregation to join in the singing, even though several folk did. During this time members of the prayer team would approach people (of the same gender) and simply start praying for them - they didn't ask for any particular need, they mostly prayed that the person would experience the Spirit more. There was quite a lot of shaking going on, some falling over and other external phenomena. At the end of this time the pastor asked if anyone who wanted prayer hadn't had it yet, and those folk were prayed for before the band returned to leading the congregation in worship.
In the third, after the sermon, the pastor simply said (with no explanation for outsiders) that it was 'ministry time' and asked the congregation to stand. He then 'invited the Spirit to come' and made a few (brief) comments about 'the Spirit of God drawing near' and about receiving from Him. Shortly after this, a few members of the congregation went to the front and spoke, quietly, with the pastor. After a moment of silence the pastor named two folk in the congregation that he 'sensed the Spirit was resting on'. Then the six folk who had gone to the front, in turn, explained the 'pictures' they had been given and suggested an explanation which may be relevant to one or more folk in the congregation. The pastor then invited folk from the congregation, who felt the 'words' might be relevent to them, and the two folk he had named, to come forward for prayer. The folk at the front prayed for those who came forward, standing. There was no significant external phenomena (shaking, tongues, etc.). Then the pastor declared that the service was over, although several remained at the front in prayer for a while.
I have mixed feelings about each of these approaches. In many ways, I prefer the latter two because they both have an expectation of God's presence and an expectation that he will actually do something, whereas the first seems to want to distance most of the congregation from actually interacting with God - prayer ministry is only for the few, and only for those with specific needs. But I'm not sure how I would feel about taking a non-believer into either of the latter two settings. Without a lot of pre-explanation (which would probably be off-putting) I don't think a non-believing visitor would be particularly comfortable in either setting.
In the third church, the clear expectation was that 'God will have something to say to us (through the medium of 'pictures' or 'words of knowledge') at every service'. But what if God said everything he wanted to through the preacher? And how can we know if the 'pictures' or 'words' expressed by the members of the congregation came from above or simply out of an active imagination. Indeed, one of the 'pictures' shared this week was of a car advert - one that is on tv fairly regularly - it wouldn't take the involvement of the Spirit to bring that picture to mind, merely an aimlessly wandering thought process. If God wants to speak in such a way to that group of people on a weekly basis, does he also want to say such things to the first church, but they're not listening? Or is He not speaking loudly enough?
I'm not totally trying to dismiss seeing pictures or having words of knowledge - I have experience of receiving both myself - but not on demand or on a weekly basis. How can we be sure of the origin of these words?
Words and pictures were also shared in the second church (indeed, I have heard them occasionally shared in the first church too, but not every week or even every month) but there they seemed more like an added bonus rather than an expectation. The attitude there was much more 'we expect to be filled with Your Spirit, and if You choose to speak to us we will be listening'.
One of the things about the third church that was notable was that there was no music or other emotive thing going on during ministry time. People were not coerced into any particular state of behaviour. I liked the fact that nothing was forced, but I actually found the silence uncomfortable. In the second church it is much easier to claim that there is some emotional manipulation going on in the environment (gentle music, dimmed lights) and that some of the phenomena could be a purely emotional response, although there is certainly real stuff going on there too. Here, at times, the noise was uncomfortable.
Having recounted all this, I don't think I really have a point to make. I certainly am not saying that one way is 'right' and the others are 'wrong'. All three have some value, but I can see negative aspects of all three too. I couldn't even say which style I preferred (although I might incline slightly towards the second, due to the fact that everyone is prayed for and due to the music). This is just me thinking out loud. If anyone reading this has any insights I'd love to hear them.