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Discipline: The Key To Impromtu Ministry

Is it better to plan and organize your worship, or is worship more authentic when spontaneous?

It often feels like the Holy Spirit is more active in meetings where the spontaneous is allowed than He is among the halls of greater learning. A pastor reading his script for a Sunday sermon does not often compel us in the way that some "off the cuff" preaching tends to. Why is this? Is the Holy Spirit against organized plans?

As a worship leader for over 21 years, I know the value of spontaneity, and yet, what we call "spontaneous" is not often truly so. True spontaneity usually involves rambling and searching as we try to articulate something we have never really considered before. But the moments of power, when someone speaks an unplanned word at just the right moment or a song is born in an instant, or preach a sermon effectively "out-of-pocket," is not the work of true spontaneity but extra preparedness. The spontaneous moments that compel us are generally the result of extra thought, prolonged meditation, prayer, and practice. When the right moment came along, the word was ready because it is always ready.

Many theology schools lack the power of the Holy Spirit because the focus of our schools is almost entirely on head-knowledge. If theology schools focused on mission and discipleship as well as intellectual pursuits, we would be in much better shape as a Church. The unbalanced education produces preaching that does not touch the soul of the average congregation since it usually lacks the feeling that experience provides the preacher. Then when an "uneducated" person in the pew speaks his mind, people in the pews sit up and take note. This second voice speaks with genuine feeling and is more authentic because he speaks from the heart instead of only the head. We often translate such an experience as "the work of the Holy Spirit," and it is. Anytime someone speaks the truth from the heart, the Holy Spirit is at work. But the problem is that we often conclude from these experiences that the Holy Spirit's work is always spontaneous and that study and preparation are "the work of the flesh." House churches often suffer from an idealized notion of spontaneity which can be, in reality, thinly disguised laziness.

Charles Spurgeon, the famous preacher from Great Britain, disapproved of such notions of spontaneity. According to the Spurgeon biographer, J.C. Carlisle, people said that Spurgeon's renowned sermon, "Songs in the Night," was "'preached almost on the spur of the moment.' The truth is that years before, Spurgeon had marked the text for preaching and had been turning it over in his mind...Mr. Spurgeon's style was the result of almost a lifetime of practice."

To be spontaneous is not a virtue in itself. Practice, prayer, sensitivity, and preparedness, are the real fountains of life that sometimes suddenly spring up at just the right time and place. This preparedness is what the Apostle Peter referred to when he said, "sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, but with gentleness and respect;" (1 Peter 3:15)

Discipline is at the center of all life-giving spontaneity. We should discipline ourselves to be ready to obey whenever the Holy Spirit calls.

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