One potential problem in participatory church is one person taking too much time by repeatedly talking too much and drawing attention to herself/himself. This can be a major distraction in a meeting and can hinder what God wants to do.
A participatory church meeting is not a place for people to show what they know. It’s a place for people to be fair and let others share. (“Knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” –1 Corinthians 8:1)
A successful participatory church meeting requires that some people lovingly hold back their desire to talk, so that other people can feel free to share what God puts on their heart. The Importance of Sharing, from the AlcoholRehab website, puts it this way:
“This type of communication is called sharing for a reason. It means giving other people the opportunity to speak. Some individuals may be really struggling and really feel the need to share. They might not get this opportunity if some members are using up too much time at the meetings.”
How can the problem of one person talking too much be solved (or prevented)?
In the early days of The Salvation Army they allowed anybody to testify during their corps (church) meetings. The way they handled someone talking too much was what they called “singing them down.” Someone present would start a song and as everybody joined in, the person talking too much would get the idea and quietly sit down.
Here are some other ways:
1) Bathe the meeting in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to be so present that people have a difficult time overriding His plan for the meeting.
2) If a person begins to regularly take too much time in the meeting, talk to her/him alone and explain the need for everybody to self-limit their talking so others can share. Ask her/him to only share one time per meeting. Some people get mad when you do this, but that shows that their heart isn’t right. Other people agree to cooperate, but this a few weeks later slip back into the same pattern. In that case you may need to talk to them several times.
3) If someone talks a third or fourth time in a meeting, one of the leaders can stand up and say: “Thanks for what you are sharing, however, we want to give everybody an opportunity to share today and some people haven’t shared yet. Who else has something on your heart for today?
4) Leadership needs to stay sensitive to the flowing of the Holy Spirit and ask God for discernment to know when to intervene and when to let things go. Leadership should not impose their own will on the meeting, but lovingly and in a non-authoritarian way, seek to keep the meeting from being led out of God will by anyone present.
(I posted a link to this on an Unprogrammed Quaker site and someone posted this about how their meeting deals with the problem: “In our meeting, the ministry and worship committee from time to time makes a general announcement about discerning when to give vocal ministry [when to speak in the meeting]. If this doesn’t have an effect, I imagine eldering [a face to face talk with leadership] would be called for.)
(Another person commented on my link on the Quaker site: “I chuckled when I read this because it reminded me of a comment someone new to Quakerism said to me after a meeting in which someone made some rambling remarks. The newby said, ‘If I were God, I would have never told that guy to say that!'”)