Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy. For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their building up and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church. Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I speak to you in some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? It is the same way with lifeless instruments that produce sound, such as the flute or the harp. If they do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is being played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves; if in a tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is being said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different kinds of sounds in the world, and nothing is without sound. If then I do not know the meaning of a sound, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church.
Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also. Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you; nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
The 1991 film, Sister Act, included Whoopi Goldberg playing the character of Delores, a nightclub singer in witness protection with an order of teaching nuns in New York. Mother Superior set her to work in trying to teach the, perfectly dreadful, choir to sing in harmony. Of course Delores not only enabled the sisters to sing the Salve Regina well, she taught them new styles of singing. The most moving part of the film for me is when youngsters came into the church during mass as they heard the nuns sing in a style which related to them. Worship and music became evangelistic tools.
Paul’s concern, in today’s passage, to only use some spiritual gifts when they’d make sense to the congregation is part of this concern to make worship evangelistic. If we’re honest much of our worship is often not at all evangelistic – or seeker friendly. We assume that newcomers will know the words to our prayers, how to behave, and will respond to our music and style (and put up with dreadful coffee!). Where this does happen it is, indeed, a miracle of God’s grace. I think it was Neitsche who held that if Christians wanted others to believe in the Redemption they should at least try to look redeemed!
I’m not suggesting we make radical changes to our worship turning into a concert. I am suggesting we evaluate our worship with the eyes of a newcomer. Why not ask a non-church friend to come along and give some honest feedback? Could we ensure that we have rousing hymns to start and end the service with? Could we offer better hospitality to those who wish to stay? Could we ask visitors to sign a visitor’s book and then send them a welcome card? Could we ensure our worship, our prayers, and our sermons give hope both to those who are seeking spirituality and to those who have been life-long Christians?
Lord, help us to use worship to glorify You, spread the news of Your Gospel, celebrate our redemption, and to offer food to both babes in Christ and long established saints, that, through the Church your Kingdom may come. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston works with four churches in and around Glasgow.