the weblog of Alan Knox

Mutuality: Dangerous, Acceptable, or Necessary

Posted by on Apr 20, 2009 in edification, gathering | 14 comments

As I’ve studied Scripture to understand the purpose of the church meeting, I’ve seen the importance of mutuality. What is “mutuality”? Mutuality is the recognition that God can and does work through all of his children, and therefore, everyone should have the opportunity to edify others during the church meeting.

In most modern church meetings (of almost every denominational flavor), mutuality has been abandoned. In fact, when I ask people why only the pastor is allowed to speak during the church meeting (with very rare exception), I get one of a few answers.

1) There could be heretical teachings.

2) It would be chaotic to allow anyone to speak.

These answers demonstrate that the people believe that mutuality is dangerous and not acceptable during the church meetings.

There are other answers to the question of mutuality:

3) There are too many people in the congregation.

4) Other people are not trained or educated.

These answers demonstrate that mutuality can be good, but not necessary. Thus, in some circumstances, it is okay to abandon the concept of mutuality when the church meets.

However, Scripture seems to indicate that mutuality – mutual ministry and mutual edification – is necessary for the growth of the body. In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul says that every member of the body must work together in order for the church to mature. In 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, Paul encourages two or three to speak in tongues (with interpretation) and two or three to prophesy (with others judging). Would Paul also apply his “two or three” rule to teaching, exhortation, etc.? Either way, it seems that Paul has mutual speaking in mind during the church meeting. The author of Hebrews tells his readers to “exhort one another daily” and to “consider one another to stir up love and good works”. This last exhortation is given specifically in relation to “not forsaking meeting together”. Thus, the context of stirring one another up to love and good works and encouraging one another is whenever believers meet together.

Scripture exhorts the church to find a way to allow mutual ministry, mutual teaching, mutual exhortation, especially when the church is meeting. Instead, in many cases, we’ve decided to set aside the instructions and examples of Scripture. While most believers would never set aside commands about murder or stealing, we’re more comfortable abandoning the exhortations toward mutual ministry when the church meets. We’re much more comfortable in allowing our circumstances or decisions (i.e. size of the congregation, tradition, education) override what Scripture teaches about our responsibilities toward one another.

I’m glad to see that more and more followers of Jesus are beginning to question how and why the church meets.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-20-2009


    It’s amazing that people are so ready to protest that there would be heresy and chaos, but nobody considers that these things could be quickly dealt with by those who are more spiritual, and in the presence of everybody. This would have the effect of more broadly refuting error.

    Similarly, many churches when practicing “discipline” according to Matthew 18 insist that the third step – telling the whole church – should actually be telling the elders so they can decide if it should be brought about before the whole church. Gossip is feared and is the reason. Yes, there might be some gossip initially, but wouldn’t this gossip in turn be subject to church discipline? Then people would learn for themselves how to bring things before the church, instead of privately gossipping because the elders are too busy to deal with a matter.

  2. 4-20-2009

    Usher: Who says the elders have the right version?

    Deacon: I say let the people carry out the weekly service, throw out the pastor, the elders and anyone else who thwarts the voice of the people!

    Usher: You sound like a rebel dude!

  3. 4-20-2009


    The more I read from you the more the picture becomes clearer my friend. I think mutuality is both dangerous and necessary. Yes false teaching may come forth, yes someone may attempt to dominate, yes someone may attempt to draw disciples for themselves and yes people may do something far worse than that. However, it seems that the Paul allowed such things to be a possibility in the name of freedom because mutuality was more important and if rooted in love through relationships each of those things can be easily thwarted.

    It is necessary because the other side of the coin is what we have now and it is spiritual atrophy. As the writer of Hebrews says “you outh to be teachers”. Whenever we give over our rights and responsibilities over to others in the name of “they can do it better”, we are disobeying God.

    Good stuff, lets see the responses brother. A side note is that the very purpose of Spiritual leaders is the building up for mutuality sake, so if they aren’t doing it, are they God leaders?

  4. 4-20-2009

    I am beginning to realize that we have little to no problem with the “don’ts” of scripture. It is the “dos” that we struggle to obey.

  5. 4-20-2009

    It seems that the abandonment of mutuality is driven in large part by pragmatism. It just “works better” to have a single or a few pastors do all the edifying. We are willing to ignore what Scripture says to find ways to make it work (for example the formal membership & church discipline linkage). Abandoning mutuality seems to me to be harmful, harmful to the people in the local body and harmful to the leaders. It is pretty hard, I would say almost impossible, to have a healthy local assembly when a few people shoulder all of the load and the vast majority of the remainder are passive recipients.

    Pragmatism is a dangerous standard to use in ministry.

  6. 4-20-2009

    Hi Alan-

    When your group meets, are the teaching/speaking times pre-planned or is anybody “each one” allowed to spontaneously bring/share a teaching from scripture?

    Are women allowed to share a teaching from scripture during the speaking/teaching time?


  7. 4-20-2009

    Alan, great post!
    The other night I turned to Hebrews
    10:24 “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works….”
    As read over that the thought came to me about during the week we should always be praying about how we can stir each other up when we do meet. Yet as much as this scripture is quoted on Sunday mornings the emphasis is always on the second half concerning “not neglecting the meeting together.”
    Yet in most places of meeting there is never a chance to “stir each other”. As you pointed out we are trained to allow only those in charge to do the work. So why should we consider how to stir each other up when the most time spent will be listening to one person?
    Last night I went to a Sunday night meeting. One person facilated it, allowing commentary. But once the meeting was over everybody dispersed as if there were a fire.
    I personally know some of those people are going through some hard times and Sundays are the only chance you get to speak, yet they leave so fast.
    Anyway, we must become more like the family God has called us to and less like a school setting.

  8. 4-20-2009

    The meetings where this works best and most are the best.

    I think sitting for a half hour lecture from some guy is falling into disrepute for a good reason.

    Alan, you have hit the nail on the head.

    What if the true spirit of the living God had something to say and because of the constrictions never had the chance to speak up. Wouldn’t that be a crime?

  9. 4-20-2009


    But we have the bible. It speaks for the Holy Spirit right? The Spirit doesn’t speak through others, unless that person is a qualified sermonizer right?


    You brought up another point in the pragmatic answers that repudiate the position of mutual ministry. It is the structure. WHEVER the structure prevents what the bible says then we aren’t to change the bible but changer our structures. It is funny that the same people who hush the women because it is transcedent turn and quench the scriptures when it comes to mutuality. Whenever the struture impedes change the structure don’t manipulate the bible then give pragmatic reasoning as the basis.

    The other answers I get is “that is what small groups are for”. So then we create an alternative to obey the commands. Wow! Consistent right?

  10. 4-20-2009

    I think it boils down to who you trust to be in control…

    If you really trust the Holy Spirit to control the gathering, to prevent heresy from spreading, or chaos from erupting, then mutual involvement is not seen to be a danger…

    But the actions of so many churches, and “leaders”, indicate that the trust is not being put in the Spirit, but rather in men…


  11. 4-20-2009

    I really don’t have much to add to these responses, except that the current system has not stopped heresy and division, etc.

    What are we so afraid of? I am finding it is very difficult to tell people what they are missing. With humility, we must continue to live out mutual ministry and show it more than we tell it.

  12. 4-20-2009


    In fact, without mutuality, heretical beliefs usually remain, they’re just not spoken. I think it is much better to have them spoken openly so we can help one another grow in maturity toward Christ. I think it is safe to say that all Christians (yes, even seminary graduates with PhD’s) need help in their understanding of God.

    Deacon and Usher,

    I hope they don’t kick out all of us elders. Although, if they church decided not to recognize me as an elder, I don’t think anything would change in the way that I interact with people.


    Mutuality may be “dangerous”, but I think silence is even more dangerous. And, you’re right, for the growth of the church, mutuality is absolutely necessary.


    You said, “I am beginning to realize that we have little to no problem with the “don’ts” of scripture. It is the “dos” that we struggle to obey.” You may be on to something here.


    I think people mostly have good motives – like the pragmatism that you mentioned, or perhaps protection. Of course, “good” motives are not always best.


    We have both planned teaching and we allow others to speak spontaneously. Women are allowed to speak.


    Yes, in my study of Hebrews, it seems clear that author considered the meeting of the church a time for mutual encouragement – a time to act on what they have “considered” toward one another and a time to stir up one another toward love and good works. This is the type of meeting that the author of Hebrews encourages his readers to not neglect. Unfortunately, in many cases today, even when “attending” we are forsaking the kind of meeting that Hebrews points to.


    You asked, “What if the true spirit of the living God had something to say and because of the constrictions never had the chance to speak up. Wouldn’t that be a crime?” Yes. At least, it would be hindering the work of the Spirit.


    I agree that trust and control does has alot to do with it. But, to be honest, it is extremely difficult to trust God and give him complete control. However, I think this is something that the church must do, even when meeting together.


    Yes, division and heresy are running rampant with the current system. And, you’re correct: it is difficult to describe what I’m talking about here. I think it will look different for different groups of believers, since the Spirit works differently through different people.


  13. 4-21-2009

    My opinion is that the statements that are made in regard to “there would be heresy” are major red herrings.

    Funny story (although not really “haha” funny) — when my wife and I first left the institutional church and began meeting with believers in our home, the leaders of the church we left said, “Unless you come under our covering, you are opening yourself to satanic attack.”

    Sure enough, over 18 months, families started giving lame excuses for dropping out of the group and eventually we were left all by ourselves.

    The funny/irony part? It wasn’t satanic attack at all. We found out later that the leaders of that church had systematically gone to each one of those families and told them that they should stop fellowshiping with us since we were not under their covering.

    They must have been doing the work of Satan, I guess 😉

  14. 8-2-2011


    These are great ideas.

    People who have grown-up in a Christian home here may have less of a perceived need for church community. They have Christian community outside their church–through Christian family and life-long friends.

    One reason I’m sensitive to the problem of weak church community is that my wife and I do not have family in the area, nor did we grow-up here.