Seminar Format Feast of Tabernacles Study No. 159

The typical format for the Feast of Tabernacles in the Church of God has been to have daily worship services. There have been three songs, an opening prayer, a sermonette, another song, announcements and special music (and perhaps a Holy Day offering), followed by a sermon. The services have ended with a song and closing prayer.

While there is nothing "wrong" with this format, it is surprising why few have not considered a tested and proven alternative format. Before analyzing an alternative, let us reiterate some of the purposes of the Feast. First and foremost, we observe the Feasts to worship the Eternal and learn more of His ways. Accessory purposes are to fellowship with the brethren, and to build family relationships, i.e., to reinforce bonds within the family and the brethren. Another Biblical reason is to rejoice in the blessings of the Eternal, which can be expressed in quality meals and recreational activities.

Our family, living in isolation in Wyoming, appreciates our annual opportunities to fellowship with other brethren, which we usually do not have during the rest of the year. Perhaps that is why I have to say that the typical Feast format is like white bread: it does not stick to my spiritual ribs like the whole grain bread type. The traditional format does not tend to fill my need for fellowship and spiritual nourishment. While I have seldom experienced a different format, I can visualize what such a "whole wheat" Feast format could be like.

During the course of my business career, I have attended many seminars, especially computer system seminars and user groups. Recently, I attended a well-managed seminar in Orlando, Florida. Coincidentally, this occurred less than two weeks before our family was scheduled to travel to Orlando for the Feast of Tabernacles. Although secular in purpose, I believe the computer seminar format could be adapted for good use by the Church of God at festival gatherings. In fact, I believe that if we want the Feast to be a time of worship, fellowship, and education, the "seminar format" is the BEST way to accomplish these goals. Let me examine some aspects of a computer software users group seminar and see how they could be adapted into a festival format:

1. Name badges. One of the most difficult obstacles to enjoyable Festival observance for us is that, at every large Feast we attend, we usually do not know many of the people. When I meet someone, I find it hard to remember their name the next time I meet them during the Feast, and it is embarrassing when I forget their name and where they are from. If each person, including the children, were given a name badge indicating their name, and home city, the ice would be broken. I do not remember names well, and probably others have this same problem. With the use of inexpensive name badges, fellowship is encouraged. It is a simple thing to do this, and it pays fellowship dividends.

2. Multiple concurrent sessions. The seminar agenda recognizes that there is much knowledge to give the attendees. General sessions for all attendees impart basic information and inspirational group messages. At other times, there are multiple sessions, going on at the same time, on a great variety of topics. The attendees, during registration, choose the sessions they wish to attend.

Modern convention centers have large meeting rooms, surrounded by sectional smaller meeting rooms with portable walls for expansion and contraction, depending on the size of the smaller sessions or workshops. The general sessions could be standard worship services. Smaller, specialized topic, sessions could cover subjects such as raising young children, teenagers, financial planning and family budgeting, prophecy, church history, prayer, etc. There are plenty of speakers in the Church to cover innumerable Bible based subjects.

Giving the membership choices over what they hear may be unsettling to some Church organizations. If minister "W" speaking on topic "X" gets a bigger audience than minister "Y" on topic "Z," someoneís ego might be hurt. But, why not consider the possibility that the membership knows what they need? If they have the Eternalís Spirit, they should know exactly what they need. Are we here to help the brethren, or to serve the organizationís hierarchy?

Such a format would take much more preparation and coordination. It might be more expensive to find the proper facilities. But, as an enthusiastic attendee of computer seminars, I can say that this format, if applied to the Feast of Tabernacles, could truly produce more learning and fellowship than the standard traditional format. Let us carry this farther.

3. Special Interest Groups, or SIGS, bring together in smaller sessions individuals who have a common interest or condition. How would you like to attend a church SIG meeting tailored to your needs? If you are a single parent, would you benefit by having a meeting with other single parents, covering the topic: "Problems in Christian Living As a Single Parent"? Or, if you are a senior citizen, how about participating in a study and workshop: "Serving God in Your Golden Years"? Or, as a teen or young adult, would you benefit by a sermon and discussion group on "Facing Peer Pressure in Public Schools"?

The Bible is a living book. It applies to all people at all ages. There is no reason not to make Bible teaching practical and interesting to every man, woman, and child, who attends the Feast. In fact, such a Festival format would take an immense amount of preparation and work. But, it would be worth it.

4. Evaluation of every session. Each sessionís topic and speaker is pre-announced, as part of the registration package you received months before the seminar. As you enter the meeting room, you are given a handout outlining the material to be covered, and an evaluation form. At the end of the session, you are expected to fill out the evaluation of the speaker, giving your rating of the relevancy of the topic, and how the session was conducted, as well as suggestions for improvement. There may be tests given during the session, to ensure the attendees are understanding the content of the material given. Also, there is allotted time at the end, for questions of the speaker. If the speaker is concerned with educating his audience, he would want, and need, evaluation from his peers, as well as his audience. In my opinion, any speaker who does not seek for input and evaluation of how well he has done, is arrogant. Continuous improvement is essential to a faithful ministry. In the business world of seminars, as well as instructive and uplifting sermons in the Church, a job well-done is 99% perspiration (preparation, work), and 1% inspiration. Although the 1% inspiration makes all the difference, you cannot have one without the other.

By now, you have probably come to the conclusion that I am an impractical visionary, who may have some good ideas, but these ideas will never be implemented. Let us return to the purpose of the Feast: worship, education, fellowship, recreation. Has the fixed, standard, Festival format in the past produced the best results? Have you ever been bored with sermons that do not inspire and motivate you? When was the last time you took back home a raft of notes and practical instruction that actually helped you walk closer to the Almighty and become a better servant of the Most High? Ministers who preach boring sermons usually do not get feedback from the membership. The standard format assumes that "one size fits all," that God is somehow going to use just one person to instruct everybody at one time in what He wants His people to know. Although Paul said he strove to be all things to all men, he certainly did not mean at the same time. He varied his approach so that by all means he might save some. Our festival services need variety!

5. Catered meals and guided networking. One of the purposes of computer seminars is to encourage interaction among the software "users," those who use the software. To accomplish this, seminars often have catered meals where the whole group eats in one place, or broken down into SIGS. There are also numerous social events designed to bring people together, to create a "social network." Perhaps this is the one area in which some Feast of Tabernacles planners have done a passable job. But even here, great improvements can be made. Suppose there is a Church mother who works a part-time or full-time job, and knows some great techniques to prepare wholesome meals, and manage the house, in addition to her other work. Wouldnít it be beneficial to the Church for her to conduct a workshop with other women to give then tips and tricks to help them? Such opportunities for networking, under the auspices of the Church, can edify and uplift the entire Church. The Feast of Tabernacles is an ideal environment for this type of activity, for which regular Sabbath services are not suited at all.

The ideas along this line are endless. But instead, most will probably continue with the standard format (as used by Herbert W. Armstrong and most Worldwide offshoots). It is a format not supported by New Testament example. It is a format contrary to the one detailed example of Church services in I Corinthians 14, where it is said that the members were bubbling over with enthusiasm to share with others many different things to edify the entire body, under the watchful care of the local elder, to ensure all things were done decently and in order.

One group observing the Feast of Tabernacles in 1996 actually followed the "seminar format" that I have been discussing. Christian Educational Ministries (led by Ron Dart) had daily worship services at Kissimee, Florida, coupled with multiple sessions on these topics: Local Evangelism, Better Families, Family Financial Planning, Young Adults, Substance Abuse and Your Children, Ministering to the Elderly and Infirm, Women & Ministry, Church Management and Administration. I attended one session and was enriched by the open discussion.

Any sincere minister should realize that he does not have all that it takes to serve and edify the local Church. He knows he has a wealth of talent and ability in the congregation to assist him in this divine task. The question is, will he use all the available resources? The annual Feast of Tabernacles, as well as other pilgrimage Feasts (Unleavened Bread, Pentecost), present golden opportunities to edify the body of the Messiah.

As I returned from my recent computer users group seminar, I was enthused and uplifted. I learned a lot about the software my Company has purchased. I am excited about putting it into good use to benefit my Company. I have met some fine people from across the country and the world, who, like me, are using the product. I will be communicating with some of them in the future, as we share ideas, problems, and solutions.

I was particularly impressed with many of the computer software support people for this product. Almost every one of them came from the business world, and had years of solving the same kind of problems that I face daily on my job. They are real people who have risen to successful positions and are able to teach others like myself. They, along with fellow users, have formed a bond with me that will benefit us all. I have a notebook crammed full of handouts of useful information, as well as names and addresses of the attendees. The benefits of this seminar will continue for a long time.

If a computer seminar can produce such outstanding results for a secular business purpose, why cannot the Feast of Tabernacles produce a spiritual result for an eternal purpose? Let us bring back to the Feast of Tabernacles the enthusiasm, the worship, the learning, the golden times of fellowship that the Eternal wants to enjoy. Instead of being a stiff ritual, let us bring back spiritual vitality and growth, and truly rejoice in the Feast! W

ó written by Richard C. Nickels