The synagogue, during the time of Jesus and the early church period, is a good starting point for helping in our understanding of our broken church. There were problems of preeminence there to which Jesus condemned as we see in Matthew 23:1-3, 6.
1Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: 3All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. 6And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
Nevertheless, a key element that diminished the effect of preeminence was the availability for anyone to have a voice. Jesus traveled all over Israel during his earthly ministry and could always enter a synagogue and have a platform for preaching and teaching.
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. Matthew 4:23
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. Matthew 9:35
21And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught. 39And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils. Mark 1:21, 39
15And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. 16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. 44And he preached in the synagogues of Galilee. Luke 4:15-16, 44
These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum. John 6:59
Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. John 18:20
(See also: Matthew 12:9, 13:54; Mark 3:1, 6:2; Luke 6:6)
Later, we see this same platform that was accessible for all Jews, became a crucial component for the spreading of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. The Apostle Paul, during his missionary journeys through parts of the Roman Empire, used the synagogues for sharing the gospel among the diaspora Jews.
13Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. 14But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. 15And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. 16Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. Acts 13:13-16
With Jesus and the apostles, this synagogue structure came with another important feature. It came with a day that was devoted to God: the Sabbath. This 24-hour time period gave much time for teaching, preaching, and dialogue.
Most converts during the very early church period were either Jewish or those Gentiles who embraced Judaism and were later given the theological name of Godfearers (Acts 10:1-2; 13:15-16, 26). The church would have followed a similar pattern to the synagogue, except, in their obedience to Jesus, would have suppressed any attempts at preeminence.
As we follow Paul and his writings, we see a huge surge in Gentile converts. Everywhere, his writings reflect a parallel with the synagogue, characterized by full and equal participation. Nowhere is there an indication of there being a platform that was available only to the preeminent elite.
Imagine Jesus or Paul, just starting out in their ministries with our current church structure. They enter a church with someone greeting them with a bit of chit chat. Then they are handed a bulletin and wait for things to begin. They go through a routine of standing and sitting to songs, readings, announcements, passing the offering container, then someone gives a prepared talk followed by another routine followed by the crowd exiting the doors. Often, this entire performance would be completed in just one hour with no opportunity for Paul or Jesus to speak. How far would their ministries have gone? How many years of training and getting certified would have to take place before they would be given a voice before an isolated group of people?
In contrast, the synagogue structure had a universally open platform with people engaged the entire Sabbath. Such a long timeframe made it so no person would be left without a voice.