A Gathering Church

Posted in body of Christ, christian thought, fellowship by Nathan Creitz on May 6, 2009

img_2299What should Christians be doing when we gather together?

There are all sorts of people who want to know the answer to that question:
– Non-Christians who are wondering if there’s anything to this following Jesus business.
– Ex-Christians who are leaving the church because their time with other Christians seemed like a waste.
– Christians who are sitting in seats looking at the back of people’s heads wondering if there’s more to the Christian life.
– Pastors who are scratching their heads wondering what happened to all the people.

I’m sure there are others demanding answers and I understand where each of these groups is coming from. There are also other questions that we should be asking: How often should Christians get together? Where should we meet together? How long should we be meeting together? Who should lead our times together? Should anyone be leading anything?

The operative word in all of these questions is “should”. (You thought it was going to be “together” didn’t you?) We all know something is wrong. We all know there’s something missing. Something needs to change! What is it? What is it that should be? Doesn’t the Bible talk about Christian fellowship, brotherly love, you know, all those “one anothers”? We are missing the mark in our interdependence and interconnectedness with one another and something should be done about it.

So, what should Christians be doing when we get together?

We should be Loving one another

If there is someone in your church fellowship that you refuse to talk to then YOU have a problem. I don’t care what he or she did, if you know there is a wedge between the two of you then you are being disobedient to God if you aren’t attempting to reconcile with them.

If something comes between me and my wife I don’t give her the silent treatment indefinitely…we work it out. There are too many people who refuse to worship with other Christians because they’ve got a problem with someone else in the body. That is a big problem.

Colossians 3:14 says, “Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.” The “above all” refers to the short list of things we should be putting on as Christians: hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, etc. Those are the sorts of things we express to one another because of our love. Love wraps all those other gifts into a beautiful package that can be given away daily to our church family.

We should be Praying for one another

Praying for one another sounds easy doesn’t it? I think most Christians know that when we get together somebody needs to pray. I hate when I’m asked to pray simply because I’m ordained. Like I have some special connection with God that no one else has. We think the Model Prayer in Matthew 6 goes something like this:

Our Father who art in heaven,
bless Tom’s half-sister Ethel.
And for my toenail
that’s now ingrown
it hurts as it has all day.
Give us today our daily desires
and be with all people
as all people have need of prayers from us.
For yours is the ability
and the responsibility
to take care of us forever. Amen.

Okay, I kind of feel bad for being sarcastic about the way we sometimes spend our prayer time in our church gatherings…I’m over it.

We have to stop spending all of our prayer time praying for those twice removed from us. God’s desire is that we pray for His kingdom and glory. That’s priority one! Praise him, exalt him, ask him to use you to advance his kingdom, etc. A close second to that is praying for one another. Open up! Share what God is doing in your life. What spiritual challenges are you facing? Where are you being tempted? Finally, after you’ve spent 98% of the time praying for God’s glory and for one another, now if it’s important to ask for prayer for Tom’s half-sister Ethel, then I guess you are free to do so.

Praying for Ethel is safe because it doesn’t expose our inner turmoil. We might actually have to admit that we don’t have everything together. That’s hard, but we aren’t truly praying for one another if we’re only praying through a laundry list of people and problems who aren’t sitting in the room at the moment.

Be an adult and share!

We should be Caring for one another

To care for one another means we have to know one another on a deep enough level to know each other’s needs. A Christian should always be asking this question: What needs am I uniquely positioned by God to meet today?

picture-13Maybe you are meant to meet the needs of your spouse or children, your neighbor, your friend, your pastor, or your student. Maybe you have the ability to meet a financial need. Maybe you have the blessing of time that you can give to someone. Maybe you are able to listen or teach or advise or encourage or give joy or build or share or volunteer or sing or cook or hold a hand or repair or provide a shoulder. Find a need. Meet a need.

We should be Trusting one another

My friend Mark recently gave me a point to ponder. He asked, “Have you ever thought about how Jesus got the disciples to trust one another?” We had been talking about how at least two of the disciples had political views of hatred towards the Romans and then there was Matthew who had sold out his fellow Jews to work for the Romans – collecting taxes no less.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a whole lot of glimpses at the interpersonal relationships of the disciples other than the arguments they got into and the times Jesus had to correct their foolishness. Sounds a lot like us doesn’t it? Regardless of our political or cultural or generational outlook, we need to learn how to trust one another. It takes time, it takes vulnerability, it takes effort, it takes Colossians 3:12-17, it takes a lot but it’s worth everything we put into it.

We should be Challenging one another

I’ll give you another sentence from Colossians 3: “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” (v. 15) I also love Hebrews 10:24-25, which says, “Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other…”

picture-3So, our meetings are characterized by encouragement, concern for one another, prompting each other to love and good works, and consistency according to the writer of Hebrews. The first verse from Paul to the Christians in Colossae says we are to teach and admonish one another, which is how the “Word of Christ” becomes richly indwelt among us. This includes a sermon that a pastor might give to everyone but it also includes a timely word, rebuke, encouragement, or advice between two or three friends.

Conclusion: A Vision for the Church

So how long and how often should we gather together? Where should we be meeting? When? The answer is, wherever and whenever and as long and as often as it takes to truly and deeply connect with each other as described above.

If you think you can accomplish all of the above in only one hour a week, or if you think you should be getting all of the above in only one hour a week, then you don’t understand what it means to follow Jesus. However, that doesn’t mean an hour or two with a large gathering of people isn’t important – far from it.

Imagine groups of three or four or ten or eleven or however many Christians coming together throughout the week praying and caring and trusting one another deeply, consistently, faithfully. They call each other when they are having a crisis. They can’t wait to share good news with their small group of fellow believers. They connect with each other often because they love each other. They’ve become family.

Now, when all these interconnected groups of loving, caring, praying people gather together with other small groups of loving, caring, praying people there is really a cause for celebration. They don’t just show up for a Sunday song and sermon, they are expecting God to challenge them and move them and change them. The “Sunday service” is valuable because people who are sharing the experience of fellowship are coming together to lift up their voices and worship God…together.

There are too many people throwing away the one hour Sunday service because it is meaningless and lifeless to them. They never realized they were supposed to live a life of discipleship beyond 12PM on Sunday. The answer isn’t to give up on that one hour, the answer is to give a few more hours and commit yourself to fellowship with other believers.

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  1. Peter (GoGod) said, on May 6, 2009 at 10.05 pm

    OK, you’ve got me thinking – always a good sign. I help lead a small church which has a single Sunday morning worship service and a midweek evening bible study/prayer meeting. I long for the attributes of the church in the book of Acts. That is my model for an earthly modern fellowship.

    Most of our congregation only meet others on Sundays. Why? Busy, busy lives. There’s also a tendency in our societies for people to withdraw from communal commitments. We hate to “join” any group or show signs of commitment.

    So… how do we reach the Sunday only people? One response we have is to preach the removal of the sacred/secular divide in order to facilitate the abundant Christian life. It seems vital that we encourage true fellowship – with Jesus at the centre of course.

    For the midweek, we have mooted house-groups or cells as group dynamics for 5-9 people work well, but there is not the will to do this. What we have is a core of only 6-8 people who recognise the need to meet together and I have gone out of my way to ask individuals what will make them come. That has meant an early start and finish, linking meetings with a programme of material, offering lifts, etc. We also spend time praying for the individuals that we miss seeing. I hope that this prayer causes the Holy Spirit to act on their lives and on those who pray so we are responsive and loving.

    Thanks again.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 6, 2009 at 10.26 pm

      Peter – Great thoughts and questions.

      A couple of responses. First, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t see Acts in your church. For one thing, the circumstances were probably different. They were traveling from all over to be in Jerusalem, had only planned to stay for the week when Jesus entered their hearts. Didn’t want to go home, wanted to learn more about Jesus. People began opening their homes and they were eating meals together daily.

      Somehow, I think we should be looking in the middle of the spectrum between Acts 2 and one hour a week on Sundays. We don’t have to be like Acts 2, but we do need to experience authentic fellowship together.

      I think the way we reach the Sunday-only crowd is by challenging and encouraging people to live like disciples. When I encourage people to get involved with a small group of Christians and experiment with fellowship I tell them I’m confident it’s what Jesus would be doing if he were here in the flesh. Jesus invested in twelve men and they learned how to live life together. People need to catch that vision.

      Finally, when the small group that you have begins seeing transformation, fellowship, trust, and love within the group they will begin sharing the vision for Christian community for you. A lot of people don’t make the time because they don’t see how it’s important. But through personal experience and personal invitations those 6 or 8 people can become 12 to 15 people pretty quickly.

      God bless you in your ministry.

  2. Joel said, on May 6, 2009 at 10.32 pm

    Nathan, again I see you are doing a lot of thinking about all this. However, I think you missed a really important one . . . living together. Your initial question even assumes that Christians are not going through life together because your question is asking about what to do when they get together. If Christians are sharing lives with each other, they don’t need to schedule time to get together because they are seeing each other regularly. I see the same assumption in Peter’s comment as he is having difficulty trying to get people to meet together.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 6, 2009 at 11.07 pm

      Joel – Great point. I’m sure there are a lot of other aspects of the Christian life that could be explored. I agree, we should be living life together and it should be natural not forced. However, in our culture it does take intentionality so there may have to be some scheduled times here and there. It’s hard to get people to jump from one hour to three hours of weekly commitment much less from one hour to Acts 2 commitment.

      My initial question was intended to explore what life would be like when Christians are living life together. I think my “vision for the church” section gives a brief sketch of how Christians might be living interconnectedly and interdependently. I did assume that many Christians are not living life together which is why this post is needed. Ultimately, I’m trying to break down the stereotype that what we do when we gather together is sit passively while someone leads songs and sermons. That can be an important part of the life of a Christian but rather than think that’s all there is, we have to realize there’s so much more.

  3. Rask Balavoine said, on May 7, 2009 at 3.46 am

    Thanks for highlighting the issue – it’s so easy to duck. Let me admit that I’m afraid of close fellowship to an extent and always need to be pushed or drawn into it. It’s risky, and you don’t get to chose your friends – those are good things, but also frightening. The small Church I pastor is the only one on a small public housing project (700 homes) and we try to encourage our members into more-than-Sunday relationships and generally these relationships form quite naturally since everyone lives nearby. We particularly use fellowship meals and social evenings as a tool to aid the development of relationships. In our very conservative Irish society we also have time on Sundays when people can share good or bad news with the rest of the disciples – not common in Irish Churches – and we then pray about what has been shared. It certainly helps being a small gathering (50 attenders of which 20 form the core group). Closer fellowship has also encouraged concern for those outside the group. Acts 2 is a great model – when we adapt it to 21st centuary Ireland.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 8, 2009 at 8.34 am

      Rask – Thanks for adding the Irish perspective. I can only write what I see here from my little corner of the world (Boston, another region of Ireland), but I know some of the problems and bad habits that I write about are a little more universal than I’d like. I appreciate your willingness to admit your struggle and I know I can share in admitting that it is hard to be authentic with people. Good to hear all that you are doing to try and stimulate people to love and good deeds. Hang in there!

  4. Christine said, on May 7, 2009 at 7.15 pm

    On another note, maybe do nothing… Christians seem to spend too much talking AT god in prayer, and not enough listening TO god. Church is generally too much of a show- great music, great speech, rote prayer. Not enough people in the pews are mentally/spiritually present.

    Must help each other descend into stillness- to get really really settled, enough to sit and listen to the voice of god; get still enough to get past the turmoil and the chaos in your own mind, in your own personality, past your own voice to listen to the deepest voice- and be really present. Only from this place can you love, care, truly listen to others, from the deepest most connected part of you.

    You can do this by breathing, by closing your eyes, by kneeling with your hands folded like the catholics (that’s a way to close off the senses, to eliminate distraction).

    How to get people to leave the ego at the door, and arrive? Teach them to listen before they pray. Teach them Lectio Divina- read the scripture and then let it sink in, let it speak deeply to the heart. To get quiet and connected and open, remember who they are, they are god’s children, they are part of god- then from there they can pray, or from there you can do service, study the scriptures, apply lessons to daily living. But first: connect.

    Jesus did it. Sit alone and listen and talk with god. For 40 days, 40 minutes, heck- 4 minutes! Or check out the christian mystics. or the jesuits. all kinds of approaches to model on.

    The most popular church in Los Angeles starts with 30 minutes of silent meditation, then a short prayer, and then the service begins- 1000 people alone with god at the same time. Believe me, everyone is fully “in the room” for the rest of the service- which is full of music, participatory sermons, great teaching.

    Thanks, Nathan-


    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 8, 2009 at 8.36 am

      Thanks Christine – Great ideas and there is definitely much to learn from those who have gone before us. People of faith and of prayer that modeled Christian community. We have to realize that our lives need to change. We need to draw closer to God and to one another. Like you said, even if it’s just an additional four minutes, we’ve got to start somewhere.

  5. Peter (GoGod) said, on May 8, 2009 at 3.37 am

    It’s been a joy to come back and read the comments.

    The essence of the article is the “gathering together”. As the body of God, local church is all kind of things when its not gathering. We ourselves have picked the slogan “Gathering, Growing and Going Out” to describe us. (Not unique).

    But, when we gather, it is different isn’t it? So, from the article:

    Loving one another – yes, sort out your relationship with your bro and sis. Also, make some fellowship time possible, and encourage the growth of intimacy.

    Praying for one another – Practice corporate meditative AND intercessory prayer. Excellent. Also, teach each other why and how to do this.

    Caring for one another – Encourage intimacy and foster trusting relationships in the church. Also, have a good pastoral program which involves everyone as agents of care.

    Trusting each other – I think we covered that. 🙂

    Challenging one another – That applies to everyone too. The messages we hear are often challenging; God’s word often delivers a promise and a challenge in the same passage. Also, I’m coming round to the view that I personally would benefit from e.g. an “accountability partnership” with one or two others.

    Thanks again folks.
    Peter (GoGod).

  6. Jon Reid said, on May 9, 2009 at 7.49 pm

    Too many people tackle this question by looking at mechanics and structure. I like the way you instead bring up deeper purposes. If we focus on those, we’ll eventually figure out which mechanics are or aren’t helpful for a particular community.

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