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Disciple Deeply

We will place the same priority on discipling and serving as we do on our services of worship. By valuing and measuring holiness, service and obedience, we will increase the fruitfulness of the good news in our communities.



By Matthew Thomas
Bishop, FMCUSA

Making Your Church Gatherings Great

Jesus called Christians to love God, love people and make disciples. This call applies to all Christians everywhere at all times. It is the focused mission of the church. We worship and celebrate God and God’s work in and through us.

That celebration can be fully realized when we obediently do what He calls us to do. Then we will see God at work through people serious in following Him and loving what He loves. Jesus told us how to live, how to love and how to serve. He never told us how to have meetings, though he mentioned some elements that might be part of our gathering together.

We can only love God, love people and make disciples through face-to-face contact with others, doing and loving in ways that bring the presence of Christ into the daily lives of people. The difficulty comes when Christians pull away from the needed obedience to that call and simply focus on gathering. Many define the gathering as doing what the church is called to do. Recent generations have expressed it as “going to church” rather than “being the church” and doing what God called the church to do. You can still hear people say from time to time, “Where do you go to church?” or “Where is your church?” The not-so-subtle implication is that what happens in a building on Sunday morning is what we were called to do and be. The gathering is considered the essence, and everything else is peripheral.

However, the call is the essence. The gathering is a natural outcome of an obedient church. The errant thought is that a church is defined by the gathering. Yet, the gathering defines what is central to the church and its level of obedience to God’s command and call.

Some may object and say, “The early church gathered. In fact, the term ecclesia, that translates in English as ‘church’ means the gathering or assembly.” I am well aware of that. They will say, “We gather because as the body of Christ, we must be connected.” That is true.

Churches that allow gathering to be the primary focus will find their gathering dry and lifeless.

But which is cause, and which is effect? What draws the gathering together? Why does the gathering occur in the first place? Is it to be a worship event alone? Can we even find an event like that in the Scriptures? What is the relationship between following the command and gathering as a people?

The answer as to which is cause and which is effect is found in the gatherings themselves. Some gatherings excite us and some do not. The church that gathers as the priority — without engagement in growing people, loving people and demonstrating love for God — will find their gatherings lacking substance and exhilaration. Churches that allow gathering to be the primary focus will find their gathering dry and lifeless. Monitoring the length of the service will become an unhealthy preoccupation.

Instead, gatherings that excite us the most are when we gather together and hear stories of lives changed, people transformed and emotion-filled experiences of God growing people who were formerly hopeless and lifeless. We are most excited by seeing God in action in the world. This action invigorates the gatherings.

The gathering rarely propels people into transforming action. The transforming action of love and discipleship always propels people into thrilling gatherings. It is no mistake that Paul spends much time telling us how to live, love and help others grow while spending very little time telling how to gather. 1 Corinthians 14 is perhaps the only passage truly addressing gathering, while the Epistles entirely are about living out the Christian life.

Every epistle is filled with how we love and help others grow while growing ourselves. Similarly, John went into great detail telling people about love as less of a gathering and talking activity than getting intimately involved in meeting the needs of people and living out the commands of God (1 John 3-4). We get no words at all about how to hold a worship service.

Get involved in loving and building people up at their point of need and see what happens to your worship services and church gatherings.

The worship service is central to Christianity’s expression of adoration before a holy God. But, as a gathering time, the worship service will only be as strong, vibrant and thrilling as God intended for it to be when we are not just about singing to God, but building people up in the faith and loving the unlovely and unloved. Jesus inferred that these are his brothers, sisters and mother.

Get involved in loving and building people up at their point of need and see what happens to your worship services and church gatherings. I guarantee you that they will not need to be based upon stellar sermons and moving music to be great, exciting gatherings. Living out the cause of Christ will bring the worship of Jesus Christ to a new level.

Videos:

Constantly Serving

When strangers offered to help Lake Elsinore, Calif., resident Alasdair McAulay clean up his property, he was overwhelmed. “It made me cry,” he said. McAulay’s property was one of the many projects members of the Lamb’s Fellowship Lake Elsinore accomplished during a Serving the City event. Twice a year, the church cancels its Sunday morning worship service and works on a variety of service projects in the city.

Read the story and download the video …

Vision Cast: February 2013

From hundreds of locations across the United States, individuals, small groups and congregations connected online Sunday (Feb. 10) to watch Free Methodist Church – USA bishops interview church members who are living out their faith by serving their communities. Bishop David Roller explained, “We’re going to continue to talk about following Jesus into the cities; about discipleship as more than a notebook — discipleship as service; and about this idea of ministering to outsiders — to people who are not like us.”

Read the story and download the video …

Discussion:

Amen! Right now, in our church we are not just discussing about discipleship but we are into being and making disciples as Bishop Thomas emphasized in his article. Thanks for the awakening.

– Gina Furio

Maybe if we emphasized a relational holiness that calls us to Christlikeness we would see discipleship and service as natural extensions of that.

– Christopher Cole

The Bishop is right on, I pray that churches begin to focus on discipleship and forget the seeker sensitive model.

– Jeff Wentz

What do you think? Join the conversation.

Resources:

Being Disciples, Making Disciples

This free eBook from Bishop Emeritus Richard D. Snyder gives excellent guidance for discipleship. “As fully devoted disciples of Jesus, we go, making it our aim to bring people to the great salvation offered by God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Download in English | Download in Spanish

LLM: March 2013 – Service

The March 2013 issue of Light & Life Magazine focuses on service: What are you known for? Are you known for a great crossover dribble or for knitting ability? Are you “the encouraging card lady” or “the grouchy usher”? According to Scripture and Free Methodist history, we should be known as servants. Explore the issue …

Consecration of Service

“God is a good master. He takes the best of care of His servants here and gives them crowns of glory in the world to come. Will you set yourself apart to work for God in whatever way He shall direct?” – B.T. Roberts, founder of Free Methodism. Read more …

Serve Uncomfortably

Our culture’s focus on comfort helps us feel OK about comfortable service. But Scripture makes it clear that real service is difficult, focusing on people we would never meet or things we would never do without God. Read more …

Socrates Delacruz – Keeping it Simple

Socrates Delacruz and the members of Lawrance (Mass.) First Spanish Free Methodist Church often meet informally to tell biblical stories, praise God and pray together. Watch Delacruz’ testimony of how God is using this ministry. Watch the video …

Good Start Series

A Good Start is a wonderful resource to share with a brand new Christian. Colorful and easy-to-read, yet filled with information vital for the new believer, it is perfect for counsel and encouragement, revival or crusade follow-up, or altar literature. View at Wesleyan Publishing House …

Activated Holiness

“Free Methodists have always believed in an activated holiness, not a hidden holiness,” writes Bishop David Roller in this exhortation to live out Christ’s call to make disciples. Read more …

A Different Kind of Crazy: Living the Way Jesus Lived

Are you ready to truly follow Jesus and experience a life your friends, family, and the world may see as A Different Kind of Crazy? This book shows you how to take a risk, change your life and grow more like Jesus. View the book at Wesleyan Publishing House …

Church, Just be the Church

“Authentic church-being is never easy and often hurts, but this is exactly what we expect as servants who are not greater than our Master, who was crucified,” writes Bishop David Kendall. Read more …

A Movement of the Spirit

Aliquippa (Pa.) FMC has seen a miraculous turnaround. “The Holy Spirit is everything,” said Pastor Leroy. “Without Him, we have no hope.” Learn about how this church stopped focusing so much on Sunday services and started focusing on the Holy Spirit. Read more …


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