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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Maybe if we emphasized a relational holiness that calls us to Christlikeness we would see discipleship and service as natural extensions of that.
The Bishop is right on, I pray that churches begin to focus on discipleship and forget the seeker sensitive model.