I am not sure how this will work, but I decided to ask a question with the above poll. I don’t really have many readers these days, but I hope you will take time to answer and maybe share a thought or two in the comments.
I’m trying to remember now why I answered “other.” I think it was that I was going to select “mutual encouragement and edification,” but I felt that people would likely only take from that phrase a very narrow understanding of “mutual encouragement and edification”–just a bunch of “That’s okay. You’ll do better next time.” kinds of “encouragement and edification.” But I think it means much more than that.
Still, I think that is the most precise of the available options. I would distill it to “love,” and refer to Galatians 5, Ephesians, Hebrews 10, 1 Corinthians 13, and 1 John when defining that.
The thing I like about that answer (“love”) is that it is very general and deep, but becomes very specific and practical when it is plugged into actual circumstances, relationships, and decisions. I mean, really, I guess it doesn’t mean much if you just acknowledge the word and move on. But actually fleshing that out and living that out, in response to God’s love for me and other people, is extremely applicable to every situation in my life when it comes right down to it.
I guess the other reason why I like it so much is that it isn’t a hard law, either. It’s not like if someone might have answered “prayer” as the most important aspect of the gathering of the church, then they might have to say, “If we don’t pray when we get together, then we’re missing the whole point!” or “If we don’t praise…” or “If we don’t preach the Word…”
I just don’t think God intends for us to be so anal about “church”–how we get together or what we do or don’t do every single time we get together. I think everything that matters fits in “Love.” And if one time we need to do one thing in order to best love someone in the community, then we do it, and if the next time we need to do something else entirely, then we do that. The Spirit leads the way by teaching us what love is through the person of Christ and through revealing to us our Father.
But we can’t expect the wind to carry us if we cement ourselves into the ground, and if we see the flag flapping, we know that the wind is stirring.
Dave, I think you have made a perfect point. I have seen folks meeting in homes act as if certain things must be done in order for them to say, “we ‘went’ to church”, or “we did it right”. They have some kind of unwritten checklist of items to “do”. We have seen this within our own gatherings. I pray for more spontaneity and Holy Spirit direction in our gatherings and in our lives as a whole.
It is a fresh and fascinating thing to watch Father move among us in our gatherings through prayer, Scripture, conversation, encouragement, direct words of wisdom, songs, the sharing of personal stories, and such. But I also long for that type of intimacy everyday.
Jason, nice to hear from you as well. I’d love to hear what Father is telling you through the Word about assembling together. It’s always good to hear fresh perspectives.
I’ve been thinking about this recently, and talking about it with my pal Patrick, in regard to a group of Christian guys in our community of friends that get together with us (us four roommates) once or twice a week… You know, Wayne Jacobsen was talking in his Transitions series about how have you ever noticed when Christians get together for a “meeting”, from the moment they enter the house/room, you can feel the energy in the air… Discussion. Laughter. Heart engagement. Real, dynamic interaction between everyone present–not one is left out, not one is most important. Lively, multilateral conversation.
But inevitably, someone feels like they have to announce, “Okay, we need to get started…”
And instantly all the energy evaporates. The life leaves the room. And the interaction, almost to the occasion, becomes one-sided and bottlenecks down to one person, maybe two, who have decided beforehand what “we are going to talk about.”
It’s really wierd and mechanical, now that I think about it.
I think we’ve got a lot to learn about what it means to really trust God to be the Head leading His Body–to trust the Wind to carry us where He wants to go. We get so paranoid and antsy, feeling like we have to micromanage the Kingdom, because God doesn’t mess with the details–He only guides the Body in big moves. Right. Things will go all screwy if we don’t work out a teaching plan or discussion calendar eight weeks in advance. Uh-huh.
We feel like we have to have a sense of “completion” in order for the gathering to be a success (and in order for us to have a sense of completion, we have to come with very specific expectations: an order of service–even if it is unspoken and people try to pretend it doesn’t exist). Come on. God doesn’t change lives in outline form. And He doesn’t change lives by chain of command, with some guy named Moses from Springfield bringing down the tablets on which for us to slate our theological thirst. You know, not one of the most pivotal epiphanies in my life happened when a meeting went as planned–as _we_ planned. So, what makes us think that it’s all that helpful to be trying so hard to “make a meeting out of it” to begin with?
Community means more. And a relationship with God means more. Just because I have to go home at nine, doesn’t mean I leave God back at the house until the next time I show. We really need to give the Spirit more credit for what He does and can do.
I think God changes lives through love in interaction with His Spirit, and through love in regular human interaction daily–much more frequently and effectively than in scripted caucus.
I know this: In our group of friends, things eventually come around to God and the Gospel or something similarly Biblical anyhow, whether we intended for it to happen or not. And it’s always directly relevant to what is going on in our lives at the time. It’s a sign of the Spirit and health when people can’t help but end up talking about Jesus! So forcing it should be unnecessary in the first place, and if coercion is the name of the game, then all you’re doing is handcrafting hypocrites anyway.
All this to say, when I hear “Okay, we need to get started…” fifteen to thirty minutes into three or four lively discussions in different corners of the rooms, I think: “Wait. What have we been doing all this time?”
I thought about it and decided I wanted to leave something more in the way of the practical:
If the people we are meeting with don’t “always come back to Jesus,” and we want to bring the topic around a little quicker… whatevs. But for goodness’ sake, do it naturally. We really do have to learn how to transition well. The social art of the segue.
But I wouldn’t bring it too early. Let the discussions natural evolve. Don’t carry your agenda on your shoulder. If it doesn’t come to it, that’s fine. Relationships develop outside of spiritual dialog, too. You have no idea what’s going on in that guy’s head right now: he’s talking about his dobermann, but he’s thinking about how well you listen, and then suddenly, unnerved by your seeming unsuccess in developing a relationship with him, you blurt out, “You know, that story about your dog reminds me of this one time Jesus…” And he’s like, “Well, maybe he wasn’t listening. He was just looking for a chance to talk… and convert me, as long as he was able to pull both off at the same time.”
But, and I think this is key to cultivating the natural energy and not trumping what the Spirit may be trying to do for different people’s different needs: don’t dominate the whole room. When the discussion you’re a part of starts to transition to a spiritual topic, let it, but don’t Ghangis the others. If they’re discussion isn’t going to transition to a spiritual dialog and God particularly wants them to hear yours, they’ll finish talking about babysitters and join in.
Hey Jeff & Dave,
Some good thoughts here. In the last couple years, I’ve been thinking increasingly about “the Lost Art of Listening” (acutually I really need to write a blog entry about it, because I’m increasingly seeing it is deeply related to justice also)… anyway… the lost art of listening: We’ve sort of evolved in churhianity into thinking this walk of faith is all about “talking” when so much more happens when we listen. For myself, as I have been remembering this art in the midst of conversations with people, I’m increasingly becoming aware of how beautiful people are. When I really listen, I begin to glimpse at why God loves us all so much despite our being such incredible messes. Amazing things happen when we are quiet and listen long enough to really hear people.
I chose Mutual Encouragement in the poll, but with a broad view on what that is. My thought was all the other things really were pretty worthless if the goal was not to build up the Body of Christ. That might sound like harsh words, but really even preaching the word (which I place in high regard) means little if it’s bottom line is not to encourage and edify the Body. However, my definition of encourage and edify is not just “I’m okay. You’re okay.” stuff. Mutual encouragement means sometimes saying to someone “hey, I love you and I see this thing you are doing to yourself is hurting you.”
I like the answer of “love” also, but too often we don’t think through the implications of love. Maybe I’d tend to answer “1 Cor 13 Love”, which defines more clearly what it really is. And which when truly enacted will also result in authentic mutual encouragement and edification.
I can’t stay away from that flooring description of love by Paul! Ah! So rich. I have really been thinking a lot about it in view of the fact that God is love.
God is patient
God is kind… etc.
I’m especially processing “God does not take into account a wrong suffered.” The theological implications of Paul’s definition of love would make some theologians’ heads spin, but isn’t it amazing that love/God doesn’t carry forward last month’s negative balance? And neither should we in our relationships with others. So practical AND deep!