This is probably going to rub some people the wrong way and some aren’t going to agree with my take on this, but I’m ok with that. My hope is that it will spark thought and conversation on why we gather as a body of believers.
I’ve long thought that the best place to bring people to experience Jesus and “get saved” was church on Sunday morning. It seemed like a great place for that to happen. There’s a ton of other believers, there’s great worship music (depending on where you attend), great biblical teaching (again, dependent on where you go), both of which evoke an emotional response and set an ideal environment to respond to the Holy Spirit. That’s how I met Jesus and how so many of my friends also met Him. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this process. Jesus did say, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” So on the surface it makes sense. It’s only been in the last few years that I started to rethink that process.
It started when I was leading a college ministry. We met every Sunday evening, on campus, and had great teaching and discussion. We fully considered ourselves a church in the way that we operated, even though we were actually a ministry inside of a larger church, and because a number of people who attended our group didn’t attend any other church. One of THE most common denominators between all the hundreds of variations and denominations of Christian church is something called an alter call. This is a process whereby the Pastor, after delivering his sermon, offers the opportunity for those attending to confess Jesus as Savior and ask Him into their heart. We didn’t do it in our college ministry. Again, nothing inherently wrong with that, I answered one of those calls and here I sit. At that time we decided and felt that personal discussions made for a more informed decision. Instead of counting hands of those answering an alter call, in order to determine our “success” as a church, we opted to measure someone’s dedication and allegiance to Jesus by their willingness to serve others and in long-measured apparent transformation in their daily living. It was a more difficult metric to use and there were a lot of missteps, but we still see the fruit of that today, three years later.
As the years passed one of the things God really started to press into my heart was that He was calling me to “do” church differently, not better, than I had done it in the past. At the time I was finishing seminary and fully intended to start a traditional model institutional church and pastor as my vocation. But, God wanted something different. Without getting too deep into the model, because I plan to write a post on that soon, I felt like God was calling me to a model that sat in the middle ground between institutional church and organic house church. Some of the main elements of that were things like our homes being our front door, an all volunteer staff, and each member of the community taking responsibility for discipling others. As God developed this model in mine, and a number of my friends’, hearts, He began to change the way I saw the corporate church gathering. The model He moved us to doesn’t eliminate a large corporate gathering like an organic home church model does, but it doesn’t place all of the focus on it as a traditional institutional service would.
As I’ve read through the New Testament, over the last few years, I’ve began to realize that all of the letters the Apostles wrote were not directed at unbelievers. Everything written, after the Gospels, was written to specific Christians or to churches. The purpose was for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. It was for those that had already confessed Christ. Christians were gathering together, devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. They were attending the temple together. I started to realize that the gathering of believer’s wasn’t necessarily intended to get people “saved.” Not that it can’t or didn’t happen; I know it happens today, which helps me believe that it happened then. But I’m convinced the purpose of the corporate gathering was and is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
This isn’t a call to change the way that others do church. Instead, it’s a prompt to spark thought and consideration for what it would mean to gather as a body of believers, really dig deep into God’s word, to worship, pray and praise God together so that we are equipped for the work of ministry and for every good work. What if we gathered weekly and were prepared to take Christ into the rest of our week and the rest of the world? What would happen if the depth of our corporate gathering so engulfed our life that we couldn’t have a shallow faith? What if gathering together was focused on the believer, not the unbeliever, and we were prepared to introduce people to Christ in our home or their home, then invite them into our celebration?
My church service may not be for you, but my home is.
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