What makes the way you and I gather and organize with other believers the right way? What makes our method of disciple making more right than others? Why does our gathering or organization enjoy heaven’s approval? Does it?
I hear your answers but they only raise more questions for me. I hear some say…
- The way we gather and organize is all in the Bible. It’s biblical. Really. Are you sure? A book like Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna may raise some valuable and troubling questions for you. But, if you’re right, why would you even dare to ask…or look?
- We’ve been organized and meet the same way we’ve met for hundreds of years. How can something that’s lasted that long be wrong? Martin Luther, the Catholic priest turned reformer, may have been asked the same question. Was he wrong to doubt that longevity made something right?
- Our leader/pastor had a vision from God (or went to a conference) and that’s the reason we meet and organize the way we do as Jesus’ followers. The reformer John Calvin had spiritual vision and established the “Christian” city of Geneva in which adultery was punished by death. Good idea? Like Jesus?
Why do you meet the way you meet with other believers?
Read carefully. I’m not endorsing Luther or Calvin. I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t follow the Bible. I am questioning if that’s what we’re doing. And if announcing the good news of the Kingdom and building up the body of Christ by making disciples of all nations is the goal, I’m wondering, out loud, if the way we meet and organize as followers of Jesus Christ is accomplishing this goal. I believe why we gather and how we gather is critical to making disciples.
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”
(Matthew 4:19 NIV)
How are professing Christians gathering today? How does how we gather affect our following Jesus and “fishing for people”? How does our gathering affect our in-gathering? Let’s look at three approaches for gathering as followers of Jesus Christ.
The majority of Christians across the globe meet in “brick and mortar” structures (including houses) with congregations networked or denominationally aligned with other congregations. These groups gather in their structures to worship, feed spiritually, recharge, exhort one another and organize to go and serve.
People may become self-centered and thus self-serving with this approach. It becomes about the wants and needs of the congregation or its leadership. It may become self-protective as the congregation leaves their neighbors, drives to a building on a specific day to be reminded of why they should have nothing to do with their neighbors. An “us against them” mentality develops. The walls of the church become a barrier to Jesus.
The congregational reaching approach is clearly invitational. It has a “come” component. If you want to know the truth, if you want to go to heaven, if you want to leave your sin, if you want to escape this awful world, if you want to miss hell, if you want to be protected from the world around you, come join us. Drive here and feel good about yourself and what you’re doing. Meet with us. Hear the Word. Give your money to heaven’s cause. Give a few more hours on another special day. The rest of your time is yours. The rest of your money is yours.
These congregations generally have rigid structures and practices. Their attitude is, if you don’t agree, go find a group with which you agree or start your own group. And the beat goes on….
For the purposes of this blog, here’s how I’m using this term. People who live communally move into the same structure or literally “next door” to each other and share all things in common. They have a common “purse”. They are mutually supportive of each other. Everyone works and participates in the community. They may even be required to sign a communal pact.
Some may see glimpses of some early churches in this description. Others may see the teachings of Karl Marx.
Some monks used this communal approach to evangelize the Celtic people. Instead of building their monastery in a remote place to be alone with God, they built it near a city or village in order to serve those communities and demonstrate God’s love to them. They wanted to bring God near to people.
As I understand it, the community Shane Claiborne leads in Philadelphia is just such a communal expression of church. Their part of the city is changing one block at a time. One thing Shane’s group is not likely to succumb to is the danger of becoming inward focused like many monasteries have in the past. There is much to commend in this approach.
The “Missional” or “Missional Community” approach is one of the more exciting things happening in Western Christianity. All across the western hemisphere churches are refocusing their resources and efforts to become more missional. The missional impulse of the sent and sending God is on display.
Missional Communities are formed in existing congregations or sent out of existing congregations to become “stand alone” churches or may remain as satellites to the mother congregation. What are they?
Missional Communities are groups of believers who form, meet, give and work together toward a shared mission, people group or project. They may do life together as they are on mission together. Depending on leadership, they may or may not be fully gospel centered. They may or may not see making disciples as primary.
The potential for this movement is huge. The dangers are also real. Join a missional group, drive to weekly meetings, study the Bible, share a project and focus on a mission or people group and drive back home. Like living congregationally or communally, it doesn’t mean you’re following Jesus or living life by his indwelling life. Like some house churches, you may trade big church for smaller church or a missional community but it doesn’t automatically mean you’re following Jesus — making disciples.
Does your missional community focus on and follow Jesus Christ? Is your group listening to Jesus? Led by him? Is your community becoming fully devoted to Jesus and helping others become his fully devoted disciples?
Living incarnationally is not an approach, it’s a lifestyle. It’s living by the indwelling life of Jesus in the way he lived by and depended on the life of the Father. He told his followers he was sending them into the world in the same way the Father sent him (John 20:21). Paul described the life he was living in his body as living by the faith of the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). Christ lives in the believer in the person and work of the Holy Spirit and his life is expressed as we depend on and follow him.
The incarnational life is lived IN the world. It is part of what it means to live “in” the world while not being “of” the world. This is a “given” life not to be withheld and cannot be hidden. People living the incarnational life are in their world. They are in the muck and mess. They’re rubbing shoulders with the religious and non-religious sinners, recognizing they themselves may at any given moment be one or both.
People living the incarnational life “go”. As they go, they join God in what he is doing. They cannot help but announce the King and his Kingdom. They are moved by the missional impulse of the sent and sending God. They live in their neighborhood.
People living the incarnational life gather with other believers. God has always been community; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Those living by his life gather with others who are part of his community. They gather under the headship and leadership of Jesus. He is their King and Lord. They meet to hear from him and to “one another” one another. These meetings may happen at any time, scheduled or unscheduled. Jesus’ presence is recognized and essential to their meeting. They are his body 24/7. They are salt and light. They are leaven leavening their world. They are the aroma of heaven on earth.
Here’s something from an earlier blog.
Imagine meeting with other believers under the authority of Jesus Christ. Imagine living life together, being in each other’s “flight paths” day-in and day-out. Imagine following Jesus together in a neighborhood. Imagine being a community while serving a community. Imagine an enlarging and multiplying community of Christ followers. Imagine the effect this “salt and light” would have on your neighborhood. Imagine if these kinds of communities were being reproduced over and over again!
Incarnational is not a method or approach to meeting with other believers. It’s a way of life. It flavors everything about our lives. It changes families. It changes churches. It changes neighborhoods. It’s Christ’s life in us, the hope of glory.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:20, 21 NIV