I continue to reflect on the “stages in the journey of simple church life” that I outlined in a previous post by looking at each stage one at a time.
Since our old paradigm of church life has often revolved around the Sunday morning gathering, we often find ourselves on a quest to discover what “New Testament” gatherings might look like and feel like. We have learned from our church traditions that the make-up and how-to of the gathering is at the crux of the Christian life so, if we are transitioning into simple/organic/house church type experiences, we tend to become very focused on the make-up and how-to of these new types of gatherings.
The result is that stage two, for many transitioning Christians, is the exploration of New Testament gatherings.
While this is natural, if we remain in this stage as the end-all of our transition, we will not fully grasp that Jesus calls us first to an organic lifestyle and only secondarily to organic gatherings (as a result of our lifestyle of fully following him). I have made this point clearly here.
In fact, one of the difficulties in describing New Testament gatherings is that scripture does not provide us with the kinds of specifics that we would want. Jesus called his followers to radically follow him, yet he offers virtually no instruction on what to do during a “prayer meeting” or a “church service.” Yet the disciples did gather and were an intimate community. From this, we can deduce that the lifestyle of mission (following Jesus and being a light to the world) was the guiding star of their relationship with God and one another. Gatherings supported this lifestyle, not the other way around.
Having said this, I am again acknowledging that during the stages of transition out of our institutional forms of church life, focusing on the New Testament gathering is often part and parcel of this journey.
Furthermore, stepping into many of the principles of New Testament gatherings does help to move us out of old ways of viewing the Christian life and re-discovering an intimate, organic walk with Jesus.
SO, what are some of these principles of New Testament gatherings that are explored during this stage:
1. Participatory rather than priest led. Much is written about this in this blog and in many excellent books today. You can read more here and here and here. Felicity Dale’s book “Getting Started” has an excellent chapter on this. Frank Viola’s book “Re-Imagining Church” is helpful as well.
2. Family-type authentic community. "There are over 50 “one another” verses in the New Testament because we live, grow, minister, become healthy, and find support in the context of real relationships." You can read more on this here and here.
3. Incarnational rather than attractional. A recent comment to a post suggested that simple/house churches ought to work together with institutional churches since the latter were better for inviting and involving new people in church. The wonderful opportunity of the simple church lifestyle is that we learn, as believers, what Jesus meant when he asked us to be salt. Rather than inviting others to join our own Christian activities (attractional) we have the opportunity to season the world with the wonder of Jesus’ love and kingdom wherever we live, work, and go. More here and here.
4. Training ground for developing spiritual gifts. "In a loving environment, group members are willing to risk and use the gifts they have." More here.
5. Word centered. Since simple churches do not have one person “delivering the word of God,” the concern is often that the word is not central. On the contrary, simple churches become even more word-centered because God’s word becomes the one authority that all look to. More here.
6. Spirit-led. One of the great joys of worshiping in simple, participatory communities is that every believer learns more and more what it is to be led by the Holy Spirit as a community and as individuals. More here.
7. Simple and reproducible. One of the geniuses of living things is that they are made out of simple elements (cells) that grow by reproduction. The genius of the living church is that every aspect of it, including its gatherings, can be easily reproduced into any setting from the urban west to the remote villages of Africa with nothing more than the Spirit of God and the word of God at work through the people of God. It really is that simple.
8. Fluid and living. By definition we will discover that truly organic processes cannot be controlled nor permanently structured. Margaret Wheatley says it this way: “We seem hypnotized by structures, and we build them strong and complex because... this is a universe, we feel, that cannot be trusted with its own process for growth and rejuvenation... By sheer force of will, because we are the planet's intelligence, we will make the world work...”
Our attempts to “create” simple/organic church gatherings and make them work will plague all of us who genuinely want to see God shape and grow his living church. We will not do it perfectly. Nevertheless, the more we can rest in his ability and power to do what he said he will do (build his church) we can allow that process to be alive, changing, growing, transitioning, and flowing according to his purposes.