Someone noted that “thinking outside of the box keeps you from suffocating inside of one.” We must continue to allow God to shape us and our expressions of his church (ekklesia). He is an innately creative God. It is in this vein that I offer the following thoughts. This is not a definitive way to think of church community or gatherings. It is simply an alternative to a one-size-fits-all type of thinking that may free some of us to be more creative in our experience of church life and community.
I find that my own experience of ‘church gatherings’ involves, realistically, three or more micro communities. I have a couple of house church fellowships that I regularly connect to you. These provide a sense of God-connection, worship, prayer, Bible focus, and spiritual friendship. In addition, I have a specific support group and small network of friends that I frequent providing me with a place for deep community-life where transparent sharing and transformation is facilitated. Finally, I have a number of groups that I spend time with who share my mission focus and keep me accountable and motivated to use my gifts to make a difference in the world.
Having considered this, I am reflecting on three elements of church community that one does well to be intentional about, though there may be a variety of ways to incorporate these elements into our lives. Sometimes I, and others, refer to these three aspects as Up, In, and Out. They are also clearly outlined in Acts 2:42, 47.
- Up. This refers to fellowshipping with others in ways that encourage and build our vertical relationship with God: prayer, worship, Bibles discovery, etc. (Apostle’s teaching, prayer).
- In. This refers to sharing real life with one another. Transparency, ‘confessing of sin,’ and sharing our burdens and real-life concerns with one another. (Breaking of bread, fellowship).
- Out. This refers to our mission in the world to see others impacted by the power and love of God. (Favor with all the people).
There may or may not be one, specific group of people that provides us with all three elements perfectly, and multiple ‘micro communities’ may best suit us at certain times. I love the house church gatherings that I connect to. But those who gather are involved in very different missions out in the world. Therefore, I find it very powerful to also connect with those who are more specifically focused on the type of mission work that I am involved in. Thus my own need for a different micro community. Furthermore, I also find that the kind of deeper sharing that continues to bring healing to my heart and soul is best facilitated in specific types of groups or with a friend or two whom I can be fully honest with.
Again, I am not trying to prescribe everyone to my current ‘gathering’ scenario. But I have discovered that being intentional about all three elements of church (ekklesia) has given me a foundation for, perhaps, the strongest spiritual life I have had in my life. I believe the principle is that, yes, we need each other and that these three prongs provide us with strong community support for our walk with Jesus. The ‘how to’ of walking that out… well, that’s where there remains much room for creativity and exploration.