I write this as I struggle with Sunday Morning Gathering yet again. I have stopped going because I’m too discouraged about my inability to join in. This is not unique to the house where I have gone the past 5-1/2 years; any gathering that projects the words on a screen and plays music I don’t know will be inaccessible to me.
The challenge in the modern Church seems to be broader than this. It’s as though there’s a “Do not disturb” sign on the door: Anything or anybody that causes discomfort is neatly set aside.
I have heard pastors say they shouldn’t be expected to visit people when they are in the hospital; in fact, I had that happen about 13 years ago. I hear believers say they “just want to experience God’s presence,” which turns out to mean that they don’t want to see to others when they are at Church; that they don’t care about the quality of music…they just want to feel good.
“What’s in it for me?” seems to be the measure of what makes a successful gathering – In a word, consumerism.
I always hesitate to pick on the Church too much: There is plenty of that; God loves His beautiful Bride.
The deal is, we need to repent, and soon, before this anesthesia kills us.
The Sign On the Door
“I’m a pastor, paid to pray;
Please don’t intrude on my life that way!
I don’t want to visit the poor;
Please note the sign posted on my front door.”
“We like our worship; it makes us grin.
We don’t care if you can’t join in.
Please don’t tell us you’re distress and bored;
Please note the sign posted on our front door.”
“Do not disturb,” it plainly reads;
We don’t care about your wants and needs;
Please don’t ask us to do any more;
Please note the sign posted on our front door.
Years ago in such a place,
A man came in who was full of grace.
He made a whip with many cords;
He ripped that old sign right off their front door.
Animals, money, vendors, they say,
Watched tables turn as they ran away.
“No den of thieves; not anymore!”
Disturbance had just come through their front door.
May this same God, who longs for his bride
To be pure and spotless when she stands by his side
Confront and deliver, heal and restore;
Till that dreadful sign is off her front door.
Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, we pray;
Forgive our sins; take our selfishness away;
Disturb us until we long for more
Of you in our lives; Please come through that front door.
“When I first began leading worship, I served at a tiny suburban church plant in West Fort Worth. The pastor of that church constantly reminded me that folks would never leave our Sunday gathering humming the sermon he preached. They’d leave humming the songs we had sung together. In fact, they were far more likely to have the words we sang rattling around in their minds all week than any words they heard from the pulpit. For whom do we sing? I believe we sing for ourselves and for one another, that we might come to believe more fully the truth of the words we sing and to love more deeply the God to and about Whom they were written.
That belief has transformed the way I personally worship God in song, the way I plan the musical portion of any worship gathering I’m involved with and the way I discern which songs should or shouldn’t be a part of our corporate worship life. If music is, in essence, sung theology, then things like lyrical content and melodic hook become significantly more important to consider.
However, that doesn’t completely quench my desire to know “why we sing.”
If that was all there was to it, then why not just leave the singing to the pros, and attend a musically excellent, theologically rich concert every weekend? Or, for that matter, why not just buy musically excellent, theologically rich music on iTunes and listen to it day in and day out? Why must we gather and actually sing together?
I’ve long been fascinated by the prayer Jesus prays in John chapter 17. He prays specifically for the oneness of those who will come to believe in Him. He prays that we, His people, may be united together; that we might be one just as He and the Father are one.
In the book of Acts, we find the early church living and worshipping together day in and day out. They share what they have. They break bread together. They seek God together.”
…”How many acts of worship are communal in nature? Congregational singing lends itself perfectly to the togetherness & vulnerability that the Gospel demands, deserves and seeks of those living in community. We, together, are the people of God. We, together, are the bride of Christ. Therefore, it’s right and good that we, together, with one voice, should express our affections for our great bridegroom, Jesus.
When we step outside the familiar walls of liturgical tradition and peek back in through the window at all the people standing and singing and raising their hands together, it may look a bit foreign or silly. But, brothers & sisters, as I said, it is absolutely vital to the life of the Church and to the lives of the individual believers therein.
When we gather together, let us lay aside any concern about the quality of our singing voices. Let us lay aside any reservations about whether or not we “feel worshipful” in a given moment. Let us sing. Let us sing as an act of discipline, training our hearts to believe more completely the Gospel of our salvation. Let us sing as an act of community, knowing that the people around us are our brothers and sisters and that they need the truth of the Gospel on our lips to ring in their ears.”
From “What’s the Point of Singing,” by Luke Brawner
I’m reminded of something Paul writes in Ephesians and Colossians:
singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves,
and making music to the Lord in your hearts. …
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
I have had more than one person tell me that they don’t care about the quality of music or musicianship; they just want to feel God’s presence.
That sounds good, but it’s not biblical.
God designed us to worship, individually and together. He calls us to join in unity (Psalm 133) He tells us to sing to each other…
I think this is especially important in a day when people are so isolated. The last thing we need is to go to Sunday Morning Gathering for more of the same.
There is also a synergy that happens when the worship is made up of live voices. It has a vibrance to it that simply cannot be communicated in recorded or streamed music. Joining our voices says, “I’m with you. I know and love you, here and now.” We desperately need that.
By the way, Scripture also admonishes us to dance, raise our hands, shout and declare.
There is a refuge from chaos and strife,
Where all can receive abundant life.
A place where peace and joy prevail;
And all are embraced, even when they fail.
This refuge is built on intimate love,
Sealed by the Son of God above.
The King of kings and Lord of lords;
Who redeems and saves us, heals and restores.
But how will people ever come to know
This is a place where they can go,
Unless we live to show the way
By being God’s expression every day?
The living refuge is alive and well,
Standing against the gates of Hell.
Pointing the way so all come in,
To the Refuge where they are born again.
Chaos may increase and the storms will brew,
But peace abides in God most true.
Let us give thanks to His great Name,
Yesterday, today, forever the same.
If I were allowed to preach a sermon, it would be this:
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.
And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;
and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,
praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day.”
Acts 2:42-47 (NASB)
The question I want to raise is this: What one thing can you do to reach beyond your own front door?
I have often heard this passage in Acts used to describe communes, but I don’t think that is what it is about. There are a few points to make that clear:
perhaps the strongest is verse 46:
“Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,…”
Here are some other versions:
…and breaking bread in their several homes, they shared their foodin joy and simplicity of heart (Complete Jewish Version)
They were joyful and humble as they ate at each other’s homes and shared their food. (God’s Word Version)
Almost all versions refer to eating together in each other’s homes. That means they had their own places, just as we do.
Another thing I often hear people say is that sharing all things in common is communal in that none of us should own anything. I think we can simplify this to something we can do:
If someone gives me 40 pounds of apples; then I give some to a neighbor and some more to a person at Church, I am sharing. I still have all the apples I need; so do two other people.
Okay, time to turn up the heat!
I am coming to believe that the Western model of Church with Sunday Morning gathering as the main gig is backward. Moreover, it fosters isolation.
What happens is, people go to Church, try to shut others out as they worship, shake some hands, visit a little; then go away for the rest of the week. The result: We don’t really know each other.
We have lost the part of Church that has to do with relationship: Sharing meals at each other’s homes; giving and receiving so that no one has a need.
We have to spend real time with people in order to know that they have a need in the first place!
Psalm 133:1 brings up a fascinating point! It says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to DWELL in unity.”
The word for “dwell” is “Yashab” (Strong’s Number: 3427)
It means, “To live, abide, sit, inhabit or remain.”
This same word is used in
Psalm 4:8 “you make me dwell in safety.”
Psalm 23:6 “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Psalm 24:1 “…the earth and all who dwell in it.”
There are plenty of other verses, but you get the idea.
In our passage from Acts, there are at least three indications that the believers were in close relationship:, other than the one I have already mentioned
Verse 42 begins, “They were continually devoting themselves….”
Verse 44 “and all those who believed were together…”
Verse 46 “They went to the temple together” (They already knew each other)
Contrast all of this to our over-busy, isolated lives.
Away from Sunday Morning gatherings, we keep to ourselves, maybe extending our attention to a closest friend – if we even have one; perhaps we talk to adult children once in a while… We don’t know what the other people who were at Church with us are doing, what their needs, gifts, dreams and struggles are. We don’t know our neighbors’ names, let alone what they do or how they think and feel.
So how do we get from this isolated, impoverished state to the biblical ideal?
The same way we move into the other things of God: One step at a time
If you are one to go about your week completely apart from other believers, what could you do that would be simple enough? maybe call someone with whom you often visit on Sunday Morning? Start saying, “Hello” to a neighbor?
Just find one thing; then when that is working, add to it.
Yes, you are soooo busy! You and every other person you know.
I think busy-ness is one of Satan’s favorite traps: If he can get us to be so occupied, we don’t have time to connect with others, he gets a huge victory – the old “Divide and Conquer.”
You’re unsure, uncomfortable or afraid.
Understandable: I’m calling you to change.
But consider this: If you keep doing the same things in the same way with the same attitudes and the same people, what will you have?
Change is uncomfortable: It involves risk, having to learn and find out, falling down sometimes. But then comes the sweet success!
You might even find that you are less busy because a friend or neighbor can do something for you that you would have had to add to your already overloaded schedule.
You might find that a 10 minute phone call cheers you up so much, you get twice as much done.
Ask Holy Spirit to guide and help you; then reach beyond your own front door.
“The Church is made up of groups of people who share common beliefs; who get together for social contact and to support each other.” common statement
“So, what is the role of the church in society? For each member of the church to live a life worthy of the call in order to reach their own first, and in turn impact the world around them. Only then can our families be saved, our communities put back together, our nations healed, and our world impacted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Society begins in the homes of each individual member of the Church. It is interesting that Luke’s summary of the great commission
call to preach the gospel to all nations, however, it also commands to begin in Jerusalem first. In other words, the commission begins at home.”
“I believe the church has at least three roles to play in North American society. They are:
1. Witness to God’s love and power.
2. Call society to peace, justice and compassion.
3. Work toward the welfare of all members of society.” Duane Ruth-Heffelbower
“When speaking of the church, theologians often use terms such as the visible and local church as opposed to the invisible and universal church. The visible and local church is, of course, the physical churches that we see around us and around the world, as well as the members of those churches. The invisible and universal church, however, refers to all believers everywhere and is one church, united in Christ, not many physical churches. Everyone in the universal church is a true believer, but such is not necessarily the case with visible and local churches.
Why is it relevant to understand some basic differences between the visible and universal church? One key reason is so that we do not confuse what we sometimes see fallible churches doing with the reality of the universal church. Not only do visible and local churches often host nonbelievers, but also the believers themselves are imperfect, resulting in challenges and tensions in every visible church.
What Does the Church Do?
The church is not a building, but a body of believers with a specific nature and purpose. These biblical roles or ministries of the church are foundational to it. What are these roles? They are many, but key to any church are foundations in worship, edification and evangelism.
Worship is God-centered and Christ-centered. It is not about entertaining Christians with flashy displays or presentations, but about expressing our love by worshiping our Creator. We are to praise and glorify God in worship. As such, every Christian needs to be part of regular fellowship and worship.
Edification is also a role of the church. It involves edifying believers, but also nurturing, building up or helping believers to mature in Christ. To this end, churches are tasked with a variety of ministries such as Bible study, continuing education in related areas, praying for one another, acts of genuine hospitality and more.
Evangelism is also a key role of the church. This means reaching out to a lost world with the Good News about Jesus. Since people often have questions or doubts about Christ and Christianity, knowing the truth and being able to defend it (apologetics) is also part of the role of the church. But beyond evangelism in the sense of reaching out with the gospel, the church must also express compassion and mercy tangibly by helping others. In following Christ’s example to love others, the church, too, must seek to make a real difference in the world while not neglecting to share the message of Christ.” Focus on the Family
“People who have been set apart and called out from the world.”
“As the church, we are to demonstrate God’s power through miracles.
Jesus demonstrated the Father’s heart. It is now our job to do that.” Bill Johnson,
“When Heaven Invades Earth,” pp 109
I have heard a number of prophetic words that the church as we know it will change; that we will find each other by the leading of the Holy Spirit, instead of going to buildings with signs and pre-determined service times. We are the light in a darkening world.
I say the Church is the company of all who have given their lives to Jesus, from earliest history to the end of time, in all parts of the world. We are “glory carriers:” We bring God’s presence into every place and situation. Offering people the opportunity to experience Jesus firsthand is our most effective work.
What do you say the Church is? What is our place and role in the world?
This was sent to me:
Hannah, you wrote about Christian community. What it is. How breaking bread was more than just sharing bread, it was a core value of a community of people. This was “church”. You asked folks about their own interpretation of Christian community and Church. Your question is timely in view of one of the cases the US Supreme Court is hearing. In this case, a corporation named Hobby Lobby does not want to provide birth control coverage in the insurance policies of employees because the owners have personal religious beliefs against certain types of birth control.
This is bringing up all sorts of questions. Can a corporation impinge on the rights of their employees based off of “personal beliefs”? Are Corporations “ people” who have beliefs? If Corporations are people and can have religious beliefs than would you include them in your definition of Christian community and “Church”. That would imply that when you break bread; companies such as Walmart, Hobby Lobby, General Electric, Halliburton, etc. could break bread with you as well. I guess that if Walmart were part of the community they could bring the bread. Maybe a nice red wine as well.
I don’t know about you but to think of a Corporation being ruled as a “people” with the right to put their religious beliefs on employees is scary stuff. God knows (and I mean God knows) how the Corporations have already dis-assembled our Democracy. What would they do to Christianity?
Something to think about.
In general, the American family has become defused. We still have traditional neuclear families; then we have single parent households, blended families and same-sex parents. There are also some extended and clan families.
One form the “clan” has taken in the US is neighborhoods. While I don’t know that I would call this a norm, it is worth recognizing that there are groups in cities and rrural areas alike, who are built around ethnicity, faith or proximity. These groups function as clans in that they share common values, build relationships and help each other. Some are a little more fluid, in that people come and go. Newcomers can join and will be welcomed. Others are more closed: People are there for life and newcomers are not accepted.
Our need for a clan is great. I am absolutely intrigued by the fact that the neuclear family was not really established until the 1940’s. By the end of the 1960’s, just twenty years later, the divorce rate was at 50%. it has not decreased; in fact, it has increased a bit. One statistic I have heard is that the divorce rate among evangelical christians is 66%. In all fairness, this could simply be because the sample group is smaller, so the numbers will look a bit different. Having said that, it is notable that being in the Church has made little or no difference in the divorce rate.
My interpretation of this is that the neuclear family system is too fragile to withstand the pressures of life, work, children and everyday demands. Couples who have the help of parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends fare much better.
The Church needs this. In her book on sacraments, Monica Helwig described church as a community set apart, able to withstand the chaos of the world. Sunday Morning only won’t accomplish this. We must be involved with each other on a much more relational basis.
Even if we start by doing small things, such as calling people or greeting neighbors when we see them, isolation begins to lose its hold on us Fear melts away and we begin to build caring, loving communities. We learn that being known by others is delightful and not shameful; we find that we have time to get everything done because we have encouragement and help.
What is your clan like? What can you do to build and strengthen it?
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,…” (Acts 2:46)
Since the late 1990’s, my observation has been that the Church “goes to temple” in the form of Sunday Morning gatherings, and possibly a midweek service of some kind.
We have lost the practice of breaking bread from house to house, however, and we need it back.
One big reason for knowing the needs of others was that these people were spending real time together and building close relationships.
This fit their culture well: The family structure at that time was the clan family, which included people who were related biologically or through marriage, friends, servants and strangers who attached themselves to a particular clan. That is why Mary and Joseph could be in caravan for three days before they realized Jesus was not with
them. As far as they knew, he was with Uncle Caleb or cousin Nathan and their friends. (see Luke 2:43-46)
The church is described in a few different ways now:
Family, community, fellowship…
One challenge with calling the Church “family” is that it does not fit our cultural norm, which makes this description a little hard to embrace.
Church as community might feel more comfortable, but it fails to call us to the deeper levels of relationship we need.
Fellowship is only one aspect of Church, making it a bit incomplete.
So, how do we become more relational? How do we move from being “Temple only” to believers who really engage with each other?
I will add comments to explore these and other questions. Meanwhile, I would love to hear from you.
What is “Church” to you?
Do you have ideas about how we can begin to “break bread each day?”
I have a couple of suggestions:
*One is to begin with relationships that make more sense to us. For me, that might be my neighborhood. For someone else, that might be a group of friends.
*Small groups might try being less structured, even if that is once a month.
*If only a couple of believers begin to meet and share; they might be able to invite others.