What are the best experiences you have ever had being a part of a church? For me some would include being in trafalgar square and seeing Mike Pilavachi lead hundreds to Jesus, being in a little township church in South Africa and being filled with the Spirit, being invited to lunch in London on Christmas day after church and recently seeing a church gather to pray for a sick mum who gets healed. The interesting thing for me is that often they match the experience of the early church. Acts 2:41-47 in the Message;
“That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.”
There is potential with a new church plant to re-imagine how we gather together as a church. We can do things differently, not for the sake of it, but to more effectively be the people of God.
Life in the early church would have been an amazing community to have been a part of. Many had followed Jesus only to see him crucified. But now he has been seen to conquer death and breath his Spirit on the church. After a knockout sermon from Peter, 3,000 decide to follow Jesus and the result is incredible. As Jim Wallis from Sojourners states;
“The message of the Kingdom became more than an idea. A new human society had sprung up, and it looked a lot like the new order to which Jesus pointed. Here love was given daily expression; reconciliation was actually occurring. People were no longer divided into Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. In this community the weak were protected, the stranger welcomed. People were healed and the poor and dispossessed were cared for and found justice. Everything was shared and joy abounded, and ordinary lives were filled with praise. Something was happening among the Christians that no one could deny.”
As Leslie Newbigin points out, the credibility of the Gospel was people who believed it and lived it. Jesus did not write a book but formed a community.
Based on Acts 2:42-47 and the elements in the gathered believers time together, how could we re-imagine being a church community? In other words not revert to the default option of church as it is commonly done, but make a shift to something more dynamic, more engaging, more participatory? Something worth investing your life in?
One thing you could derive from the passage is that Sunday’s matter – or at the least gathering matters. There is something special that happens when believers get together – the presence of God is there, community gets built, people get prayed for, truths and revelations are taught and shared, collective worship occurs.
The shift for me is how do we shape our gatherings so that what is important has space and time! In other words how do you shape our time so that someone can get prayed for and healed. How do you meet so that there are real times of eating together and sharing amongst our community? How do you allow all the gifts that are insides each member of our community to be expressed?
So here is an idea… Inspired by the gatherings of the first believers. Doing things differently because we want more…
Two parts to our time together each week
- One that is shared as a whole community
- One part that allows for us to engage, participate, share, move around.
So obviously it all has to begin with a big welcome, coffee, the joy of being together
- We might then move into our together time… Worship and ministry, the scriptures read and taught, news and testimony from around the community.
- So the first 50 minutes or so of the gathering is spent in praise, in seeking the presence of God, in sharing the stories from within our community, in listening to the Word of God and teaching.
After this is hopefully where it then gets more interesting, a bit different, hopefully more engaging, more dynamic…
As the teaching ends the offer of different options for the community is presented…
- Some might stay in the main space for more worship and time with God
- Others go to prayer rooms for prayer ministry, healing, someone to listen to them. Genuine seeking of God, prayers for healing and restoration…
- Others mighty go to communal space for fellowship and a meal. Game of bocce, building community…
- One week some might have a space to discuss justice and compassion. Support the Micah Challenge, organise Christmas shoe boxes, support children overseas. Others might plan a community act of kindness.
- Another space is dedicated to a gift exchange board. People are encouraged to share things to give away – both goods and services.
- In another room there is a space for confession to an elder in the church.
- A seminar is offered – A short message or teaching on different areas is given by a member of the church. Maybe on how to read the bible better, improving your prayer life, lifestyle stuff like health, diet, exercise. An expert on finances or relationship tips… you get the idea!
- And of course have the kids involved for most stuff. Yes a space for them to hang out and have fun and be taught, but also ensure they are a part of the community.
I want to take the approach that people are mature, are looking for more, and wanting a richer diet when they gather. While it might take a little more effort and engagement, it will be a more valuable time
So time together, and then time to engage, expressions of kingdom life, of the things that made the first Spirit filled believers life together come alive… What elements can you think of? Could you lead or participate in?
Let me leave you with this… church can either be a noun or a verb… Either it is the name of something we attend and listen to or it is something that we do, we participate in, play an active role in. My guess is that if we can make a bit of a shift and Christ is honoured in that, then this whole thing could become a whole lot more exciting.