Why We GatherFebruary 11, 2014
Why does our missional church gather on Sunday?
I’m a child of the scattered church. I was raised in western Europe in the midst of the house church movement. My life got reoriented around Jesus and his mission in college in missional communities and learning from the folks at 3DM. I rejected the ‘show,’ attractional, super professional and big-box consumeristic churches. In my most honest moments I would have said: “that is not a church, but a show.”
In planting Bread&Wine, we worked hard to re-wire Christians from thinking of church as an event, a building, and a time-slot. We emphasized the church as God’s people, saved by God’s power for God’s purposes. We taught folks their new identity in Christ and how identity couldn’t be constrained to a time-slot but was all of life. We stressed, very accurately, that discipleship is life-on-life, on mission and in community. We showed folks, from the Scriptures, how the Church cannot be confined to a once-a-week meeting. We taught people that evangelism, shepherding, teaching, and discipleship happens best out in neighborhoods, over meals, in gardens, at work, and the everyday normal pieces of life. If all that is true, what is the point of gathering the church on a Sunday? Seems obsolete.
In fact, in our effort to show people the breadth of what life in the body of Christ is, we unintentionally narrowed it. In our teaching on who we are in Christ and how we live obediently as we make much of Jesus in everyday life, we didn’t include a gathering of the church as a consistent rhythm or part of regular life.
If we are the church, why do we need to get together and hear a sermon? If we are the church, why do we have to get together for singing? Isn’t that stuff getting in the way of us being the church? If “real discipleship” is life-on-life, in community, and on mission, how does a worship gathering fit? It seems counterproductive. Here is the kicker: if you are serious about a scattered missional church, you have to gather your communities regularly in one place.
What Happens if You Do?
Gatherings reorients our worship. Our hearts respond and proclaim truth we believe and struggle to believe. We are challenged and invited to worship the one true God. In many cases, the singing, taking in communion, hearing the scriptures taught, calls us to repentance and is the first act of repentance. We return to worshiping God instead of ourselves, other gods, and idols. Worship gatherings are rhythmic celebrations reminding of who God is and what he has done.
Our worship gatherings pause our hurried lives that are filled with mission and community, and remind us clearly of who God is, what he has done, and who we are. Everything we do when we gather reminds us of the gospel, who we are because of the gospel, and our role in God’s mission. We proclaim the gospel in song, we hear the gospel in preaching, we pray for gospel understanding and repentance, and we touch and taste the image of the gospel in communion. The elements of a worship gathering remind us of the gospel.
The gathered church points to our unity (Eph. 4:1-5), because we see the local church in one place. We are reminded that there are many of us with the same theology, practice, mission, and elders. It is in these gatherings of the scattered church we have a picture of our mutual submission to one another and our collective belief in the gospel. In other words, we know we are not going it alone. We know there are other communities out there, other believers, and other missionaries. In the same way that the gathering demonstrates our unity, it also nurtures our unity. Worship gatherings shape the culture of our church. They enforce our common language, symbols, story, theology, practices (enacting theology), and mission. It is in these gatherings that we understand the direction of the whole, the beliefs of the whole.
Give corporate witness to one another and the world. When the church gathers, the church gets to proclaim the gospel in unison to one another and we get to bare witness to those who don’t believe. We get to practice and do the work of evangelism together, instead of separately. This only fosters our ability to proclaim the gospel in our neighborhoods and community groups.
Finally, the gathering commission us into mission together. All of the things mentioned above supports, enhances, encourages, empowers, and equips the scattered (individual gospel communities) in mission. By getting together we stir or spur one another on to good deeds and love, which is why we cannot forsake gathering together (Heb 10:24-25). The gatherings commission the church into life in community and on mission.
What Happens When We Gather?
- If that is what it is all about (regular reminder of the gospel, points to our unity, witness to others, and commissions us into mission), what do we do? How do you do that?
- We sing songs of praise, adoration, thankfulness, etc. (1 Cor. 14:26, Ephesians 5:19, Col 3:16). When we sing in one voice we are unified.
- Communion. (Though 1 Cor. 11:17-34 is Paul correcting mistakes and giving warnings, it appears it is the regular practice for believers to share in communion every time they gather together and is different than simply eating a meal and drinking (which Paul says can be done in their homes).
- Proclamation of the message of the scriptures, which is the gospel (Acts 2:42, 1 Cor. 4:17, Col 3:16). It should be noted that much of the preaching in Acts does not appear to be done in the gathering of the church, but in areas where the churches did not already exist (Acts 8:, Acts 9:27-28, etc). This does not mean that we do not preach the message gospel when we gather, but should be held in the tension that the vast majority of the church’s preaching of the gospel ought to be done outside of Sunday morning. However, the preaching of the gospel from the scriptures on Sunday mornings encourages us in the gospel, and teaches us how to preach the gospel the rest of the time. At our gatherings, we model and teach people how to proclaim the gospel in everyday life and in our context.
- We baptize new disciples/believers (Matthew 28:19, Acts 2:38).
- We pray (Acts 3:1, Acts 2:42, Acts 16:16)
- We hear what God is doing in the Church. (Acts 14:27, Acts 15:4, 2 Thess. 1:4)
- We Commission new teams to start new gospel communities, churches, etc. (Acts 15:3, Acts 15:22).
- We clarify doctrine. In Acts 16:4-5 we see the apostles traveling around and explaining the decisions and doctrine of the apostles. In the same way, we use gatherings as the space where elders clarify and explain right doctrine and refute false doctrine.
- We collect giving. We see, in 1 Cor. 16:1-3, Paul encouraging the practice of giving on the first day of each week, a church putting resources aside to aid in the mission and advancement of the church and mission. The same ought to be done intentionally when we gather. Before we even start our week of work, we trust God to provide and give generously to the mission of his church.
- Prophecy (1 Cor. 14:23-25). For great resources on what prophecy looks like and how it builds up the body in a gathering read Sam Storms here and here. He articulates it far better than I could.
All of these things are fuel for gospel-centered communities and mission.
What Happens if you don’t gather your church?
- Lots of discouragement. Without the regular reminder of communion, proclamation of the gospel, invitation to repent and believe, and see your unity with others, believers and disciples lose track of who they are and what God has done. When the church doesn’t gather it:
- Loses sight of the gospel and false gospels sneak in. Gospels that say: “work harder and you can earn salvation.” Or, gospels that say: “If you have more things, you’ll be happy.”
- Forgets God’s mission and all that he is doing in our city. When we aren’t called to repentance, enjoy the goodness of the gospel, and respond with belief, we stop living on mission.
- Misunderstands God’s story, what God has done and is doing. We begin to drift into thinking we are all alone and God doesn’t care.
- Stop loving one another and doing good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). We don’t remember the point of it all and we aren’t challenged to. So, we don’t do it.
- Experiences isolation and all that comes with it: false worship, forsaking one another, loss of love to others, unity, and submission.
- Misses out on prophetic voices that help us understand, pierce our hearts, and lead us to repentance and belief.