The world is changing. I feel pretty old carrying my leather-bound Bible to church, flipping through pages when everyone else is scrolling and tapping on their phones. On a heavier note, the world is also changing in its view of church attendance. What was once an accepted cultural norm is now a dated tradition for old people. It is no longer cool to go to church.
I’m not a believer in “seeker friendly” services. God will bring people to know Him regardless of what our church service looks like. I don’t think it matters whether we play contemporary rock songs or sing gospel hymns, whether we dim the lights or have a stained glass window behind the pulpit. Churches get pretty hung up on methods, traditions, and rituals, even to the extent of insisting on them, even if they are outdated and superfluous to our mission.
On the other hand, there are core elements of being a church we need to maintain and perfect. One of those core elements is our assembling together — our worship services, small group gatherings, and one-on-one meetings. There is great significance and purpose in assemblies, but we don’t always give them the attention they need and deserve. I know it sounds a little corporate, but we should make sure our gatherings are purposeful and effective. Too often they are light. By that, I mean they are filled with conversation but not effective at getting to the heart of the matter — where pains and fears reside. If we are not careful, our meetings can become mere social events and can even feel a bit ritualistic. The quality of our meetings should not be determined by how good the snacks were, or how much we laughed at the ice breaker. God takes meetings very seriously, and so should we. There is great opportunity…for growth, breakthroughs, healing, and encouragement…if we conduct our gatherings with a healthy appreciation for their importance.
At my job at Rockwell Collins, we have meetings all the time. There’s a great deal of importance placed on conducting efficient meetings. Engineers understand the value of timely agreements, coordination, and collective planning, but cannot stand poorly planned or executed meetings. Engineers are busy, and time is precious. There are rules posted throughout my building stressing the importance of conducting good meetings.
It is not surprising that we hold high standards for conducting meetings effectively. We are made in God’s image, and God believes in effective meetings. In the books of Job (chapters 1 and 2) and II Chronicles (chapter 18, verses 18-21), we see that God has regular staff meetings. God chairs these meetings and assigns actions to accomplish the goals He has in mind. The attendees are the “sons of God”, angels and demons from all corners of the earth. Satan himself comes to these meetings. He reports his status and speaks up from time to time. He’s like that arrogant guy who sits next to the boss and likes to be heard. In Job’s account, we see that God assigns him a few purposeful action items from time to time.
Meetings. God holds them. Regularly. His meetings are purposeful, intentional, and effective.
In the same way, the church needs to make its meetings effective. We need to shed outdated expectations of what they should be. We should make sure more is accomplished than light conversation, ice-breakers, and snacks.
In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said that where two or three have gathered together in His name, He will be there as well. To gather in Christ’s name means to gather in the spirit of who Jesus is — full of grace and truth. Do we even know what it looks like when Jesus is in our midst? Do we expect Him to be there when we gather together? I’m not so sure.
We should take every gathering seriously. The author of Hebrews rebukes those who regularly avoid gatherings and neglect the solemn responsibility to encourage other believers (Hebrews 10:24-25). Christianity is designed to be relational. It is intended to be lived in the context of relationships, not in isolation. Our meetings should reflect God’s intentionality, and should reinforce the vital relational aspect of our faith. When we gather together, we should be intentional, purposeful, and ready to contribute to building people up in the spirit of Christ.
Good Christian gatherings should look like this…
There should be mutual stimulation and encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25). Believers should have their eyes opened to opportunities they have to help others, or to serve. Gatherings are good because they help us see things from someone else’s perspective, help us pull our heads out of our proverbial forests, expose our meaningless and repetitive routine. Believers should be encouraged from our meetings. Encouragement is not a happy feeling after eating a delicious meal or sharing a light laugh. Encouragement is renewed hope, vision, and courage to do the right thing no matter the situation. It is being known and loved anyway. It is confession, forgiveness, healing, acceptance, affirmation, vision-casting, and emboldening. You just can’t get that from a box of Cheese-Its and spinach dip. It comes from intentional gatherings.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul blasts the believers there for not conducting their meetings well. In one place He says, “you come together not for the better but for the worse” (I Corinthians 11:17). He rebukes them because their meetings accentuate divisions that exist among them. By their negligent and careless planning of their gathering, they despise and shame God’s intention for the church (11:22).
Paul then defines how the body can be more effective through well-executed, intentional gatherings. In chapter 12, Paul makes a great point about the importance of each believer’s individual contributions to the body. He states that each believer is given a unique gift, intentionally inspired by God Himself (12:18), that every gift is essential and necessary (12:15), and that the body is something less than complete if each member does not have the opportunity to exercise their gift (12:22). I don’t think the church does a very good job of looking for and utilizing the gifts of its members. We’re pretty good at putting gifted musicians on the stage and finding the administrative genius to run child care. But beyond that, how hard do we work to know the gifts of our members, especially the quiet ones, and how they contribute to the body? We don’t know what we’re missing.
Paul also stresses the importance of being prepared for gatherings. In chapter 14, he gives guidelines and purpose by which the church can be effective through intentional gatherings. He says, “when you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation” (14:26). He assumes people will come to gatherings prepared, ready to encourage the other attenders — maybe with a song, an insight, a passage of scripture that speaks to a current situation, provides healing to a lonely, despairing soul. Sometimes I wonder if we even know there are lonely, despairing souls in our meetings.
So we should come to gatherings prepared to use our gifts, with words of encouragement for the good of the other attenders. We need to be careful not to be self-seeking as we gather. I am particularly bad at this. My motive for sharing insights is not always virtuous, is often intended to mend a significant need for affirmation. I like being heard. Paul’s recommendation for guys like me is to tame the tongue. He had to tell some to “keep silent” if they could not contribute to the overall edification of those in attendance (14:28).
On the other hand, a well-timed word of prophecy, carefully chosen words derived from hours of meditation on God’s word, can be tremendously effective, and bring conviction, revelation of secrets, disclosure of sin, and ultimately, worship of God (14:23-25). We need to see that happen more often. We should expect that in our gatherings.
To get there, we need to prepare for gatherings, humbly follow the Spirit’s prompting, and be ready to encourage our brothers and sisters each time we assemble together. Our assembling together should be so effective, people will repeat the words of David: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘let us go to the house of the Lord'” (Psalm 122:1).