Here’s a quote from Gibbs’ and Bolger’s Emerging Churches:
"When the church is equated with a meeting that meets in a building at a certain time, it implicitly leads to a split between church life and the rest of life, thereby creating a sacred/secular divide. Christians can be led into thinking that the church meeting is the primary spiritual activity of their lives, thus creating a secular sphere."
I agree with this. But the response of some has been to reject meetings as somehow inherently anti-kingdom. The thinking seems to be, "Since the church isn’t just meetings, down with meetings!" But this is short-sighted and misplaced.
The problem isn’t the meeting, it’s the ideology behind the meeting. It’s the reason behind the practice that’s wrong, not the practice itself. I’ve been in great church meetings; I’ve been in dreadful church meetings. You don’t throw out meetings because you had a bad one, or because some people meet for the wrong reasons. What you do is discover anew what meetings are for, and you redeem them. You don’t throw out the practice just because some people abuse it. Plus, if we didn’t have some kind of meetings, the church would just be a bunch of individuals who never got together to do anything. That would just be silly. Getting together with other believers is just part of being a Christian.
That’s why Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, "When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites" instead of "Since the hypocrites pray for the wrong reasons, don’t pray." Jesus gave instructions on how to give, pray, and fast for the right reasons, thereby redeeming those practices for good. He might say the same thing about church meetings:
"When you attend meetings, don’t think that it’s the end-all, be-all of discipleship. Don’t think of it as ‘paying your dues’. Instead, put meetings in their proper place, as opportunities to celebrate the goodness of God, rehearse the story of redemption, and encourage one another in following me."
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s redeem church meetings by doing them for the right reasons.
joshua longbrake says
as sir andy booth says, ‘sunday morning (or church gatherings in general) are halftime of the game. the rest of the week is the actual game.’
well said, andy.
Benjamin Sternke says
Hey Ben (or anyone else who cares to comment), what do you think of the growing trend (at least from what I’ve seen) of folks abandoning corporate church meetings for small group meetinings? As in, “My small croup is my church.” Especially when the small groups don’t always include traditional elements of a larger church meeting such as preaching, teaching, worship, the Eucharist, etc.
Benjamin Sternke says
Good question, Miriam. I think everything boils down to the purpose of the church. Why does the church gather? Some people leave “big church” because they have a notion that church is simply “hanging out”. But it’s not just hanging out, at least from a biblical perspective. There’s a reason that churches have worship and preaching and teaching and communion. That said, sometimes there’s no reason for some church practices, and we have to be willing to deconstruct some of those things.
But I know a few people who’ve seen problems, and left “big church” only to find the same problems in “small church”. I don’t think the size of the gathering is the issue, from a theological perspective. Problems don’t go away when you reduce the size of the gathering. Unfortunately it’s not a magic bullet. And the other problem is that for many reasons, when people leave “big church” for “small church”, relationships are severed and bad feelings rise up within the church, which just hurts the Body of Christ, I think. I’m not saying that there’s never a legitimate reason to leave a church, just that in my experience, it’s an unfortunate occurance.
Like I said, style, size, etc, are not the real issues. The kinds of issues that are important are things like unity, forgiveness, justice, God’s will being done on Earth as it is in heaven. I think if we keep focused on those things, those other issues will take care of themselves.
Any other thoughts on Miriam’s question?
Ali Campbell says
The whole of life is about “meetings” – I meet you, you meet me. Conversation, dialogue, sharing – if our “meetings” spent more time with testimony about what God is doing in us and through us the rest of them time . . . less preaching at me please! We would have a fantastic, dynamic that spoke of life!
Benjamin Sternke says
Good comments, Ali. I wrote a whole series of posts that explored the role of preaching in the postmodern church, because I was asking the same questions you are about the purpose of preaching. I do think preaching has an important place in church life, but you’re right that it can’t be the only thing that happens as people meet with one another. For people to experience spiritual growth and the life of God flowing through our communities, people are going to have to talk with one another, pray with one another, encourage one another, weep with one another, laugh with one another, serve with one another.