What SHOULD the Church gathering look like? Five signs you are probably caught in tradition
1. You think church starts when the music starts Our City PM gathering has nearly always INTENTIONALLY started music 10 – 15 minutes after the advertised starting time. Inevitably we are regularly asked “When does church start?” What they are more accurately asking is “When do I sit or stand and face forward and listen to someone else sing, maybe sing myself or listen to someone else speak”. People look at us a little strangely when we say “It started the moment you walked in and said Hi!” We are absolutely serious.
Does that mean people get a little confused? Yep but that is part of the learning journey. All learning starts with leaning in. This is a weird observation and against all contemporary communication theory but note Jesus intentionally confused the disciples so they could seek out deeper meaning in his words and actions (Luke 8:9, Matt 13:10) If nothing challenges you, you will never change and in turn be unable to be part of change in our world. When I invite people over to my home for dinner and say, “come at 6:30pm”, rarely would someone get offended or be surprised that we don't always sit down and eat on the dot of 6:30pm. The normal expectation is that people connect, find out how each other has been, possibly go to the toilet, sometimes grab a quick coffee, any range of possibilities exist including sitting down and eating on the dot of 6:30pm.
Having people over for dinner is actually not firstly about the food, it is the context for connecting with people, you can always eat by yourself.
Don't misunderstand me, sometimes we have “started late” for bad reasons (like bad planning or implementation) or simple 'stuff ups' (it is like burning the roast so dinner starts a little late) but Church, like family dinner, is less about the food on the plate and more about the people you are with.
2. You think Church “has” to have specific traditions in a single gathering to be Church It is true that certain elements should be present every time but they are probably far less then the vast majority would think and could take different forms then we all commonly think. This is Jesus' gathering (his Church), so the word of Jesus should be present, acknowledgement of his ongoing presence need be seen and his purpose for our lives need be acknowledged. Not sure what else can be said is 'needed'. It is true that in the broader life of the church many elements should be seen, worship, the reading of the word, prayer, communion, compassion, confession, leadership and much more but the Church all too often emasculates itself in trying to fit all these layers of expression into a single gathering.
In the traditional church it is called 'Liturgy', as many Biblical elements of the communal life of the Church are squeezed into a convenient 55 minute gathering. When one tries this, it is akin to trying to do 'marriage' or 'family' in an hour and a half meeting per week. Nothing about that honours God's chosen local community. Often the modern church, Pentecostal or not, does the same. We have certain elements that are an assumed part of our gathering. In most Evangelical Protestant background churches it is fairly simple, the mandatory elements are the word taught in a specific form and musical worship. Such insistence is little but tradition. If they were entirely absent from the life of the church we have a serious problem but not if they happen to occasionally be absent from a specific moment people call 'church' normally on a Sunday morning.
3. You think “This way has worked for … years, Why should we change it?”
The simple answer is, it actually has not worked that effectively. Studies regularly show most Christians cannot share their faith, can't pray for someone else out loud and don't read their Bible regularly. If one says the same thing all the time but never models it we would call them a hypocrite. When we preach about reaching the community but never do it together we give no communal example nor encouragement to do so.
Every 12 weeks we at LIFECITY CHURCH actually don't do what would be a called a standard church service. We go as a church and serve in our wider community (we call these ENGAGE Sundays). Our local leaders gather people together, speak of why we are about to serve people in our community (usually Matthew 5:16 or a similar passage from the Bible), sometimes they take communion together, then they mow lawns, paint houses, cook food, run park parties, serve the homeless and yes on a Sunday morning, afternoon or evening because... we believe we should actually practice what we preach, as a community.
4. You think it has to be at the same time at the same place
Sure, that is helpful for your schedule and convenience but what if being with your church family was more important than convenience. What if community was a conviction? What if we shifted our life to be with spiritual brothers and sisters rather then make community about personal convenience?
5. Your primary focus is on being personally 'fed'
It is understandable for a baby to cry out to be fed when hungry, such is the case with a natural or spiritual baby. It is, however, annoying when my ten year old son complains he is hungry when he has permission and ability to go to the cupboard any time he wants and take certain food.
It is true certain food is set apart for dinner time when we sit down to a specific meal but if one of my kids starts to complain because they are apparently "starving” because they did not eat breakfast or lunch, they are likely to get in trouble, not be congratulated “for their hunger”.
If we are active as Christians we will always be hungry and we will always be feeding ourselves with the Word.
Church is less about ME and all about WE.
Paul, the Apostle says in 1 Cor 14:26b that the focus should be “so the church may be built up”.
At LIFECITY CHURCH we ABSOLUTELY have common rhythms in our gatherings to reinforce crucial values that help enable our growth as a community, these are rightly called traditions. However, traditions at times need be broken just to remind us all that these rhythms are not 'church', they are cultural customs.
For our church to actually be 'the Church on mission' we are so keen on establishing life creating traditions and rhythms that we serve our communities every 12 Weeks because serving our communities in Jesus' name matters. We have “brunch Sundays” on a regular basis because Church is not about looking at the back of someone's head, we come together every six weeks with our other communities as ONE because we are part of a wider vision and family.
One day, just maybe, we might stop doing it this way as well because what matters first is not the form but the focus. Everything we do when we gather is “so the church may be built up” (1 Cor 14:26b)