January 23, 2014

The Gathering

"Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Hebrews 10:24-25

This is one of the most universally misunderstood and misquoted verses in the New Testament. Mainly because it's most frequent use is to guilt people into "showing up for church". While it is most certainly an exhortation for the local church - the Body of Christ - to place the gathering of the church in high priority, it's the motive that I believe is often omitted from the conversation.

When Hebrews was written, followers of Jesus Christ were not living in the United States with religious freedom. They were persecuted. They were hunted down and often murdered. They spent their week, while prayerfully and assertively taking the Gospel to those who were "walking in darkness", trying to fend for the own safety as well. To live for Christ was to risk your life. And when you're laying your life on the line for the sake of something or someone else, there is indescribable comfort, encouragement, and power in not only knowing that you are not alone, but in literally not being alone. There is great power in coming together with those who are on the same mission. The writer of Hebrews is crying out for the people to not forget or forsake this.

Because in the SCATTERING - the sending and going out of the people on mission to make disciples - you will be opposed, discouraged, persecuted, exhausted, burdened, and broken - you will be in desperate need of the GATHERING - coming together with those who are on the same mission to be encouraged, comforted, inspired, and renewed.

One is not more important than the other.

The gathering cannot overshadow the scattering. Or vice versa.

At The Brook, we've spent a great deal of time and energy over the last year and a half emphasizing the scattering - the sending out - the forward, propelling movement of the mission. Recently, I've been led to believe that in doing so we have possibly neglected to reemphasize the enormous importance and priority of the gathering. Not only that, I think it's essential for us to often reflect on and reconsider WHY it is we come together. Why do we gather each week as a local church body? 

I don't think it can be overstated: worship is a way of life. Worship is the adoration & attention we give to the thing(s) we value most in life. But worship is also the corporate praise, adoration, confession, and celebration of God's people when they come together. It's the "Body of Christ" acknowledging WHO God is and WHAT He's done. That's a pretty hefty task, right? Something we should take seriously? Absolutely. So it begs the question: Am I preparing my heart each week for this opportunity? Am I living my life in such a way that it causes me to almost bust in anticipation of the chance to celebrate and adore the work of the Redeemer in and through my life? 
Remember: worship is a way of life.

When we come together, it's a powerful thing to hear, receive, and respond to the Word of God. The accurate, anointed teaching of scripture - through the power of the Holy Spirit moving in and through us - can transform our minds and radically change our hearts. It reinvigorates our soul. It brings us back to the center - to the starting point. It reminds us why it is we're scattering - moving out - on mission together. And it hopefully always brings us back to the life-changing truth: It's all about Jesus! 

Because most of our churches choose to included some very specific items in our Sunday morning schedules, these elements, pieces, and programs require volunteers, workers, and leaders. For instance: If your church family choose to have a weekly children's event/program (at The Brook we call it Faith Builders for preschoolers & Faith Factory for kids) it requires a small army (maybe militia) of passionate, dedicated, and prepared teachers, leaders, and workers. It doesn't just "happen". To have a "worship service" with a band, you not only need musicians, you're also in need of someone to run the sound, lights, video, etc... If you want people to get out of their car, walk through your doors, find a seat, and not only "participate in worship", but to feel welcomed, received, and loved by your church family, then you need greeters. I think you can actually put it this way: For a local church to worship together, we have to serve together. We have to serve each other. And just as (if not more) important, we have to serve those who are not yet part of the "family".

If your church has small groups or missional communities or whatever it may be called, those groups and communities - if growing and functioning biblically and properly - are going to at some point begin to reach people. They are going to reach lost people who do not know the Lord. That's our mission. At the same time, we have to understand and acknowledge that there are still going to be people walking through our doors for the first time on Sundays, looking for a church home, searching for fellowship, and desperate for the Lord to change their lives. They need to know someone cares. They need to feel welcomed. Bottom line: they need the love of Christ to overwhelm them. That will only happen if the people of God are extending that love. And this reality begs us to ask some questions of ourselves:

When I wake up on Sundays - when I'm preparing to gather with my church family - is it honestly, first and foremost, all about me?

If you're 10-15 minutes late every week, can you possibly make other people feel welcomed? Like you were there waiting to receive them and greet them?

If you've been "going to your church" for 2 years now, but you're still not serving anyone inside the church, what does that mean your worship really looks like to God? To everyone else? If we're "lifting our hands" without ever getting them dirty, what's really going on in our hearts?

Is it possible you could be robbing yourself of all that it means to be part of the Church because you're neglecting corporate worship? Because you're refusing to serve someone other than you?

If you're going to get up this Sunday and "go to church", I beg you to ask this simple question first: WHY? And if your WHY doesn't include one of these aspects and reasons above, I would encourage you to pray about it. No cliches here. I mean go in the closet, get down on your face, and ask the Lord: 'What do you desire of me in your church?' If you ask, He'll begin to show you.

Are you looking for a starting point? Let me give you a couple of easy ones:

  • Show up 15 minutes early & greet people. And don't just greet them ("Hey, I'm Bill. Welcome!") RECEIVE THEM! That looks more like: "Hey, I'm Bill. Would you guys like to sit with us? I'd love to introduce you to my wife." Treat people the way you would want to be treated if it was your first time walking through the doors.
  • Wake up 30 minutes early and spend time in the Word. Pray and ask the Lord to prepare your heart and open your eyes as you are with the people of God. 
When we SCATTER, we are on mission.
When we GATHER, we are STILL on mission.
The Church is always on mission. ALWAYS! 
What an awesome privilige to worship the Lord & serve each other!

We are all in need of refining in areas of our lives. Is there one of these areas where you can ask God to bring some change in your life?

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