People love to draw up pre-conceived opinions of what I believe. It is funny sometimes someone seems to know more about what I think than what I do. One of those areas is the gathering, many think I am totally anti-gathering. That is not the case at all, I believe in gathering, it is just the context of that gathering and what often takes place in that context that I feel uncomfortable with. The centralisation of the gathering above even living life. Then when we finally get to the gathering how it becomes the area of reign of an individual or a small group of people. That the focal point is always towards the front on a couple of individuals who will ‘lead’ us in worship and then tell us what God’s word says to us without question. This person or small group of people can influence tens, hundreds, thousands, all these people called to look forward to the pulpit, the preacher, the speaker, the musician, the singer. Those who have oversight over my life. Those mature enough in their walk to have gained title and position. That so many fall into the trap of even thinking this is a gathering at all in a Christian context is sad, but when the pattern has been established for so many centuries it is difficult to challenge and even break. No reformer has yet been allowed to touch this sacred establishment of the so called ‘church’ worship service. There may have been reforms in worship or theology or style but the actual gathering seems to remain unchallenged in so many ways. Because after all what would we do without preachers and having the Word given to us. We need the word to mature us is the message we hear, but then no one actually encourages us to become personal students of the word, or life, or God, we are just told what we should believe in these verses by the people at the front. Why is looking forward such a given in church life? I have preached in a few places where only about five people were gathered but they religiously have rows of chairs set out looking towards the front, why? They spend money to hire a building when they could meet around a meal table or in a living room, why? The speaker (sometimes me) is invited to stand at the front and share, why? Just in case God sends fifty people in next Sunday when He may have forgotten to do so for the last five hundred Sundays. Have we really just allowed gathering to become empire?
Can I Contribute?
When the Bible mentions coming together it talks a lot about everyone having space to give something. Everyone should have a song or a thought or a prophetic word, and have space to share those things. Not having to submit those thoughts first through a leadership team to judge whether it is worthy of inclusion but given and submitted to everyone to chew over and discuss. What if someone brings something heretical? What if they do? So what! What if the prophetic word is made up? So what! What if someone swears or talks rubbish? So what! That is called sharing together, learning together, building one another up, respecting one another. The way we have gatherings is not conducive to sharing together. They really are too big on the whole. If too many people are in one room to give, share, laugh, be included, contribute if they so desire (people need to be free to give nothing too without having those looks as well or even free not to be there), then the gathering has become an empire. If it centres around how an individual or a few want to direct everything then it has become empire. But if conversation flows around a bottle of wine and great food. If the most intimidated feels safe enough to share their doubts and fears. If I can disagree without being branded a heretic. If I can just silently pray for those around me without being forced into a false time of sharing. Then maybe gatherings have a future. At the moment because we are so filled with empire and how we seem to naturally incline to the front, the few, the gifted, the strong, then for now I think the times of when two or three are gathered are fine. Those times around a kitchen table, those times in a restaurant, those times on the street corner, those times in a living room. These sometimes spontaneous times give room for all to give and bring. What anyone has to say is deemed important. There is just the sharing of lives and hopes and dreams and hurts and fears. Encouraging one another is not giving me a Bible verse to shut me up, it often has the revers effect of piling on the guilt and the doubt. What we need is space to be ourselves and feel free to share of ourselves. If there is not room to do that then we do not have a gathering but an empire.
True Gatherings May Never Be Named.
I wonder if true gatherings will ever be called gatherings. They will probably continue to go on without a label or being recognised as such. They have happened over centuries and can never be closed down. They do not need buildings or much, if any, organisation. They do not need to be started with a word of prayer or concluded with a benediction. They do not need set hymns or songs or prepared sermons. They do not need to be under an apostolic covering or around the ‘Lord’s table’. They do not need leaders to be present or a programme for new converts. They just need lives touching lives. The sharing of stories and life and anything and everything. These times may never talk about Jesus or quote a Bible verse but Jesus will be in and through it all. We will see the sacred in every life and realise that what that person has to contribute is precious. There will be words of encouragement without saying ‘this is what I believe the Lord wants to say to you.’ There will be the prophetic without a thus saith the Lord. Looking back over the week we will see we were gathered all the time and yet did not realise it. We did not neglect the gathering together even though we never went to church or organised a house group. Just living created great connectivity. Does this mean that I would not meet in an organised way? There is place for that, but to term it a Christian gathering would be in error. it may add a new dynamic but should never be the focal point of life. As soon as space is taken away for all to contribute something it becomes an empire of the few. It is a fine line. I am sometimes invited to speak, and I still do so. Often to me the preaching and the meeting are just the preliminary of what is real, people. Sitting down with a cup of tea after what we call the gathering and talking with a friend about the challenges in his life (this happened this past Sunday). Maybe it was only then the true gathering really began! After all true gathering may never be recognised or named.