Have you felt led to get started on a new journey with God via Simple Church? Here’s what I’m learning: When getting together think family, conversations, food and neighbors.
Reframing who we are: When getting together, forget “church” and think “extended family get together”–aunts, uncles, nephews, cousins, nieces, grandparents, and a spattering of “enfamilied” friends–over for dinner,outings at the park, at reunions, weddings, holidays, helping each other, etc.
Reframing what we do: When getting together, forget sermons, sermonettes and bible studies (these can be empty substitutes for life) and think conversations. Don’t pray for my conversion yet–let me explain!
Each of you focus on actively following God every day–and when you gather–over studying about Him. Get used to responding to His leading, whether in the every day mundane or in the unexpected.
1. Listen for God. Each day, all week, within yourself and around you, and in others. Pay attention; be observant. Our Father, who told parents to “teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up (Deut 6:7)” does the same for His children.
2. Listen to God. Every day read a book or books of the bible. Memorize a book. Read and think and ponder until scripture swirls around in your head and is coming out of your ears (and mouth). When He leads, you might study/ponder the same psalm or book for a few months or more (it’s a combination of how dimly we see/how hard our hearts are and the immeasurable depths of His wisdom).
If you do these two things (if you each listen for God and to God each day), your “family” will find no end to the conversations together and to pulling out your bibles to rethink and consider and dig and compare whenever you are together. But we also need to learn to listen to Him when we are together. If you are learning every day to follow His leading and prompting, you’ll better know what to say, when not to say something, when to stop, etc. For some, they will need most to learn to act when He prompts them. For others, they will need most to learn to shut up and sit still when He prompts them.
When that kind of conversational interaction becomes your norm (I Cor 14:26 etc), sharing out of full hearts and lives, you will also find yourselves in bible studies and in sharing for extended times–but not as the main course nor as the sole course. You will also find, just as when a family meets, not everyone has to sit and listen to a solitary conversation. That occurs part of the time but itcertainly isn’t the main way the family converses when together. Loosen up!
And let the kids play! They see what you are doing and it imprints them for life. But don’t put bowties and frilly dresses on them and make them sit like immobilized miniature adults for a few hours. Let them come and go. You’ll find yourselves outside playing with them sometimes, and looking in on them in the other room. Playing, laughing, being hugged and kissed by aunts and uncles while they turn their noses up and their faces smile with joy. Family. Not…”church.”
When getting together forget sip and a chip or coffee and a donut, and think meals. Everyone that can, brings something to share. Fancy, plain, big, small, yummy and yucky. And let the meal include remembering the Lord’s death, expecting His return, and rehearsing the table He is preparing for us. Let it be joyful, not a wake. He’s alive. He’s here! He’s coming back physically. He has a table prepared… Oh, what a fortunate family we are!
When getting together, forget missional, missions and ministries and think neighbors. Who is my neighbor? Those you pass by as you follow Him who are in need (”as he journeyed, came where he was:and when he saw him, he had compassion on him” Luke 10:33). These may be those next door, at work, at the market. But for the most part, they should be natural contacts, where (if you are paying attention) He brings these people across your path, not something forced and artificial.
Just like the difference between sermons and conversations, if we are full of Him and following Him, we will have work enough serving “neighbors” without creating artificial ministries where we go somewhere else and dabble for an hour or two a week. Of course, He may move where you live to get you among those He wants you to come across. If we follow Him, He will make us fishers of men. Fishermen live by the sea, and their work consists of strenuous, long, and obtrusive labor at odd hours. (see Gal 4:19, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.")
The principle involved is that we provide a way of being together that fosters the mutual edification anticipated in passages like Heb 10:23,24; I Cor 14:23-26; I Pet 4:8-11. Whatever practices we do should be gaged by how well they allow us to mutually edify one another when we get together. Many different ways will help us fulfill the purposes God gives for getting together. Many ways also greatly hinder these interactions.
For example, sitting in rows of pews with a speaker at the front isn't the most conducive way for a group of people to get together for mutual edification. It is nearly impossible for the center of the conversation to move from person to person in that setting. Even with Q&A and occasional open questions, participation by each member is highly limited and narrowly directed to the topic at hand. It is also unlikely in that environment that issues will get personal, where people will begin discussing actual current struggles.
The method you described has the potential to better fulfill this mutual edification principle than the scenario above. It might work just fine as is, yet in time it might evolve into something different. Some of the keys to how it would work out is whether what each person might bring or share was valued (people stopped and explored what was shared rather than politely listening while really waiting for their turn or their favorite speaker's turn), whether discussions could move from generalities to life specifics in real issues people were facing, and whether the real agenda was covering a planned topic or theme or letting the meeting take on its own direction when God moved it along different lines than expected.
Another group might punch around a couple of topics via email during the week, and when they came together they might really dig into these areas and threads. The important thing is that everyone can engage in the gathering, participating as they are led. Another group might just let conversations emerge based on life and relationships among an extended family. And, these conversations might not be of the "OK, everybody gather around, we're going to start meeting now" type. With 12 to 15 adults sharing a meal, conversations naturally begin. By the time dinner ends you are likely to have a conversation going in the living room, another conversation going in the dining room, and probably a third one in the kitchen.
Imagine more intimate conversations with trusted friends, digging into scripture to find answers, to share something we've learned about God or life, (add as many romantic and idealistic notions as you like). I much prefer this sort of getting together, and I've often seen these conversations still going long after the kids were settled into beds and sleeping mattresses, long after midnight, and waking up to the smell of coffee and toast and breakfast being made. But this isn't THE ideal way.
There are hundreds of participatory ways to meet and hundreds of restrictive ways to meet.
ANY way that fosters mutual edification, and to the extent it moves into actual personal life issues, is perfectly fine. And any method you use will have challenges, because we are messy critters. But any method you use should be judged as good or bad, as needing tweaking or needing drastic changes, based on how well it fosters mutual edification. The pews and podium method is pretty poor at this.
Exchanging the meeting place for a living room doesn't automatically change the dynamics from speaker-directed to mutual edification. One person can dominate ("lead") the meeting just as thoroughly in a living room as from a podium facing pews filled with an audience for the "real" speaker, all "Q&A" notwithstanding. Yes, some Q&A is better than silence. But not much better.