Plenty of house churches and nontraditional gatherings just fizzle out. Why? I think primarily because of the information in this chapter.
We want freedom and liberty in our meeting times, but there are some terrible mistakes we can make when coming together that bring death. We want life among us. We want to bless the Lord and encounter Him.
Again, you can’t take any of the below suggestions as “laws” or rules. The leading of the Lord is first and foremost. But certain activities tend to lend themselves to death.
Here is what NOT to do during a meeting time:
Don’t be afraid of silence.
It’s a wonderful thing to sit in silence together and pray, listen to God, and just be still before Him. It is better to be silent and be “of faith,” than to rattle off a song or a scripture because the silence was awkward to your flesh. Get over it. There may be very long periods of silence in the meeting of the church. That’s a good thing. It’s been frowned upon in the traditional services because of the show and production mentality. This leads to shallowness. Good long periods of silence can be refreshing and a good time of personal and corporate faith and prayer.
Don’t sit around and just visit.
Visiting and chewing the fat is great to do during a meal time. But when it’s time to sit together and focus on the Lord, do just that. The church meeting is not to be spent visiting and chatting about the repairs you made on your car or the latest sale at the shopping mall. Do what it takes to change the atmosphere in the room. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Just say the words, “I have a song I would like for us to sing”, then sing it together. Say, “I have a scripture I’d like to read to us.” Those types of activities will change the focus in the room towards the Lord.
Don’t expect or just rely on others to bring something.
If you are wanting to leave the traditional church setting and begin to meet in New Testament ways, what you are really saying is something like this:
“I don’t need a paid staff member to be the only one that participates and functions in the meetings. We don’t want a man to lead the meetings, but we want the Holy Spirit to lead the meetings. The Spirit of God might call on me to share something. I am ready to begin to take more responsibility in my life with God. I don’t want to just soak up and be fed, I want to participate, contribute, and I am willing to give to others what I have from my own relationship with God.”
It’s time to stop looking to others to take initiative. Lead out with what you have. YOU DO HAVE SOMETHING. It doesn’t matter where you are spiritually. It may be that all you have on a particular night is a need. You can always ask for prayer. If you have no need, then you just discovered your first need! Be a participator. Bring whatever you have. You can always read a psalm, share what the Lord has been teaching you, ask for a particular song to be sung, pray a prayer, ask for others to pray for you, or bring a teaching. Don’t depend on and look to others to carry the meeting. Amen? OK.
Don’t try to imitate a traditional, Sunday morning, 10:45 a.m. meeting in a home.
Some are looking to start or participate in a home church in order to replace their former traditional church setting. To just hold “services” in your home instead of sitting on the pew is really missing the heart of the Lord and the entire purpose of our gathering together. You might as well go to a traditional service where they do a better job holding that kind of meeting than anything you could reproduce in a home. If you haven’t had the revelation of not having to have pews, a pulpit, dress up for meetings, meet at 10:45 a.m., pass a plate to tithe in, etc. then you need to re-read the New Testament – you’ll find none of that in the scripture. You’ll only find it in the heart of those who believe all that is holy and “officially God.” A good litmus test is to see if you feel guilty for not meeting on Sunday mornings.
The word “service” is never used in the New Testament as reference to a meeting of the church. The word is a tradition of men that has a particular religious package associated with it. A “real service,” in most people’s opinion, has certain things along with it – none of which are Biblical and all of which are detrimental to body life. What would happen in the middle of the next church service on Sunday morning during the preacher’s sermon if someone stood up and said, “The anointing has passed to me, I feel I have a prophecy to share, please be seated” (I Cor. 14)? Would the pastor humbly say, “Amen, you go ahead and share brother.” No he wouldn’t. This is because the pastor is the designated teacher on Sunday morning. The Biblical role of a shepherd looks nothing like the modern day pastor, and the Sunday morning meeting time looks nothing like I Cor. 14.
Don’t have a bulletin, much of a plan or any certain agenda.
Let the Lord Jesus be the head of the body, not your meeting agenda. The time should flow and be spontaneous. Enjoy the Lord. Don’t try to accomplish certain things on a list. Be very careful of being formal, and be very careful of not being prayerful.
When having a group conversation, don’t simply add things to the conversation because you can.
If you all as a group are teaching and encouraging one another, listen to God for what you should add. Listen and be prayerful as to what and when you should add something. Remember; let all things be done for edification. It is the Spirit that edifies and gives life, not your brain power. JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE AN INSIGHT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S GOD. Neat little comments you can share or add that seem to fit right in with what’s being shared are not necessarily the Lord. DON’T TALK TOO LONG and TAKE OVER THE MEETING! If you have a very long teaching that you know ahead of time will be extensive, call for a separate meeting over at your own house to do a teaching for everyone. The general meeting of the church is – for the church to all participate.
Be careful of publicly praying too long as an individual. The scripture warns us of that. Beware of long stories and comments that are really just edifying your own self. House church can be a platform for people who love to hear themselves talk. These men need to be corrected very gently (the first time) in private. It is sometimes difficult to tell what is not good and edifying and what is good to share. Two Christians can share just as long (time wise) and one is being selfish and the other is truly giving. This really gets into subtle dynamics, and you’ll definitely have to trust the Lord for all this kind of discernment, but generally speaking, you can usually tell if you are being built up and fed by the message or if you’re being used and held captive so someone can speak.
Don’t become meeting centered.
This is critical, and really a major point. If all you are doing is having meetings, you are really missing it all. Meetings, although very important, are a small part of church life. Life is to be lived together. You should be getting together with other saints throughout the week. You can participate together with activities such as barbeques, cookouts, trips to the park, working together on each others houses, camping, vacations with other families, evangelism events, and eating supper together often during the week. If all you want is to attend a meeting once a week in a home, you are not living church life at all. The meeting time should be an expression of your week together. Your week together should be an expression of the meeting time as well. The New Testament church met many times a week from house to house, and not because they had to, but because they wanted to. When Christ becomes your whole life and your whole world, instead of part of your life, you’ll want to have church life 24/7.
Don’t become naval gazers.
As the church, we should have an outward focus outward, not an inward focus. Sure, we MUST keep our home base healthy. We must deal with situations in the group, we must love one another and speak the truth in love to one another, but a sure way to kill a group is to focus only on yourselves.
Evangelistic events, giving in various ways to your neighborhood, reaching out to the lost in some capacity, feeding the poor, visiting nursing homes and orphans, helping the widows – all of these should have a real primary focus. We should not be extremely focused on our group, although there may be seasons of this to get “out of the red ink.” You’ll find that as you get more outwardly focused, the inner problems will become lessoned. Sometimes, the best way to find healing for yourself is to go love someone else.
Don’t debate scripture and theology.
There are two types of flesh. There is truth-oriented flesh and experience-oriented flesh. I call it flesh because Jesus said we must worship in Spirit and in truth. If you have one without the other, you are fleshly. Some people don’t like the activities of singing, worship, and prayer very much. They judge it as trying to have an experience or trying to have some sort of a feeling. They would prefer to hear teaching or discuss doctrine. These people are usually not opposed to singing a few songs, but if you spend too much time worshiping in song or too much time in prayer, they get very fidgety.
The capacity of a group or an individual to worship and pray is a strong indicator of the real depth you have with Christ. Discussing doctrine can have tremendous life in it, as long as it’s not done in an argumentative way. Also, having sound doctrine, teaching, and the ability to discuss these in a proper manner and at the proper time are also strong indicators of the real depth you have with Christ. We must have plenty of worship and prayer, but also plenty of discussion and teaching of truth.
Again, the flesh tends to prefer one or the other. We tend to prefer either the experience of the Spirit, or learning about or talking about the truth. We must beware of discussing the truth only. Usually, this activity doesn’t require much vulnerability of heart. If someone can’t really worship the Lord for any length of time and they get restless during this type of activity, they more than likely tend to be cranial and on the conceptual side of things only. These brothers and sisters need to learn to enjoy the Lord more in stillness and quietness. They must learn to be caught up with the Lord in experience. Experiencing the Spirit of Jesus is both vital and biblical. On the other hand, those who prefer to experience only and avoid doctrine, working things out, and dealing with truth are in error as well. These must learn to deal with discrepancies and be willing to hash out things with others. Lord, help us all!
Concerning debating scripture, doctrine, and theology: I am not saying there is not a time and a place for this. During the general meeting of the church is not the time for debate. Why? It’s not a time for debate because 1st Corinthians Chapter 14 never comes close to anything like this. It seems so many people love to do it and consider it an essential part of the church meeting. I would say that a large majority of Christians think this activity is what fellowship is all about. These people would probably enjoy discussing politics as well. It’s as though some aren’t sure what else to do when they come together. Paul warns us of “having a morbid interest in controversy,” (I Tim.6:3). Debate, apologetics, and intellectual jousting typically have no life in them, although some form of this may need to be done at certain times.
[A large aside concerning women and children and this issue: the ladies and the children should not have to listen to men correcting one another and entering into strong debate. The ladies can be easily tempted with fear, be shaken, or allow their emotions to dictate their perceptions of reality (certainly men are capable of this too!). When a couple of guys “go at it” in private or with only men present, if it becomes fleshly – it is more often easily repaired and the brothers are able to just continue on (most of the time). However, if the ladies witness a couple of guys sharply disagreeing, or a whole group of men debating, it can really tend to have far reaching effects that ripple throughout the group. I do not at all intend to speak against the women here. But the scripture does say that they are a “weaker vessel”, and that they are more apt to deception (1 Pet. 3:7, 1 Tim 2:14). In short, women and kids should be protected from emotionally charged situations, if at all possible. Women have tremendous giftings that are vital to the function of the church, but they don’t tend to have the same capacity as the brothers in the area of “overview” or “oversight”. Men tend to have the ability to survey a situation and see it for what it is and understand the effects on a larger scale. They are not quite as tempted to assign meaning to things that don’t mean anything. In short, the ladies (if in their flesh) seem to be more tempted to get “bent out of shape” and are affected for the long term when tensions arise. Of course, certain brothers can do this too. But, there are many damaging and far reaching effects of men and women debating with one another. Here is just one example: If a debate arises with women and men present and a particular lady gets involved in that debate, a certain brother might have to sharply “crush” a particular lady’s opinion or viewpoint. This is not proper. A man should not have to do this to another man’s wife. It is uncomfortable for the brother doing it, uncomfortable for the husband of the lady who got crushed or sharply disagreed with, and often devastating for the lady herself. Likewise, a woman should not be put in a position to have to exercise authority over a man. If a lady disagrees with a brother’s viewpoint, although it is fine for her to disagree, it is unbecoming for her to “put him in his place”. It is difficult enough to stay “after the Spirit” while debating with one another when just men are present, let alone in mixed company. For the whole church to enter into debates with women and children present, often causes more damage than edification. -end of aside]
It is critical that we keep short accounts with one another. If there is a difference in doctrine with someone else, watch your heart very carefully because differences can cause a subtle division in the heart. If not dealt with, over time it will manifest itself and cause damage. It needs to be dealt with if there are any feelings of separation.
If in a meeting a brother shares a doctrine or teaching and someone disagrees, let the disagreeing man pull aside the brother with the doctrine in question and talk through it. If in the meeting with everyone present, someone wants to add to what someone said that’s fine. Providing a gentle flip side to the coin can be helpful. But, don’t start going “back and forth” and arguing with one another in the general church meeting! If you can tell that you will need to really hash it out, do it in private and possibly with a couple of additional brothers for help and support.
If some of the men are taking issue with one another (disagreeing), it is best that they set up a separate time with just men present, and work things out. The men may have to go at it intensely, and that’s just fine – as long as it’s done in love, with patience, and the brothers are genuinely listening for God and wanting to truly hear and learn from one another (refer to the chapter “Church Government”). In the past, I’ve personally set days at a time aside to do this sort of thing with the brothers. There should be no mistake made however that this activity of working out differences, debating theology or beliefs is sometimes a necessary WORK, but it is not typically extremely enjoyable. If this activity is your primary idea of what body life is all about, then your repentance is due.
The scripture of “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” has been overused and also wrongly used. Sometimes, in order to provide justification to men for not being worshipful and prayerful, as they are around each other. The “iron” in that scripture does not allow us to be rough, hard hearted, or challenging (as in fighting).
Although it is excellent in our meeting times to read scripture, give in depth teachings, share beliefs and convictions, and talk about what the Lord has been doing in our lives, if you are spending the majority of your time in your meetings debating theology or controversial issues, it’s going to get old quickly. The number of people attending will drop off, and eventually you will fizzle out, or you will attract a church of fighters and debaters. Debate and intellectual only conversation is easy to do. It requires no discipline, no heart, no humility, and no selflessness. In a gathering, be slow to speak. You shouldn’t say everything that pops into your head. Wait on God in the church meetings. It is only with humility that we can encounter the living God and not offend or quench Him.
Don’t gather around things other than the Lord Himself
It is easy to “meet around” various issues, focuses, or things that are close to the Lord or “about” the Lord – but not the Lord Himself. It is crucial that when you gather, that the group go to Jesus first. Pray to Him, see Him, behold Him, describe Him, exalt Him, worship Him. From that place, allow Him to lead your time. It is fine to discuss things “about the Lord”, after you have encountered Him, Jesus is filling the time, and He takes you there – but it is way too easy to gather around and enjoy topics and issues that are seemingly spiritual in nature, but are not the Lord. Refer to the article Anything But Jesus.
Don’t speak out of frustration or irritation
One of the best things you’ll learn in a house church setting is how to die to your flesh (if you are choosing well. Those who don’t choose well in a home church setting will usually make a mess of things and then leave.)
You will have plenty of opportunity to die to your flesh in home church. On the flip side, the flesh will have plenty of opportunity to express itself in home church if you let it.
For example, many things that people will do or say in a home church setting will irritate you (to put it mildly!). Guess what you get to do when this happens? You get to die. Let it go. Defer. Be quiet. Rest in the Lord. Wait. Love them. Forgive. I can hear you now, “But why should I let it go when what they are doing is wrong?” Oh, believe me. The Lord is plenty big enough to take care of the “wrong” that just happened without Him needing to use your flesh.
Most of the time when you respond out of irritation, or you respond “not from a place of total peace and love” in order to bring correction or set the record straight – you are responding out of your flesh. I can promise you that you will usually make a bigger mess and cause more damage than the problem that you are addressing has caused. In other words, if you say something because “what they said or did was wrong” then you are going to make it worse!
Learn to wait – a long time. Let that fire in your belly die out. Let that arrow in your heart heal first. Then you can be used of God to help correct error or remedy a situation. I’ve seen way too many meetings and relationships suffer extreme damage because brothers and sisters allowed themselves to react in the flesh, all in the name of “correcting error”.
God’s church is not going to be detroyed by a few incorrect comments. People are not going to be led astray as quick as you might think. Pray and wait. Make sure it’s the Lords timing for you to address it – if at all.
You’ll find that if you let a lot of things go and just pray and wait, that most atomic bombs just fizzle out and become nothing. Of course if you constantly correct everything (in your flesh), then you only feed the fire and stir it all up, when it would have just died in the first place.
Learn to defer to others. Second guess yourself. And always humble yourself and let things go as much as possible. You are running a marathon with the people you are with, not a sprint.