What does the church meeting look like?
It depends on the people. It depends on the season they are in. It will depend on the culture.
In your attempts to meet together, if you predetermine how it will look, you will kill it. If you decide before hand what you are going to do, you will create two hours of dreaded torture.
The life of the Lord will dictate what the meeting looks like. To only focus on the outward of the New Testament church and try to replicate it, would spell disaster.
If your meetings are alive, then they will always change. The church meeting this year will not look like it did last year. The meeting in the Fall will probably be different than what it was in the Spring.
The church meeting in Australia will not look like the meetings in Africa. The church meetings in South Florida will not look like the meetings in India. The meetings should “fit” the people. There is no magic format.
However, there are some given foundational activities that allow us to accomplish the goals of the church meeting. The purpose of this chapter is to describe the activities that lend themselves to encountering the Lord and edifying one another.
First, let’s look at what a church meeting is.
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” A church meeting is anytime at least two Christians are gathered together in His name. If a brother stops by your house and invites you to run an errand with him, the ride in the car with two Christian brothers is a church meeting.
Paul tells us in a couple of different places the kinds of things we are to do when we are with others. Ephesians 5:19 tells us to “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God.”
Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one anther with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Anytime we are with other Christians, these types of activities are wonderful to do. But there is also a different type of church meeting that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14.
The “1st Corinthians 14” Meeting
Paul tells us in verse 26 of chapter 14, “What is the outcome then brethren? When you assemble…” This is not a ride in the car to the grocery store. This is when there are many gathered together to focus on the Lord. The purpose of this chapter is to give some practical examples of the kinds of things that are to go on in a general assembly meeting. This is a big subject, but tremendously simple.
Again, I hate to give any specifics here because of what the flesh will tend to do with it. The church is to be organic and spontaneous, not mechanical. It is not to be methodical. Methodology and law quench the Spirit among us. Everything we do should be from the heart and from conviction, not from habit and not from an instruction manual. However I will provide some, hopefully general, guidelines that we do see in scripture. My encouragement is to use the specific guidelines in this chapter very loosely.
We must first understand the point of coming together, then it will be easy to understand why and what we are to do. Paul tells us in I Corinthians to “let all things be done for edification.” When we come together it is to love God, to worship Him, and to allow the Holy Spirit through the body to edify the body.
1 Corinthians 14:26 “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
This passage will be foundational for the Christian meeting, or when we all gather together.
Another very important foundation: If you look at the New Testament, prayer was a big deal. The early Christians prayed together, a lot. Paul tells us that we are to be devoted to prayer. The early Christians were all praying together when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. In Acts we read that the disciples were meeting house to house many times a week, breaking bread together and devoting themselves to prayer and to the apostles’ teaching.
Prayer is a staple for the church meeting. When we gather together, we are to pray together. In fact, the attitude and posture of prayer is to permeate the entire time. Remember, we are coming together to commune with the Lord, to experience the Lord, and to edify one another.
The book of Acts tells us that the first Christians were “taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.” Breaking bread together means eating together, but not just any old eating. The Christian fellowship meal is to be a time of joy, talking, and eating with thankfulness. You should not come to the fellowship meal extremely hungry. Eating and getting full is not really the point. Paul reproved the Corinthians for participating in the fellowship meal in a selfish way.
Also, there is available a cup with wine and a loaf of bread to represent the blood and body of our Lord. At some point during the meal, each believer has available to them an opportunity to sincerely partake of the cup and eat of the bread to remember what the Lord has done. One thing we are to do at the Christian meeting is to eat together and partake of the wine and bread.
Generally speaking, we can see three things we are to do when we come together.
1. We eat together with the Lord’s table as the center piece.
2. We pray together.
3. We edify one another in various ways.
Let’s look at what a typical church meeting might look like:
We’ve eaten our meal and we’ve had an enjoyable time of talking and visiting. We’ve also each sincerely taken the Lord’s supper. Let’s move over to the living room.
Someone may start us off with a song or two as we all begin to focus solely on the Lord. We begin by giving thanks. From our hearts, we genuinely thank Jesus for who He is and what He has done. We spend plenty of time here. No hurry. We could thank and praise Him all night for who He is and what He has done and what He is going to do! This is critical. We must be “caught up” with who Jesus is, less we risk being only earthly during our time. We give thanks for His promises. We give thanks for what He did on the cross. We give thanks for the forgiveness of sins. We give thanks for the everlasting covenant. Soon the water will become wine*** (refer to notes at end of chapter).
As we are completely focused on the goodness of God, and in love with Jesus, someone may lead out in another song. We may sing five or six songs in a row. There are more prayers of praise and more songs. As the Lord leads and as the Spirit inspires, we may pray for different needs. The Holy Spirit may put an encouraging word on someone’s heart. A prophecy may come forth (prophecies may not look like a typical charismatic prophecy, they may be delivered conversationally), a scripture may be read, a teaching may be given. All of these activities are done prayerfully; in other words, if a teaching is given, we respond with prayer. Perhaps a prayer of repentance or a prayer of thankfulness for what the Lord has just reminded us of. Perhaps there may be a good long time of silence to allow the Holy Spirit time to deal with us on an individual basis.
Let all things be done for edification. Come with your heart prepared. Come ready to participate. In order to participate, you don’t necessarily have to be vocal. As long as you are of faith in your heart, you can participate. In other words, participate by “amening” and agreeing with what others say. If you are quietly praying, do so with all your heart. Be listening intently for what the Lord might want to show you. Be listening to what the Lord might want to say through you to the others present. You should strongly desire to prophecy. Strongly loving those whom are in the room with you makes you a much better candidate for prophecy to come forth through you.
An important note needs to be inserted here. In whatever setting you meet in, whether it is a home, a park, a backyard, or a building – remember that it is important how you set up the chairs and the seating arrangements. This would not have to be mentioned if our perverted practices weren’t so common. It is absolutely ingrained in our thinking that a church meeting must have an audience, and that the audience must be focused and facing those who are leading. In a New Testament meeting, everyone is encouraged to lead out. Therefore it is critical that we face each other. You should try to arrange the chairs in a circle or something similar. If you have a larger meeting, double stack the circle. Remember, we are family. There is no more clergy in New Testament church life. We are looking for Jesus to lead the meeting by using many people, not a man and not a small designated group of people.
The next time you and your immediate family get together for a visit in the living room, would you set the furniture up in rows and all face one family member? Of course not. So, don’t do it for a church meeting either. Having all the chairs in rows, still facing a few leaders and passing a microphone around the crowd is not good enough either. First of all, try to avoid things like microphones and speaker systems. They throw us into “going to church” mode. But secondly, if you are all facing one direction, whether you pass a microphone around or not, you are saying that the people we are facing are really in charge and these are the people whom we are focused on and looking to lead the time.
When we come together outside of the traditional church, we are saying that we are taking the responsibility to be a functioning and active member, as opposed to being checked out and letting a staff member be active in heart or in demonstration.
It’s easier to learn by doing than to read about it. Whatever you do, don’t plan too much or have an agenda. Do the folks I gather with eat a meal every time we get together? No. This chapter is just here to provide some basic guidelines. God is in you. Trust Him. Let God be in charge of the meeting and trust Him to lead it. He is an orchestra conductor. He may point to the trumpets or point to the clarinet section or any member of the church to speak, to lead out, to sing, to prophecy, to encourage, to pray for someone, to ask a question to the group for all to answer, or publicly read scripture. Come to the meeting time filled with the Lord or come asking for help and prayer, but always come participating and always come expecting God to do great things in your midst.
In the heart of the New Testament instructions, we must provide an atmosphere of corporate participation in the meeting of the general assembly. This is much more than a man standing up and giving a message, then opening it up for comments from the crowd at the end. And it is much more than the preacher asking if “every heart and mind is clear before we dismiss.”
I want to re-emphasis a point made earlier. The primary goal of the church meeting is for mutual edification. In order to do that, you must corporately “encounter” the Lord and allow Jesus Christ to fill your hearts. Only Jesus Christ can edify us. Only the Spirit gives life and imparts wisdom among us. If the group is not “caught up” with the person of Jesus Christ, then the meeting will be less than ideal. Sure, you can come together and it be encouraging in some regard to just be together – no matter what goes on. But to really be encouraged in the Spirit, built up, fed, and edified – the Lord Jesus Himself must be moving powerfully in your midst.
“The Lord being powerfully in your midst” is going to be the case much more often when you begin the time worshiping Him. Worship Him in song, by reading psalms about Him, vocalizing prayers describing His greatness, etc. Basically, doing activities that gets your eyes on Jesus and off of yourselves cooperates with the Lord manifesting Himself among you and edifying the body.
Be careful of starting out your time together with discussions and talks. Even prayers that are to meet personal needs should be kept more for the latter part of the time. Especially in the beginning of the meeting, let your prayers be worshipful prayers. Worshipful prayers are describing who the Lord is to you, what He has done, His holy attributes, etc. This worshipful type of activity, “purifies” the time so to speak, and invites the Lord to be among you in a more powerful way.
You May All Prophecy One By One
Paul uses very specific language in 1 Cor. 14: 29-32 saying:
“And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirit of prophets are subject to prophets”
This is rarely if ever practiced in the church today. And we are suffering for it. I’ve never seen anything close to this being practiced in traditional meetings. And in house churches it is rarely done well, if any attempt is made at all. If we can get the heart of this, it will encourage a beautiful expression of body life. Let me try to put this in very practical terms as far as the way this has been practiced with myself and those I’ve walked with.
Before we jump into it, keep in mind that prophetic utterances do not have to be delivered in your typical Pentecostal, charismatic flavor. You don’t have to say, “thus saith the Lord” before you deliver it. A prophecy, although weighty, does not have to be religiously worded. It can simply be something like, “I feel impressed to encourage us in something…” Even that may seem religious to you. So you can say something like “I wanted to remind us of something.” You don’t have to say that it is from the Lord because the expectation is that everything we do and say in a meeting is from the Lord.
Ok, so we are in a meeting. A person begins to share a prophecy or an encouragement that they feel is from God. As the prophecy is being shared, someone may respectfully interrupt. How do they go about interrupting? Quietly slip your hand up and down. Hold up a finger. If it is in a larger gathering, they should stand up. The one who is speaking should be watching for and encouraging others to do that. He or she would love to be interrupted. It’s part of the culture of the group. We, together as a group, are trying to find what the Lord is saying to us. The purpose of the time is not for me to get to say what I want to say.
It’s not impolite to gently interrupt, it’s not disrespectful, nor does it have anything to do with someone not getting to share what they had. That’s not the point of any of this. As the person gently interrupts, the speaker eagerly says, “Yes, brother – do you have more on this or something to add?” The interrupter might say, “Yes, I think we need to go back to the point you were making at first. I’m getting something on that I’d like to add.”
We are looking for the Spirit in all we do. As someone shares a prophecy or a word with us, we are listening for God in it. As someone is sharing, often times they will add to the pure Word they received from God their own interpretations, insights and opinions. Some of these are helpful, some are not. Sometimes as people share and they go on and on, it takes away from what they really received from God. It is important that we help one another in this. “Brother, I think what the Lord is saying through you is this….” We should always love and want our words to be checked, interrupted, and altered by one another. It’s the Lord’s way in the body. Get used to it. You should want to be interrupted.
We can all prophecy one at a time. It may need to be interrupted or slightly altered. One point someone is sharing may to be stressed because it really happens to be speaking to a lot of people in the group. This is done and accomplished corporately by more than just one person participating.
However, although it is possible for all to prophecy, only two or three prophecies should be brought forth in a meeting time. If more than that is spoken, we tend to lose and forget the earlier ones. Our capacity to retain and spiritually process a theme or a word and effectively apply it to our lives is limited by two or three per meeting. If you felt like you had something to share with the group, but three different messages have already come forth, it would be Biblical and obedient for you to let it go. If it is the Lord, He will bring it back around at a later time. This is not about us getting to share or speak. It’s about us hearing what the Lord is saying to us. If someone interrupts you before you get to your point, let it go. If what you had was the Lord, He will bring it back around or bring it up in you at a later time. We must learn to trust the Lord in the Body.
Let’s look at the “let the others pass judgment” part of the text. After a prophecy, message, or encouragement is shared, we should tend to be silent. We need to take it in. We need to think about it. We need to pray. It’s weighty when someone shares something in the church meeting. No matter who it is that shared it. Is God speaking to us? If He is, we’d better humble ourselves, shut up, and do what He says. If there is not a witness in the Spirit or if what has been shared is not Biblical, it needs to be checked. The older brothers need to say something. It doesn’t need to be rejected in a cutting way. It doesn’t need to be rejected at all up front, unless it is clearly unscriptural. If what was shared seems good to the group, then one of two responses would be good: either nothing can be said, or a hearty “Amen” can be given. If it is perceived as not being good, from God, Biblical, or edifying, an older brother needs to say something like, “this last message or prophecy needs some more prayer and consideration. We as a group need to wait on the Lord concerning this issue.” Or something like that. Then, it would be good for the brother who shared it to have some time with others to talk about and pray together. The person who delivered the word may come to the conclusion that it was not the Lord at all. It would be good for them to simply tell everyone else at the next get together, that “I think I missed it.”
I have been in meetings when a brother has shared something, and an older brother (elder) just flat out said, “I’m sorry brother, that’s not the Lord.” There was an atmosphere at that time in our group for that kind of thing. The older brother who said that to the one who brought the prophecy also had a relationship with him that could support that type of thing. They both had a tremendous amount of love and respect for one another and it was delivered in kindness. The brother whose prophecy was rejected, didn’t skip a beat. He responded thankfully and was not hurt at all. He continued to participate in the meeting. I’ve also been checked like this myself on a few different occasions. It really doesn’t bother me, I like it.
We really are not very far along, if as a group, we can’t have this type of dynamic among us. The Christian life is a high calling. We must die to everything of ourselves. Real New Testament church life will provide tremendous opportunities for growth.
The heart of this whole 1 Cor. 14 passage should permeate our meeting times. If in a meeting, a brother stands up and delivers a lengthy teaching, he should welcome others to interrupt and add to the message. He might get to only share a portion of what he wanted to share. He should let it go. If he wants to teach and not be interrupted, which is very appropriate at times, then he should call for a special meeting of the church. This is a special meeting to hear a message or a teaching only. This is good and should be done often. However it is not to be confused with the regular meeting of the church, the general assembly or the default meeting we are to be having described in 1 Corinthians 14.
Fear is what drives many of those in leadership to not have open, 1 Cor. 14 meetings. They are afraid of giving too much liberty to the people in the meeting. They do not trust the Lord in the body. They do not trust the New Testament pattern and examples. They feel as though people are not spiritually mature enough to handle such a meeting. They are actually the ones who are not being spiritually mature.
Control and legislation are never the answers for fear. We must learn to trust, let go, and follow the Lord and the scriptures. There will be problems! It will be messy at times. People will mess up the meeting. People will speak out of turn. People will share things that are not good, are bad, and things that are not scriptural. This will all happen especially at first when people are learning. These things must be addressed and people must be talked to. You must provide training and teaching (refer to Beach Head and Well Digging chapter).
People need to learn by doing. Provide an atmosphere of safety for people to function, make mistakes, and for it to be OK. This is how we will learn to be a functioning, powerful, active, and participating church. If we are really interested in people growing and learning, then set them free to function and make mistakes. Some of the best and most valuable character building issues of growth come from us relating to one another in our mistakes and in our gifts. Learn how to do it together. Growth does not come by us lecturing people and giving them teachings and seminars year after year after year! We’ve tried that and look where it has gotten us. People learn and grow by having an atmosphere that not only sincerely welcomes and encourages them to participate in their gifts, but an atmosphere and a setting that actually needs and depends on all members to bring what they have and deliver it during every meeting.
It must be understood that the descriptions and explanations that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 14 is for a typical church meeting and a general assembly. There may be other meetings for different purposes and we see evidence of these in the New Testament. There may be a meeting in which the sole purpose is to hear someone give a teaching. There may be a meeting in which the sole purpose is to only pray together. There may be a meeting in which the only purpose is to discuss some particular issue. These special meetings are not what Paul is describing in I Cor. 14.
***[In the Christian experience, there seems to be a breaking through that can occur. I don’t fully understand it. It is not only true for a group meeting, but also for our personal lives as well. As individuals or corporately, we can pray, talk to the Lord, think about Him, sing, whatever, and all of that is necessary….but if we stay in that place long enough, if we focus on Jesus long enough, if we finally let go in our hearts to real trust, if we still ourselves in our soul and become completely caught up with Him, something happens. I call it breaking through or the “water becoming wine.” I’m not very sure on the theology of this, but I am sure of the experience – both individually and corporately. It is always wonderful to break through corporately. When this happens, the Spirit of the Living God seemingly physically fills the room. Many call it experiencing God’s presence. Sometimes it is more pronounced than other times. It usually occurs after there has been much worship and singing and complete focus on the Lord and Him alone. This is usually when the Lord is very powerfully manifested among us (He inhabits the praises of His people). I believe that worship and prayer are two of the most pure activities we can do, that doesn’t tend to quench the Spirit as often as some form of talking can. It must be noted that our goal is never to have an experience. Although having an experience is wonderful if that is what happens. Our goal is to love Jesus, to know Him, and to love and edify one another. We are not to manipulate, try to reproduce, or create an effect.]