Do not neglect meeting together
What does the church do when it gathers? Does the Bible give us any direction to help answer this question? It is clear that some form of regular gathering is an important element of the Biblical vision for the church. The early church gathered (Acts 2:42-27), there was an exhortation for meeting together regularly (Hebrews 10:25) and instruction about maintaining some form of order in worship (1 Corinthians 14:26-40). But what are the important priorities for the church when it is gathered?
The impact of the missional movement has made me wonder how I would answer this question. I recently wrote a post on how to think differently about what it means to "be the church." I argued that we need to reorient our ideas of what it looks like to be the church and what it looks like to do the work of the church. As we push the boundaries of what it means for us to be the church in our city, it is also important to ask ourselves what the Bible tells us to do when we gather. In an effort to answer that question, I examined three different passages: Acts 2:42-47, Colossians 3:1-17 and Ephesians 5:1-21. I came up with 15 different practices in which the church is called to engage.
A note about what it means to "gather"
When the church gathers, it may look different for each of us. There are a variety of settings in which the church may gather together. This includes the Sunday morning gathering that is common among churches in America. For the overwhelming majority of churches in America, the Sunday morning gathering is a focal point of the weekly rhythm for the local church community.
A second context for gathering is through the small group ministry of your church. Whether you call them Community Groups, Missional Communities, LifeGroups or Sunday School, these are an important place for our members to gather and engage together. These groups will have varying importance within each local church, but they are very necessary for the life of most churches.
There is also a growing House Church movement in America, which is more common in other parts of the world. I am not going to argue the merits of any particular model of gathering, but want to acknowledge that different local church bodies will gather in different ways. Regardless of the model you use for your church to meet together, the Biblical practices will remain consistent.
15 practices the church does when it gathers
The 15 practices I found are listed in no particular order and they are not grouped in any fashion. If a person wanted to reduce these, they might be able to collapse them into fewer and broader categories. I chose to leave them separated into more and specific practices. Each of them has the corresponding verse listed as well.
1. Everyone is welcome (Col 3:11)
In Christ, we are all one. There is no discrimination of who can join us based on race, class, gender, age, income, etc. Whether implicitly or explicitly, we must resist the temptation to reject people who are different from us. Everyone is welcome.
2. Treat one another well (Col 3:12-13; Eph 5:21)
There is a strong appeal to the way we treat one another. Paul tells us to have compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. Consistent with that disposition is an appeal to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We are called to treat one another well.
3. Put on love, binding everything together (Col 3:14)
Specifically, we are called to love one another. Love for one another is a foundational way of viewing each other. It binds all these other ways of treating one another together in perfect harmony.
4. Grounded in Jesus' own love and forgiveness (Col 3:13; Eph 5:1)
Paul grounds our love and forgiveness for each other in the love and forgiveness of Jesus. We are compelled to treat one another the way that Christ has treated us.
5. Peaceful and Thankful hearts (Col 3:15, 16; Eph 5:20)
Thankfulness is an important attitude. The Bible often connects peace in Christ and thankfulness (Phil 4:6-7). When we consider the many things we have to be thankful for, most important among them is the new life we have in Jesus, we are also filled with His peace. Peace and thankfulness should be marks of how we engage with one another.
6. Read, Study and Teach God's Word (Col 3:16; Acts 2:42)
When we gather, it is important that we take time to study God's Word. The "word of Christ" and "the apostles' teaching" are phrases that when applied to our current context translate to the Bible. The Scriptures hold the word of Christ and the apostles' teaching. It is important that we read it, study it, teach it and help one another grow in wisdom.
7. Sing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs (Col 3:16; Eph 5:19)
Another practice we are called to engage in is singing. I love to sing. I am not that great at it, but it is nourishing to my soul. A good song that is filled with the truths of God can raise my affections for Jesus in a unique way.
8. Everything in the name of Jesus, in thanks to God (Col 3:17)
When we gather, it isn't about us. It is about Jesus. It isn't about the preacher, no matter how good or famous. It isn't about the musicians, no matter how well they can rock a melody. It is about Jesus. Do everything in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God.
9. Be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18)
We often neglect the Holy Spirit in our lives, but He plays an essential role in what it means for us to follow Jesus. When we gather, we should consider whether we have been living by the power of God's Spirit. If not, then we should repent and be filled with the Spirit anew.
10. Breaking the bread (Acts 2:42)
The phrase "breaking the bread" likely has connotations here of both the Lord's Supper and also a shared meal. When we gather, we should celebrate the Lord's Supper together, remembering what Christ has done. We should also find ways to share in meals together as a community.
11. Prayer (Acts 2:42)
Prayer is essential to our life and it is also important for the church gathered. There are many ways to engage in prayer together. Through prayer requests, being led in prayer by a single person, taking time to pray in silence, pairing up and praying with someone next to you, and many other ways. When we gather, we should pray together.
12. Signs and Wonders (Acts 2:43)
In the book of Acts, it says that "many signs and wonders were being done through the apostles." There is no reason that God's power through miraculous events cannot be seen when the church is gathered. Pray that you would see God move in mighty ways through your church when it is gathered.
13. Caring for one another's needs (Acts 2:44-45)
The church is called to care for one another's needs in real and tangible ways. We should find avenues to serve one another, "as any has need." Again, this will look different in each local church context, but we are called to meet the needs of our fellow church members.
14. Glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46)
As we receive from one another, we should have glad and generous hearts. We should have hearts of gladness toward one another as we receive from one another in the church.
15. Lord added to their number (Acts 2:47)
When the church gathers in this way, God will add to our number those who are being saved. God wants people to be part of a community that will love and care for one another well. God wants people to be part of a community that will teach His word and sing songs of worship. Pray for God to add to your number those who are being saved, and be ready to help them grow.
Attitudes and actions
The practices listed above have both attitudes and actions associated with them. When the church gathers we are called to have both an attitude of meekness and also the action of singing worship together. We are called to have both the attitude of love and also the action of caring for one another. We are called to have an attitude of openness to all and also the action of inviting people to follow Jesus. We are called to certain attitudes and actions.
My challenge to you
As you finish this article, pray about which one practice listed above you want to be more intentional about when your own church community gathers. We are called to all of them, but just pray about one of them that you will be intentional to do the next time you gather. Pick one, and then ask God to help you follow through.
Then, tell us about it. In the comments below, let us know which one you have chosen and tell us about your experience the next time you gather.
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