6. Five Environments (Part 1)
The vital behaviors of loving God, loving each other, loving our families, and loving the lost cannot occur in a vacuum. They must occur somewhere and at a particular time. The following serves as an illustration of how these can be done in five basic environments.
First of all, they can occur in a general assembly called the “ekklesia.” This is not the same as the worship service, even though worship may occur in the ekklesia. The ekklesia is the gathering of all communities to manifest their unity in the Lord (Eph 4:1-6). In our church this occurs once a quarter. The purpose is to remind everyone of our vision and to align everyone toward the same direction. The goal is to gather all the members of the community in one place for teaching, fellowship, worship and prayer (Acts 2:42). I will talk about the role of the typical worship service in this overall scheme later on.
We express our love for God during the ekklesia by listening to His word and responding in worship and obedience to Him. We pray together and we seek God’s direction together as one church. By coming together in unity we also express our love for each other. Although we cannot really experience deep intimacy in a large setting, we can at least come together in unity and love for each other. Finally, we can show our love for the lost by joining our corporate resources together in order to do good, so that we can bless the world. We can do more good if we can work together as one.
The next environment is where the heart of communityship occurs. I’m referring to community events. These are the events that happen in the neighborhood where Christians actually live. We encourage Christian families to come together for fellowship in a large enough house. The purpose is to eat together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and building each other up, in order to gain favor among those who are watching (Acts 2:46-47). These “love feasts” can occur at least once or twice a month. Of course, this is just a general guideline. If people can be courageous enough, they can meet this way every week and it will become their “church.” The truth is that this is the church (Rom 16:5). We’re not just used to calling it that way.
As much as possible this should be a natural gathering. By natural I mean it should be culturally familiar. If someone who is not a believer should come and attend this gathering, he or she will not feel out of place. It would be the usual type of gathering that can happen anywhere. This is why I believe worship services are less effective, because they are not natural. In the Philippines, a typical gathering would involve food and lots of talking or interactions. People can come at anytime or leave at anytime. A community fellowship should look more like a birthday party rather than a worship service. We must avoid at all cost of turning this meeting into a mini worship service, which is what church planters tend to do when they are starting. In their minds this is what church should look like. No, the church is God’s people coming together to love God, love each other, love their families, and love the lost. It has nothing to do with having a worship service.
If someone would like to share a testimony, the host can simply call everyone’s attention and allow the person to speak. Not everyone would like to listen, but it’s okay. Let the person speak as the Spirit leads. Maybe someone would like to sing a song to entertain everyone. Now, for Christians, we know the purpose is to minister, but we don’t need to call attention to that fact. Let the song be interpreted according to what they like. It’s still a song intended to bless everyone. There’s no need for a band with amplifiers, etc. A simple karaoke machine can be used. Remember, we need to make it natural.
Another might want to share from God’s word. But it must not be in the form of preaching. Let the person just share without acting like a preacher. He can read from a Bible or he can just quote it from memory. I would prefer the latter. Visitors must not feel like this is a worship service. It must all happen as if there is no program. The truth is there is some preparation. But it should look and feel spontaneous. That’s the crucial element. If a recognized teacher of God’s word is present, he or she can share a full message. But he or she must allow interactions instead of doing a lengthy monologue. The goal must be understanding that leads to application rather than mere information.
The meeting must be focused on eating together. But it should not be an ordinary meal. We are eating in the presence of the Lord. How do we do this? The key is to start it with fervent prayer. Here is where the host or someone else can focus on Christ as the reason for the meeting. He or she can explain to everyone that this is a community fellowship where Christ is present, not an ordinary gathering. Then as everybody eats, continue to be sensitive for opportunities for prayer. You can pray as one group or you can pray in pairs. Again, end the gathering with fervent prayer, reminding everyone of the presence of Christ. So through prayer the whole gathering would be focused on Christ. But do this as naturally as possible. Don’t force it. If someone shares that he or she is going through a difficult time, stop everything and pray. Lay your hands on each other as much as possible. Then just continue where you left off making it all look so natural yet spiritual. Remember, the key to making the meeting really different is fervent prayer.
The third environment is the small group. In our church we call our small groups LIFE Groups. LIFE for us stands for “living in fellowship everyday.” Now this is important, regardless of how you might want to call your small groups, because the small group must not be a mere two-hour meeting; it’s a life together in the Lord. In our culture we call this barkada or peer group. What does a peer group do? Well, they don’t have two-hour meetings that’s for sure! They do things together as often as possible. So a LIFE Group must come together to eat, to watch movies together, to swim at the pool, etc. They talk up to the wee hours of the morning sometimes. They experience special moments together like graduation, birthdays, awards, etc. Most of all, they help each other in times of need. They laugh together, cry together, worship together, pray together. In other words, they live in fellowship everyday!
But the small group is not just a place for hanging out. It’s also a place for bringing friends. Just like any peer group, no one can just drop in and become part of the group. He or she must be assimilated by the group. This involves a process of initiating relationships, developing them, maintaining them and deepening them over time. The whole group must be involved in this process for it to work. I will talk about this in my next blog.
The purpose of the small group is the same as the purpose of the community, for it must be a microcasm of the mission of the whole community to which it belongs. Their purpose is also to love God, love each other, love their families, and love the lost. When they fail to do these four things simultaneously, they end up being inward looking or a pseudo Christian community. They become focused in and on themselves. Therefore, the Spirit of God will be quenched and He will remove the influence of that community. The Spirit of Christ is essentially missional (See John 17). When the group loses its sense of mission, they will eventually lose their connection with the Head, who is Christ. Remember, where the Spirit of the Lord is there is always mission.