This is a subject that I have been thinking of for a very long time: what a beautiful and wholesome fellowship and Christian gathering might look like. Over the years I have had lots of thoughts about this, and going back some years I have already written posts about it. I have actually been meaning for a while to dedicate a new blog to this topic. In this post though, I hope to express a few of those thoughts, if I can manage to capture them adequately.
Fellowship rather than church:
I deliberately use the word “fellowship” rather than “church” because “church” for me has many connotations, which are not necessarily biblical at all, and which from experience do not work.
Things I dislike about church in its conventional understanding:
The “One person in front” model. Where one person is routinely “out in front” of the church, no matter how big it might be, AND that same individual ultimately takes all the responsibility for making the decisions in church. I so strongly detest this model. I believe that in a Christian gathering everyone has talents which are to be recognised and developed; everyone should be encouraged to share their understanding of the Bible. Leadership-wise, I believe more in the Biblical model of a leadership board, so that responsibility is carried by a number of people, who can hold one another accountable. I also don’t believe that there is necessarily reason for gatherings to grow so big: rather they should keep dividing so that they remain manageable and approachable for new people to enter.
The Emphasis on Money
I find this to be extremely unbiblical. In the New Testament, money is not routinely collected, but is rather collected whenever there is a need within the body. There is also the example of the first church, where the disciples and new Christians all shared what they possessed. However, that is still very different from the reigning model where people regularly contribute from their income just to sustain the upkeep of the church.
I believe that the idea of “Professional Pastors” where people are paid to be the pastors of a church is a recipe for disaster, because it then attracts people into “pastoring” who fail to have any genuine heart for God, or His word, or His people; who are just in it because it is their job. I have seen this very thing so many times. In practice, this also often means that the congregation is paying the pastor to have the relationship with God that everyone is supposed to have, and a mindset almost inevitably develops that it is exclusively the pastor’s place to hear from God, and to disseminate spiritual knowledge, and it is presumptuous of anyone else to act like they could hear from God, where the actual biblical truth is that God has called us all into deep relationship and intimacy with Him. However many people don’t know this because they don’t bother to find out what the Bible says, because they are after all paying the pastor to know it for them. Unsurprisingly the pastor is not always willing to share things like this from the Bible which might lessen his perceived “power”, that is, assuming that he actually knows it himself! This is all the more true if he is only in it as a “professional pastor”, rather than because he has a true and desperate desire and hunger for the things of God.
What I believe in
I strongly believe in the Biblical model of meeting in people’s houses. I believe that this is a very obvious way of saving money, especially when the fellowship is not yet financially able to sustain a larger meeting place. To be honest, I would be happy with a model of fellowship that remained tied to house fellowships indefinitely.
I have had the amazing privilege of growing up in real Church communities, and since then I’ve only been able to sigh in exasperation at what other churches put forward as community. This is a cute analogy: back when I was a kid and we were living in Nigeria, my family had a neighbour who used to make her own ice-cream and give us some: I still remember the tins with the little images of cows! It was simply amazing, and since then, hoping for that amazing taste again, I have tended to be disappointed whenever I have had ice-cream thinking to myself: “What, you call this ice-cream?!” It has never been the same! (So yes, the best ice-cream I’ve ever had was in Africa – and that includes the gelati I had when in Italy!) I recently told this story to my Mum and she was less than excited because apparently we also used to make our own ice-cream…and I could only remember the neighbour’s! Oh dear!
Anyway, in much the same way whenever I’ve entered a church in adulthood, I’ve been almost invariably unimpressed by the “community” on display. However, that is probably a cultural thing, because in Africa we just do community more naturally anyway. We are far more family-oriented, we have bigger parties celebrating more aspects of our lives, we eat together more, hospitality is a big (no huge, no GINORMOUS!) part of our culture. Togetherness is so important to us. In my early churches here in the UK as Nigerians we were even closer because we were all strangers in this new country, so we had to stick together to survive. We grew up learning how to make sacrifices to be there for one another. And then that naturally and easily gets carried into church life. Other cultures can be so markedly different that on seeing some things my eyes have almost popped out of my head. I guess you have to work with the culture that you are in, and make the most of its own potentials and limitations, rather than trying to carry everyone back to Africa. To be honest it will take time to build trust and understanding between people who are often from such different backgrounds. One great way to foster community is:
Regular shared meals:
Oh the number of churches I have been to and tried to share this vision with people, and they just didn’t get it. All they could think of was the expense and effort. Or they would pay lip service to the idea “What a good idea!”, but in practice nothing would happen. It was always such a shame, as from my experience, there is something about eating together regularly that breaks down barriers between people. And it also makes it so easy to invite people into that environment. I am not saying all this just because I love food! I note that the early disciples went around from house to house, breaking bread. Sincerely, building community is possibly 50% eating together. This is the same all over the world. However, in my experience, some pastors do not even recognise the value of fostering community between their members…
BUT MOST OF ALL:
But most of all, even above eating together and other efforts to foster community, I believe that the single most important aspect for a beautiful fellowship is this: a passionate commitment on the part of the leadership to pursue Christ with everything that they have got, and to offer the very best character to their fellowship, and to teach the fellowship that this is how we are to live as Christians. People should also be encouraged to pursue intimacy with God for themselves, without needing to rely on the pastor to hear what God is saying. This would also be useful if ever the leader him/herself was going through a crisis and needed support from their members.
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church[a] daily those who were being saved.
Photo of bread loaf from Pixabay