Friday, December 19, 2008

One Another

Let me just state it clearly: attending a church service is not the same as being a church family. The church, according to the New Testament, means being involved with one another in an open, vulnerable, and interactive relationship.

If God had intended the Sunday service to have top priority, he would have commanded the practice in the Bible, but he did not. Instead there are many passages that address what the church should be and what people need in the church.

According to the New Testament, people in a church need to:

• Love one another (John 13:34).
• Be devoted to one another and give preference to one another (Rom. 12:10).
• Be of the same mind with one another (Rom. 15:5).
• Accept one another (Rom. 15:7).
• Wait for one another before eating (1 Cor. 11:33).
• Care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25).
• Greet one another with a holy kiss (2 Cor. 13:12).
• Bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).
• Tolerate one another (Eph. 4:2).
• Be kind to one another and forgive each other (Eph. 4:32).
• Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19).
• Submit to one another (Eph. 5:21).
• Regard one another as more important than oneself (Phil. 2:3).
• Share God’s message and admonish one another (Col. 3:16).
• Comfort one another (1 Thess. 4:18).
• Encourage and build up one another (1 Thess. 5:11).
• Live in peace with one another (1 Thess. 5:13).
• Confess sins to one another and pray for one another (James 5:16).
• Be hospitable to one another (1 Peter 4:9).
• Serve one another (1 Peter 4:10).
• Fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7).
• And yes, gather together (Heb. 10:25), but not in the form of a worship service but rather in such a way that we can challenge one another to love and good deeds (v. 24). In other words, to live out together all the other mandates given above.

By the way, “one another” does not mean a pastor interacting with a congregation; it means everybody interacting with everybody else. The artificial setting of the worship service makes this nearly impossible. For us to minister to one another as described in these verses, we must be in a family-like setting where we can interact.

I hope that I have been clear in this. I am not against weekly worship or the church. I am not saying in any way that it is wrong to gather together weekly for worship. I do question, however, the high value we place on the Sunday morning service, often at the expense of practicing the New Testament one-anothers, which are indeed the true expression of the church.

An interesting phenomenon has developed. In most churches in America, the people are encouraged to join small groups, which are presented as optional. These groups are like small spiritual families where all the “one anothers” of the New Testament are practiced. This is indeed the church. But participating in such groups is usually considered optional, whereas most Christians feel they must attend the Sunday morning worship service. They think it is the biblical mandate.

The truth is that the New Testament clearly makes mandatory participating in the spiritual family, the small group. The larger gathering is, frankly, an optional alternative. This is the very opposite of contemporary practice.


Anonymous said...

Hi Neil!

I fully agree with you on this. In the book Emerging Worship I wrote how we need to reverse the order of how we think of spiritual formation and community in very similar ways from what you said.

That is why I believe so many churches now are putting so much focus on "being the church" rather than "going to church". They still have the larger Sunday gathering, but it is there that they are then taught that the bigger meeting is not full Christian community and about the need to be in true community in a smaller group setting another time during the week.

But the larger gathering ends up serving as the connecting point to where thousands of these home meetings (or wherever they meet). So one big advantage is that so many can then be taught to "be the church" and be in community in smaller settings as they first go to the larger gatherings.

I just heard the story of one leader who went before what I heard was 1,000 small group leaders. He emphatically taught the smaller group leaders "You are the pastors!" and was sharing that they are the ones who truly shepherd and lead people in the smaller settings in community. So they are striving to see the smaller gatherings function that way. This church doesn't have 100% participation in mid-week groups, but it is high and there are thousands in smaller communities because of the vision of this church and the way they teach the larger meeting is not the most impoartant thing.

Anyway, wonderful things happening out there!


Neil Cole said...

That sounds great! Thanks Dan!

Justin said...

That is awesome that you are really looking at reversing the focus and where you put your energies in church. I would love to be apart of a group of bible studies/small groups that would get together as a whole once a month. It would be great to focus on discipleship more and "evangelism" less.
Another question for you is if you are going to get a rss feed for your blog. What I have read I love and would like to make it easier to read more.

Anonymous said...


Two years ago, the church I planted went the direction you described that you wished you were a part of. We realized that our Sunday service wasn't helping people become followers of Jesus (there's nothing quite so humbling as someone telling you on Wednesday, "Great sermon on Sunday! I can't remember what it was about, but it was great!").

After a ton of prayer and investigation (including the reading of books like "Organic Church"), our leaders determined that God was leading our church to decentralize. We started with two microchurches in mid-'07. This year, we've added two more, and have plans for adding several more (but we're not forcing it). Disciples are starting to multiply (our second "4th generation" Christian was baptized last week), and we're blown away by what God is doing. We're praying and working towards further multiplication of disciples, which will lead to multiplication of churches.

Once a month, all of our churches get together. It no longer looks like a typical Sunday service. We eat a meal together, celebrate what God is doing in our network, and have one of our leaders cast a little vision from Scripture (which is more of a discussion, not a "sermon").

God is still peeling back some of the layers of the old way of doing things, but people are being transformed in our church like never before. I agree wholeheartedly with this series of posts--and not just on an theoretical level; we're experiencing it!

Joshua Tucker said...

Good post. We've obviously been trained to focus on "going to church" rather than being the Church. Your book Organic Church really helped me articulate a lot of thoughts I had been having a couple of years ago.

I lived in Tomsk, Russia for about a year as a missionary intern, and your book really helped us transition from big church to house churches. We decided to meet once a month as the whole church, but the rest of the month in house churches. It was the healthiest church I've seen, and I miss it.

I'm probably going back into full-time foreign mission work in the next year or two, and your thoughts will definitely continue helping me to plant the Church, not some weird traditional organization that somewhat resembles it.

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for your service to God and willingness to go against the grind.