Thursday, 17 June 2010

the gathering of the church

17 June 2010

This morning I read an article by Alan Knox which I received by email subscription from his site, The Assembling of the Church, and it got me thinking.

Lately, I've been really longing for MORE - Well, how can I describe it? More "focused" gathering of the street church part of Your family that I am involved in?

I've been worried about that "longing" at the same time as I've been experiencing it, because I fear being drawn back into "tradition/ religiosity." I desire freedom in relationship with You and Your family. I want to truly know You. I want to glorify You. I want to encourage others in the family, in their journey - our journey - with You. And in all of that, I most of all want YOU. I want whatever happens in Your family to be from You, guided by You, led by You, for Your eternal purposes, reflective of You alone.

I don't want to be tied down to man-made programs, liturgy, "worship styles," clock-watching "services," performance-centered, human-led activity. I do long for the constant leading of Your Spirit. I long to be in such close relationship with You that I am constantly aware of Your Presence, and thus be able to participate in Your activity. I long for me, for us, to have our spirits in unity and harmony together with Your Spirit, led by You.

I wonder if somehow I am still identifying "church" as a discrete, clearly defined set of activities - like a checklist - or a liturgy! It seems to be very true that while it is fairly easy to take people out of a setting that they've been very involved in (addicted to?), it's not so easy to take that setting out of the person.

I guess what I really long for is not so much focus on activities (ie prayers, music worship, giving, learning from Your word, in a structured program) but focus on YOU (The Word!). I love my relationship with You - but clearly You want us to go beyond that one-on-One level (wonderful and amazing as it is) into Your family, community, body, organism-style relationship.

When I am with my own children (who are now grown, and all away from our home, except for the youngest), we talk about and engage in all kinds of topics and activities that aren't specifically "family-oriented." We discuss the news, talk about issues like politics and the environment, and express our opinions about all kinds of topics. We eat together, go shopping together, watch movies together, make things together, attend events together. But all those things, unfocused on "strictly family" as they are, still do draw us together. And time after time, with no effort or planning, our conversation and activities just naturally turn to our family memories, our current family situations, our hopes and aspirations for the future, as well as encouraging, assisting, advising each other. We ust naturally love and encourage and, yes, exhort one another because we are family. We don't even have to think about it or plan for it. It's natural.

So why, I wonder, is it so hard for us, Your children, to be "naturally" Your family? Why do we seem to feel we have to try so hard to make, create, facilitate family-ness? Why does it seem to artificial when we think we are finally getting it "right?"

Why, when I am with the local street church part of Your family, do I feel driven to ensure that we are intentionally focused on You for at least a certain percentage of our time together, especially on Sunday mornings when we gather for breakfast in the park?

In our own family, we don't gather for "seminars" after our meals (though I was certainly brought up in the formal "family-worship-after-breakfast" tradition as a child). Rather, in the midst of our together times, be they meal times or whatever else we are doing, conversation will naturally turn to a focus on family topics and needs.

(Some years back, with 5 teens at home, I once tried to institute "family meetings" - on the advice of a Christian organization - as a means of solving some of our "problems." No one else in the family wanted to take part in those meetings. No surprise, of course - they perceived the meetings as an artificial "control" measure - which I now see was the real purpose. Oh dear. A family is not an organization or institution run by controlling meetings...)

But I digress...

Back to his series of posts on "The Church," Alan Knox has said, first, that "our understanding of the church must begin with God." In the second post of the series, he concludes that "our relationship with God and one another is dependent on God's re-creative work, not any work of our own." In the third post he says "that our actions are demonstrations of the Father's character.

And in today's post, the fourth in the series, entitled The church When We Gather Together Alan Knox says that our gathering together as the church is a demonstration of God's character. He writes, "We do not gather because we are the church. Instead, since we are God's children and family with one another, we desire to be with one another.... The church does not make us family. The church exists because we are family."

Just as our human family get-togethers, reunions, etc, do not make us family! We're already family, and families (healthy ones, anyway) want to be together. These family-gathering activities simply serve as an opportunity to act upon and express, together, the fact that we are already family.

Sometimes we make big plans for our family gatherings, like big meals, going to a theme park together, watching old family movies, even making speeches honoring family members, or whatever. And while those things can be enjoyable, and give us a "feeling" of family togetherness, the fact remains that without any of them at all we are still family, even if we never see each other.

Of course, we like to get together. And upon getting together, we do draw closer to each other, and support each other, and so on. But the specific activities we engage in aren't really that important. As family, we just long to be together, whatever that ends up looking like.

In fact, often it turns out that the less "planned activity" there is, the more we draw together. I just got back from a trip to visit my children who live in another province. We did do a few "planned/ focused/ formal activities" like going out together for dinner at a restaurant, playing with the children at a playground, and taking the transit downtown for a window-shopping trip.

But really, the true growing-in-togetherness timess happened when we were just hanging out, being family: sitting around chatting, bathing the new baby, laughing about family memories, sitting up together in the middle of the night because the newest member of the family hasn't yet figured out that nights are for sleeping!

Also, the things we do when we gather together as a family, reflect the fact of "being family." We treat each other (hopefully!) with love, kindness, helpfulness, encouragement, good advice - because we are family, and those are the natural outcomes of the character and relationships of what family is. Helping my daughter by cleaning her house, making meals, doing dishes, and changing and rocking baby so mommy can get some much-needed sleep are natural family activities. They aren't the kind of things we plan and advertise and try to attract others with. But they are truly "the gathering of the family."

In relation to the church, then, Alan Knox goes on to say that "the activities that happen when we gather occur because as God's children we demonstrate God's character.... how we act when we gather together is a reflection of our relationships with God... When we are acting as God's family, we are also relating to one another properly.... OUr relationship to God (and thus with one another) comes before any decisions about activities, times, places, leadership, etc...."

So I guess that my worries about the supposed lack of "focused God time" at our street church gatherings is actually off-kilter. Sometimes when we are together we do actually sit down after the breakfast, and have a great time getting into the word, sharing what Father is doing in our lives, praying together, and so on. Strangely enough, this happens "best" when we don't have any kind of "service" planned! It turns out to be kind of like a family-reunion-Christmas-dinner!

But sometimes we don't get around to "sitting down together in focused God time" at all. Our time together flies by as we are just listening to each other in personal conversations, serving up breakfast to a wheelchair-bound member, praying one-on-one with someone who has been going through a rough spot, playing with the little children who are running around, bandaging wounds from someone being beat up while sleeping on the street, handing out blankets and toothpaste and dry socks to those who need them, sharing our stories... all those things that reflect the character of our Father, and so just naturally occur because we, the gathered church, are first and foremost His children, and thus, in our gathering, are being His family, with Him.


Alan Knox said...


Thanks for interacting with my post. I love the way you thought through what I said and then considered how it would affect you and your friends. Awesome!

Isn't it interesting how our perspective changes when we don't start with the church, but instead we start with God, our relationship to him, and then our relationships with one another.


Norma Hill - aka penandpapermama said...

You are so right! What a total, wonderful, amazing difference it makes - just wish I'd discovered it sooner! Well, I have forever still in front of me :-)

Enjoying all your posts, greatly!