Saturday, 17 July 2010

whole-body participation in our gatherings

I was just reading a post, "Everyone," at The Ekklesia in Southern Maine blog, and Father used it to show me something that I've been really struggling with: how to get whole-body participation happening in our gatherings...

I just realized - maybe it is part of our old traditions, maybe it is part of our society's rationalistic approach to things... but...

On the one hand we talk glowingly about how whenever even 2 or 3 believers are gathered together, with Jesus among them, that is a gathering of the church. And it can happen in all kinds of places and situations.

On the other hand, when we talk about people participating at a gathering of the church, we assume it is an intentional sit-down kind of gathering, whether in a traditional church building setting or a home or even (as the group I gather with most often, who are mostly street-level people) in a park or other outdoor location.

The thing that just struck me is that, even though we do have a more intentional sit-down-together and read scripture, pray, teach, etc time as part of our gatherings, we also eat together, talk one-to-one or in small groups, counsel individuals, pray with individuals, play with the children, take care of each other like giving a haircut or hand out clean dry socks and underwear, and all kinds of other things (these kinds of things might be different depending on your group, of course, but you get the idea).

Yet coming out of a "traditional church" background, I have found myself worrying that that there isn't enough of "everyone participating" in our "gathering," because I am thinking of that sit-down-together part of it. And yet, when I was reading this posting and the comments, I realized that during our full gathering time, all kinds of people who don't necessarily "speak up" very often (though most do at least on occasion) in the sit-down-together time, are regularly sharing their gifts in the rest of our gathering (not to mention also when we meet each other on the streets etc). There are gifts of hospitality (serving food, inviting people passing by to join us), gifts of helps (hair cutting, cleaning and bandaging wounds, bringing clothes to share), gifts of teaching (lots of this in conversation, counseling), praise (people bring their guitars etc and will sit around in small groups or even just in a corner, singing and playing), prayer with individuals or small groups, and so on.

On a Sunday morning, for example, we will gather about 6 am, with breakfast starting about 7 (folks can drop in any time) and usually are there until the soup kitchen opens at noon and folks leave for lunch. We do have that sit-down-together time in the middle, but when I think about it, the whole time is the gathering, and in that time, everyone participates! (Not everyone is able to stay the whole time, but over the time period there is opportunity for all).

One other interesting thing - when "off-kilter" comments come up outside the sit-down-together time, it is easier to gently offer correction when only a small group are directly involved, as the person in question doesn't feel like everyone is staring at him/her. Then later, in the sit-down-together time, we usually have a Q & A time (because so many of our people are really new to the whole Jesus thing, and come from so many different backgrounds) - and we will bring up those questions, without having the person feeling singled out so much - and everyone learns.

Wow, this is something I have really been kind of struggling with - and Father has used your post and everyone's comments to open my eyes to this! Thank You!

Praise the Lord!

And then I added in another comment:

I would add that in the exercise of non-teaching gifts, there is relationship building, and that leads to conversation, which leads naturally to teaching. And as people have opportunity to share/teach (one-to-one) in the other activities of the group, it will give them courage to open up in the gathering together time – if of course the opportunity and encouragement is provided. And perhaps in that relationship-building activity time, the “teacher” folks will have their eyes opened (or ears? lol) to see that Jesus uses all kinds of people to teach.

It does come back, again, to relationship, doesn’t it? Family gathering. Around the family dinner table….. I’m not sure if we should be aiming to make it “look like” anything. Maybe “look to” Jesus at the head of the table for our cues (as our children do at home when they are little ones keeping an eye on what mommy and daddy do and say and think … and then happily be part of it).

Do you think that the “priesthood of believers” metaphor is sometimes a problem for us who maybe still picture priests as especially “holy men” … when we so often don’t see ourselves as “holy enough” (or, in the case of half of us, “men” either!)? Maybe it keeps us looking for more formal patterns to follow.

Of course, if Jesus is truly the core, the focus, the head, the rest will fall into place as we look to him. That’s the hard part…


Dan Allen said...


Thanks for sharing the elongated version here! I think you make a great point that church life and gatherings go far beyond the once a week sit-down-together meeting. If we all got ahold of that concept better we would really start to see people BEING the church, not just GOING to church.


Norma Hill - aka penandpapermama said...

yes, and then the being (including participating) would more easily extend into the sit-down-together meetings.

:-) Joy!

Mark said...


I am REALLY struck by where you are, and what the Lord is doing in and through you. I would say that it is virtually unheard of, to be truly fellowshipping on the streets as you are, and not just inviting a bunch of people to hear you speak at a service. I am really encouraged to enlarge my heart by what you write.

One thing the Lord has shown me lately is to not underestimate who He's made me. He has me, and the people that I fellowship with, at the verge of what we believe to be a large work, and none of us feels equipped. A close friend of mine has encouraged me to place confidence in who HE has made me. This takes the tendency away from me to become haughty (which tends to happen), as all the trust is in Him, that he has ALREADY made me into what He needs me to be. By this thinking we counteract our previous ideas of what "priests" are.

Finally, the ultimate functioning of the body would be for the wealthier among us to provide a hand-up to those on the street, fulfilling the model of scripture in a very real and meaningful way. Let's all stand in faith that this can and will happen.

Norma Hill - aka penandpapermama said...

Thanks, Mark. I have just posted a new item, another chance: expanded story that explains more about this street level church.

I have been involved about 2 years, but it has been happening for about 5 years. The story gives a "taste" of a fairly typical gathering, and also explains some of the background.

It really began because one brother, Peter, his wife (and their kids) listened to Father, and set out to obey, no matter the cost. Read the story...

(By the way, a lot of people find it hard to believe... and there are those who have come to check it out... and then have tried to recreate it elsewhere, or have tried to convince Peter to remake it in more traditional/common methods, with building, programs, etc... He even tried some of their suggestions - and it only caused problems. He's glad that happened though, because now he knows for sure that he has to do what Father has called him to! Now he tells others that if Father is calling them to do those other things, they should go ahead, but that he has to obey Father. Right on!