A lot of us write about simple church, about why this form of gathering is more Biblical, healthier even, than the traditional meeting. There are lots of posts full of assertions and copious Scripture references that make a compelling case. By and large though it is all theoretical. Last Sunday I saw an example of what a simpler, more familial gathering looks like when someone is in need. This is where it becomes real, when a brother or sister is in need.
One of the sisters that gathers with us is a native of Syria. If you have been watching the news closely you will know that Syria is having protests like those happening all over the Middle East as part of the “Arab Spring”. In Syria the news has been less frequent, partly because of government control and partly because people have grown tired of the stories. This sister is still paying attention and ran across a video shot from her home country. She described what she saw to us and broke down as she shared. The video showed a young boy who was part of a protest, taken from his father and brutally tortured and murdered on film. The brutality and horror of what she saw led my sister to come before the church and share this experience.
This sister was brokenhearted, just pouring out the hurt she was feeling. We heard what she had to say, let her speak what was on her heart and then prayed for her. We ran over the time we normally stop by almost half an hour but that was OK because one of us needed the rest of us. As she wept and told us what she had witnessed, we listened and then one person after another encouraged her, asked us to sing hymns of praise for our Lord, prayed for her and turned to the Word of God for words of encouragement. Not everyone spoke but everyone could have. Rather than bottling up her anguish and putting on a happy face for “church”, she was able to expose her broken heart to her family and be lifted up and loved.
If she was in a traditional church, how would this have looked? Would she have been able to share her anguish with the church? Perhaps she could have spoken to the pastor and had a special prayer request made from the pulpit. Not quite the same thing as hearing her making herself vulnerable because she knew that she would be loved. Would she have been encouraged, prayed for, had Scripture quoted by the entire gathered Body? Probably not. She would have likely been like so many others in churches across the world on Sunday, sitting in her pew in her Sunday best, putting a smile on her face, telling people she was fine while being broken hearted inside. I am NOT saying that people don’t love one another deeply in traditional churches but I am suggesting that the structures and rituals we have put in place in those traditional gatherings make it difficult or even impossible for the church to function like a family.
When we treat the church as family, the needs of one another take precedence over the performance. There isn’t a schedule or liturgy needed to love one another and it is more likely that those structures prevent us from being encouraged and edified in the way the church was intended. Anyone who has a family knows that you cannot schedule, control or contain family. Family is family even when they annoy or hurt you and especially when they are hurt and need you.
Our group is not perfect. There are lots of personalities, lots of people coming from all over the place in terms of background, doctrinal stances, traditions. We need to intentionally find ways to be more in community with one another beyond Sunday morning. Coming from a pretty conservative viewpoint there are things that concern me with where some people are doctrinally. I sometimes wonder “where is this going?”. But I also see God at work and I see His people starting to function as a family. Most importantly I see people who love one another more than they love their traditions and that means we are generally as willing to be as flexible as we need to be. For example one sister offered to help with our little ones on Sunday so that my wife could just relax and be part of the group. This sister normally plays the piano for the group but this week we went without the piano. That would be unthinkable in most traditional churches. It is the little things like that that give me hope and encouragement for what God is doing.
If you are so led, please pray for this sister that God would lift her up, comfort and strengthen her and give her peace in her heart. Also I would ask you to ask yourself. What if she had come to your gathering of the church? Would she have been able to pour herself out and expose how wounded she was or would she have shaken your hand and replied “Fine!” when asked how she was doing?