In most of the church, I would daresay nearly all of the church, the Sunday morning meeting, whatever the form it takes, is the focal point. Whether it is a traditional “worship service” or an organic house church meeting or something in-between, we seem to spend a lot of time and effort on those meetings. I get that. The Sunday morning meeting is the one time when the church gets together with any sort of regularity. I wonder though if we are not missing something important by focusing so much on the “official” gathering that we miss the simple and profound fellowship found in sharing meals.
The emphasis on the Sunday morning meeting is problematic all around but especially so in the traditional evangelical gathering. We never see Jesus or the disciples in any sort of setting that looks like our traditional Sunday morning service except in the most tortured of linkage. What we do see a lot of is Jesus and His disciples in fellowship, often during a meal. Think of some of the most profound teachings of Christ and His disciples in Scripture:
The feeding of the five thousand after which Jesus declared Himself the Bread of Life
The dinner at the house of Martha where Mary wept at His feet and anointed Him with oil
Of course The Last Supper
Eating with the men on the road to Emmaus before revealing Himself
Peter eating with the Gentile Cornelius
Paul breaking bread with the church in Troas
The Wedding Feast of the Lamb
On and on...Meals specifically and hospitality/fellowship in general seem quite prominent in Scripture. There are a lot of reasons for this, many of which are explored in some detail in the book I am reading A Meal With Jesus. As I have written several times, this is one of those paradigm shifting books for me, even beyond what the author perhaps intended.
Traditional church settings might not be so bad....if....we placed less emphasis on them and a lot more on hospitality and fellowship in the church alongside Kingdom activities outside of the gathered church whatever the form. As I said, I would say that this would at potentially be true of many house church groups as well. In our zeal to get things just right during the house church meeting on Sunday, are we missing out on many wonderful and perhaps more fruitful opportunities for ministry, evangelism and community throughout the rest of the week? I am starting to wonder if I am not fully guilty of this. While there are serious issues with the traditional worship service, am I missing the forest for the trees?
Let me lay out two scenarios, both of which I have personally experienced.
One is a house church/simple church. The meeting is unscripted. Anyone is welcome to share a song, prayer, Scripture, teaching, etc. On the surface everything about the actual meeting itself seems quite in keeping with Scripture even though Scripture itself plays a very minimal role during the meeting. Yet the people who meet on Sunday do very little together outside of the Sunday morning gathering, either in fellowship with one another or as a group taking the Gospel to the lost. Cohesiveness starts and stops by and large with the Sunday morning meeting.
The other is a more traditional church. A building, albeit a simple one. Pews. A lectern/pulpit. There are a few elders that are bi-vocational but the men of the church take turns teaching. Each week includes several outreach activities: nursing home visits, going to see shut-ins, outreach to the lost. A huge percentage of the people in the church have been out of the country or at least out of the immmediate area on mission trips in the last six months: Canada, Mexico, Haiti, including many (most?) of the youth and young adults.
One looks more like the New Testament in form, the other looks more like the New Testament in function, i.e. the mission of the church, the equipping and sending of disciples into the world to make disciples and love their neighbors. Which is more in tune with the Great Commission and Great Commandment? I get that there is a wide range of styles in the house church movement and likewise within more traditional meetings. What is the role of elders? How are believers best equipped for ministry? Etc. But speaking in general, are we too worried about the gathering of the church, as important as that is, and missing the value of life lived together the rest of the week?
It seems to be the case that within the church, ideas like hospitality, community, service, etc. that take place outside of the church meetings should take precedence. Sure we see that the early church was meeting in the temple and homes “day by day” (Acts 2:46-47) but doesn’t it seem more likely that these meetings were pretty informal? Perhaps a few families meeting together in their homes and just sharing a meal? Did these daily gatherings look anything like a church meeting, whether traditional or house church or somewhere in between?
We should all be striving, no matter the present manner of meeting, to see our meetings more reflective of Biblical commands and examples as well as more edifying. We should likewise be very careful to not overemphasize the Sunday meeting to the point that we deemphasize the mission of God’s people that takes place outside of our scheduled meetings, even the most organic and participatory of meetings. If we meet in a perfect manner on Sunday morning but fail to exhibit hospitality to believers and non-believers alike, if we have things just so on Sunday but fail to exhibit true community Monday through Saturday, how does that profit us and advance the Kingdom?