A. OLD TESTAMENT GATHERINGS OF BELIEVERS
During Old Testament times the temple at Jerusalem was the place appointed by God for worshipping him. That is where believers went to bring their sacrifices, tithes and offerings and where they celebrated their religious feasts. Due to the vast distances they had to travel to get there, the need arose for local gathering places for believers and synagogues were built all over the land. At the onset of the New Testament, these were firmly established. For instance, the Lord Jesus visited and preached in the synagogue at Nazareth, a smallish town.
B. HOME CHURCHES
After the Day of Pentecost, the sacrificing of animals should have ceased for Jesus had sacrificed himself once and for all for the sin of mankind. The offices of the priests should also have been terminated for Jesus had become our one and only High Priest Who is now seated at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. The temple shoud have become just an ordinary building and should have been converted into a hall where born-again believers in Jesus could gather to worship him and where the apostles could instruct them in serving the Lord in the new living way.
This however, as we know, did not happen. The priests and other religious leaders who had crucified the Lord, were deadly opposed to the Christians and persecuted their leaders, especially when they visited the temple to worship, preach the Gospel and sometimes perform miracles of healing.
The need therefor arose for places to gather, but where? Initially there were 3000 converts which shortly afterwards rose to 5000 and more; a vast number to accommodate under one roof. The result was that they broke up into small groups and “broke bread from house to house”. This was the beginning of home churches which also spread to other towns and countries. Paul often referred to the church that was in the house of so and so (Rom 16:5; 1Kor 16:19; Fil 2).
In countries where the government is opposed to Christ and his people, Christians still gather in this way; often having to stealthily slip into such homes so as not to be discovered and killed.
What is important is that God wants his people to regularly get together for fellowshipping, teaching and worshipping him.
And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:24, 25).
C. MEGA CHURCHES VERSUS HOME CHURCHES
Nowadays we have home churches with less than ten members, especially in smaller country towns, but also churches with a membership of ten-thousand and more. Which is best? Let us look at a few pros and cons.
- Large churches
- Able to support at least one full time, well trained pastor and is therefore in a privileged position to receive teaching covering the full council of God.
- Able to recruit from its many members, worship leaders, youth leaders and leaders that specialize in all kinds of helpful ministries and might have amongst its members, people that flow in all or many of the gifts of the Spirit. It could accommodate all of the five-fold ministry (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11,12). It is therefore better able to equip the saints for serving the Lord.
- It has more financial resources to fulfill the Great Commission of going forth and making disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19).
- Like a city on a hill at nighttime, it is very visible to the dark unconverted world surrounding it and will draw some of them to slip in unnoticed to receive ministry from the Spirit and get born again.
- It takes up a huge cut of its members’ tithes and offerings, if not all to build a church, supply air-conditioning, chairs, carpets, sound system, kitchen (and cafeteria) layout of the grounds, salaries for the staff.
- It takes up most of the staff’s time to minister to its members.
- Some members tend to become spiritually sluggish for they are being spoon fed all the time and do not develop into spiritual harvesters.
- The Great Commission of going forth, making disciples of nations, is often sadly neglected as the church concentrates on itself and its immediate surrounding area. Members having a vision for more remote peoples have to raise the support, then reach out on their own. Let me say no more.
- Home churches
- Financially it has just about no outlay to provide for itself for it uses members’ homes for its meetings and members to minister to one another.
- It has just about all its finances available for reaching out to the lost and if 5 families would pool their tithes and sometimes add extra offerings, it could, in conjunction with two other home churches, place a fulltime couple in another country to plant home churches there. Members of the sending home churches could also visit the work from time to time and report back and have a very dynamic missionary work going.
- In such a small group, every member will be cared for spiritually, will be very active and will be stimulated to grow faster.
- It will normally not have the benefit of such well-trained leaders, but teaching could be supplemented with videos. Several home churches could also meet, let’s say, once a month to benefit from one another’s ministries or could invite a trusted Christian leader to minister to them.
- When several Christians get together, forming a home church but the individual attendants remain members of their congregations, the “home church” gets nowhere for their allegiance, time, caring for one another, funding, etc. is divided. It is like a woman married to two men at the same time – one of the two will be neglected.
D. DENOMINATIONS AND NETWORKS
These develop when the members of a church increase to the extent that it is advisable to multiply into more than one local church, rather than growing into one mega church.
These individual churches normally adhere to the same doctrine. The “mother churches” would have varying amounts of control over the “daughter churches” or a separate body like a synod would be established to control all of its members.
Disadvantages of this setup is that it often exercises rigid control over its members, limiting their freedom to develop as the Holy Spirit leads them and when the controlling body goes sour, all the churches underneath it also crumbles.
The governing bodies or different levels usurp a lot of funds without contributing much to the Kingdom.
A more satisfactory solution to meet the need of some churches to interact with other likeminded ones, is to set up a network of churches that benefit from their mutual support but do not control one another; each local church operating independently.
E. FUNCTIONING OF A HOME CHURCH
In 1 Cor 14:26- 40, Paul gives a very useful outline of what should happen when a home church gathers.
Then how is it, brothers? When you come together, each one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be for building up. (1Co 14:26).
Let us try to derive a few principles, also taking into consideration the preceding chapters.
- The Holy Spirit must be in complete control
This is the most important secret of a successful, God glorifying, life changing meeting. Never will such a meeting be boring.
- Every member must participate
“ … When you come together, each one …” In chapter 12, Paul stresses the fact that we are like different members of the human body which each contributes by its unique function to make the body operate properly. When the seeing eye itches, the blind hand must rush to its assistance to rub it. Every member must, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, be encouraged to contribute towards the blessing of the meeting.
- A diversity of ministries to flow
Such a meeting is not a Bible study meeting although teaching of the Word is of course very, very important, but we do not all have the gift of teaching and everyone must participate according to his or her gift.
- One may have a psalm which may be a known song which the Lord laid upon his heart. He may say, “God put the song ‘Amazing Grace’ in my spirit; please join me in singing it,” or “Mary, you are so musically talented, would you please lead us?” The Holy Spirit will then use that song to bless one or all the members. You may of course also compile a new song; wow, that would bring new life!
- Then someone else would come up with a tongue and listen to someone else interpreting it.
- Following these, another member will bring a prophesy or word of knowledge, saying “I sense the Lord urgently wants us to pray for our State President who is at this moment in need of Godly wisdom for a most important decision he is to take”.
- Having prayed someone might say “The Lord has given me the following Scripture as an answer to the prayer we have just prayed”, and then read it.
The possibilities are as limitless as the creativity of the all wise Spirit of God – all He wants is to be given charge of the meeting and remember always to let praise and worship fill the room like a heavenly cloud for that is the habitat of our Heavenly Visitor.
F. FUNCTIONING OF A LARGER THAN HOME CHURCH
Large churches may find it somewhat difficult to follow the guidelines contained in the Scripture mentioned above but should not just discard it for practical reasons. Rather ask the Lord for wisdom to apply it to different situations.
G. OTHER CHURCH ORGANISATIONS
Due to the churches’ failure to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations, the Lord raised up a multitude of missionary and related organizations to get to grips with the task.
God’s using other than his normal means to carry out his work, is by no means a new phenomenon. In the Old Testament, He appointed priests and Levites to do his normal work. The priests basically had an intercessory function, bringing sacrifices to God on behalf of his people while the Levites assisted in practical matters. The priests, and to a lesser extent, the Levites also taught the Law of Moses to the nation.
However, when the Lord had a special word for them, like calling them to repentance, He called prophets at random from all walks of life to be his mouthpieces, giving them his message and sending them forth to deliver it to the nation of Israel and even to foreign nations. They were directly responsible to him and not to the high priest.
There are many present-day Christian organizations called by God, operating independently from local churches and forming an important part of God’s workforce.
Every Christian who is a member of a local church that is not devoting a major part of his spiritual and financial resources to the fulfilling of the great Commission, should support such works in addition to what he does within his local church. Do not one day stand before the throne of Christ with empty hands.
Such organizations include the following:
- Translation of Scripture into other languages.
- Going forth by foot, plane, ship, motorcar or whatever other means to bring the Gospel to those not within reach of your local church.
- Proclaiming of the Gospel by means of the radio, television, websites and other electronic means.
- Printing and spreading of Christian literature.
- Prayer groups praying for those out of personal reach.
H. OTHER MEANS OF FELLOWSHIPPING WITH THE BODY OF CHRIST
There are many social media channels that have become very useful for Christians to keep in contact with and for building up and encouraging one another.
I. CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP
Just a few thoughts.
Our Lord Jesus, the Leader and Appointer of all Christian leaders, taught his leaders in training that to qualify as the top leader, the person had to excel as the best servant of his brothers. To demonstrate his point, He took up a towel and a basin of water and washed their feet (Joh 13:1-17).
He rose up from supper and laid aside His garments. And He took a towel and girded Himself. After that He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. (Joh 13:4,5).
Servanthood is a quality very highly esteemed in heaven; the heavenly beings look for opportunities to serve one-another. Jesus too, did not come to earth to reign, but to lay down his life for the sons of men that he created.
- Filled with the Holy Spirit, Faith and wisdom
In the first New Testament Church, what counted for leadership was, your measure of the Holy Spirit, faith and wisdom.
Therefore, brothers, look out among you seven men being witnessed to, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this duty. (Act 6:3)
And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5).
- Without reproach
In 1 Tim 3:1-13 the requirements to pass the test for being appointed as elder or deacon, are laid down; the key words being “without reproach”. If there are questions or doubts regarding a person’s walk with God, he should not be given that responsibility even if the “post” remains vacant for a long time.
- Chosen by God
The Son of God did not rely on his own judgment, but spent a night in prayer, consulting with his Father before appointing his twelve disciples (Luk 6:12-16). It is the Father’s special prerogative to appoint leaders; do not step into his shoes. He may sometimes appoint very unlikely people for his own reasons.
Appointing the wrong person, is not only bad for God’s Name and work, but may have adverse consequences for the appointee.
I almost got killed when I accepted appointment as leader over a team ministering in a hostile environment, because I lacked the experience. Sometimes the burden of leadership may just be too much resulting in the leader getting spiritually burnt out. Remember, we are involved in a war with the devil and he knows no mercy.
- Hearing from God
Moses, perhaps the greatest leader of Old Testament times, was a man that could really hear what God was saying. He got his calling directly from the Great “I AM” and all the way from Egypt to Canaan, he was in direct contact with the Throne, or shall we rather say with the God that was continually in their midst.
A Christian leader must excel above every-one of his flock in hearing what God’s will is for his ministry. He will often know well in advance that a crisis is coming and how to deal with it. He will always be able to point the direction in which the ministry is to move, and he will be justified when things work out well.
In such a leader, members will have confidence and will even follow when his leading does not quite make sense, like when Jesus lead his disciples back into danger to raise Lazarus from the dead (Joh 11:8,9).
Oh, the glory of hearing from God and leading your people from victory to victory!
J. SEPERATING OF SPIRITUAL AND MATERIAL MINISTRIES
The early church wisely appointed deacons to attend to material matters such as attending to the widows and the poor so that the elders could devote themselves to the preaching of the Word and prayer.
Practical duties are much easier to perform than spiritual ones and if handled side by side, the material matters will dominate both time and finances.
This is especially true of missions. In some communities there may be much suffering because of poverty and diseases and missionaries may feel burdened to also attend to these needs. That has been the downfall of many missions that started off, attending to the eternal welfare of people but ended up devoting all their efforts to the people’s temporal needs. Rather start a separate ministry for people’s temporary needs or if it absolutely must be one mission doing both, let the spiritual and temporal sort of function back to back.
Only God can handle and do justice to both.