Smaller Christian fellowships—even online—count on our own daily spiritual dynamics.
This post has been adapted from a message given by Michael Taylor,
a preacher at Grandview Christian Assembly
Whenever Cory Fronk hosts a men’s event at our church, you can count on a delicious, excessive amount of meat in buckets, boxes, and on the grill. After being invited to one of these events recently, I volunteered to bring buffalo chicken dip. This was several weeks before it was to happen. I then promptly forgot about it. The morning of the get-together, the buffalo chicken dip popped back up in my memory. I went to my wife, Delana. “Did you remember when I asked you to make some dip a few weeks ago?” “Nope. That conversation never happened,” she said.
Because the dip requires a fair amount of preparation, and I don’t know how to make it, I begged Delana’s help, ran around and got the ingredients together, and made it to the gathering just in time for tons of meat, which went well with my dip.
I think that this is how Christians often approach church meetings. We’re not expected to bring anything to our meetings, and certainly never a main course. Even if the meeting is small and everyone offers a little commentary, the small group leader is still supposed to be the one who brings the bacon. Leaders have listened to the Sunday message two or three times online by then. They’ll have gone through the main subject, and designed thought-provoking questions to spur us all on to deeper understanding.
Thank you to all these people.
But there’s an expectation of sorts that everyone else will mainly just watch. Maybe we’ll avert eye contact to make sure nobody calls on us. Or in a virtual meeting we’ll just stare off into Zoom space. There are a lot of reasons for this. As awesome as our meetings are on the weekends, by Sunday afternoon, the experience of it will have already started to fade from our minds. By Monday or Tuesday night, who can remember what was even said?
Besides, in a number of zoom meetings, we’re gathering later at night, so by the time we’re logging on together, we’ve been through a whole day of work and putting the kids to bed. At that point we’re going to sit down on a comfortable couch, and struggle to make it through this one last thing without falling asleep. Something is missing when that becomes our customary approach to Christian meetings.
The richness of our gatherings actually depends on each one of us bringing our previous weekly experiences of Christ. That is typically embodied in our personal learning and encounters with Christ. If we’re not bringing those forth, there’s going to be something missing.
I want to show you an example in the scripture of one of these ‘little house’ experiences, and how it worked. In Luke 24, the very end of the book, Jesus has gone to the Cross, died, and been placed in the tomb. A couple of days later, some women had gone to the tomb, found it empty, and encountered the Lord, but as yet, nobody beyond them was really that clear.
And so we drop into a scene on the road to Emmaus, where two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified and buried. They were, to put it mildly, disappointed. That’s when a stranger joins their conversation, none other than Jesus Himself, whose identity is hidden from their eyes. He opens the scriptures to them, an experience they will reflect upon later, and then they recognize Him while breaking bread with Him.
These guys have gone from depressed to fired up. It was already late at night, but they couldn’t wait. They had to tell somebody about their encounter.
Luke 24:33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
They didn’t shout this in the streets. They went back to share it with a specific group of people–those with whom they were in close fellowship. But in verse 34, having rushed back to Jerusalem late at night, and walked through the door, they hardly had a chance to tell that news before the group told them about the Lord having appeared to Simon. The new arrivals couldn’t preach fast enough, before the assembled group preached to them. That gathering was a wall to wall experience of the resurrected Christ!
The Emmaus road disciples didn’t know about the appearance to Simon, and neither had the group heard about the experience with Jesus on the road. They all ended up sharing the gospel back and forth to one another, discovering and confirming the truth in one another’s experience. There were similarities between them, while the details were different. Fascinating. Inspiring. As the fellowship continued, it all came together in a collective understanding and application of the mystery of Christ. And when the fellowship had built to a place of wonderment, and, “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “‘Peace to you!’” (v. 36).
They had brought their individual experiences, and then collectively owned a unique experience of Him standing there with them. This is not just a historical account, to confirm the accuracy of Jesus’s resurrection (although it is certainly that), but it’s also an example of how our Christian meetings can work.
The summer before last, we went through the Book of Jonah. I thought it perfectly related to us, a relatively introverted group of people, who have a built-in reluctance toward going out and sharing the gospel. The small group I was in really embraced this. We did something called “the five-for-five challenge.” We picked five people each, and we prayed for them all week, for five weeks. Then we brought those experiences back together as a small group. We mutually encouraged each other and prayed together. It was hard not to participate, because we all had someone we cared about and who we hoped would come to know Jesus.
I remember in my own third week of this, that there were some neighbors I had been praying for. My prayer was to have a breakthrough encounter with them, because I had never even gotten to talk to them before. Anyway, I was in the kitchen after dinner, and I saw them outside. They have a kid my daughter’s age, so I grabbed my kids and said, “We’re going for a walk!” We met them and had an engaging conversation with them.
The next time we had a small group, I felt like I was rushing back from Emmaus—Omigosh, you all are not going to believe this! We had this breakthrough conversation. Now I know a little about our neighbors. We rejoiced together and prayed together, and that just seemed to keep happening. Group members shared about a couple they’d been praying for who had them over to their house for dinner. Another spoke of a couple whose marriage needed help, and went to spend time with them. During the entire group season, we were building each other up to do things we wouldn’t have been able to do on our own. As a group, we weaved a story together.
Our meetings should be places where we can share experiences, start a story, or finish a story, ask for clarity, or help, or receive encouragement. But this only comes from an alertness to Christ, and a willingness to bring what we have of Him. But don’t rush around just for the sake of having something to allegedly “share,” like my rushing around for the party Saturday morning to bring something I didn’t even make anyway (Delana did all the work). No need to save face. I don’t have to exaggerate just so I have something to say, and for sure I don’t need to make things up.
What made our small group experience so powerful was the homework between the meetings. We were all spending time in prayer and having encounters with Christ and then bringing it back to the group. The result was something greater than what we had as individuals, a story unfolding in that little house. Whether it’s our small group, or a micro group, or a church watch party on Sunday, I encourage you to do the homework, fight for your personal time with Jesus, and then bring it, or at least some derivation of it. Let it add or accentuate. Let it start or finish.
I realize sometimes it’s hard to get a conversation flowing, especially online, but breaking into even smaller groups can make it easier than with a ten or twelve person group. Also, I encourage you to be present during those meetings. We’ve all been to a zoom session where someone is there, but with their screen turned off, and muted. When you haven’t heard from him or her for thirty minutes, then you wonder if they’re even around anymore. In a sense, we have to fight harder when the gathering is virtual. But it’s worth it. After having a couple of good zoom meetings, we’ve recently had a few outdoors small groups, and found we had really built momentum together. Differing styles and settings combined, actually took us a notch above the usual.
It all comes down to being intentional, not only in how we’re present, but why we’re meeting.
And what we’re bringing.