I’m not such a fan of shopping malls, but I quite like weddings.
“What do those two things have to do with each other and why would you put them together in a sentence like that?”
Because I think those examples are the way in which we can “go to church”. Think about it for a second:
We can come together like a bunch of individual consumers looking for the things we need,
we can come as a bunch of friends and family, looking to enjoy the party.
I have stopped calling my Sunday church experience “a church service” for the same reason I’m not a huge fan of shopping malls. I don’t like thinking that I would go to a Sunday church experience and my motive is that I’m after something.
But a gathering is different, because you see, gathering is the word used to describe what church was all about right when it started. Ekklēsia is the Greek word that we find in our Bibles for this assembly of people we now know as “church”. Ekklēsia wasn’t a Christian word, made-up by Christians. It was already around in the Greek culture.
Ekklēsia was when the Greek state would hold a huge meeting to sort something big out. It would be a large, almost chaotic affair, with everyone all having their turn to share. This gathering was considered to only be the ekklēsia when it actually assembled. If there was no one there, there was no ekklēsia. This is the term Paul later used to describe those who gathered in the name of following the risen Christ together. He used a word that spoke of coming together, meeting, engaging with the current agenda and then leaving to live out what had been decided.
Which brings me back to weddings.
I quite like that when I go to a wedding, I’m not the point. What joy there is to be found in arriving with all those different friends and family members, all dressed up looking dapper, and enjoying the day together. The focus is the couple who are in love and the centre of the attention. We are just there to be the gathered ones who have come together and met, to witness the various parts of the ceremony, sharing in the joy and celebration of the occasion and eventually head home inspired from it all.
Church gatherings are to be the same. We gather, not because we are the point, but because Christ is. We come together to celebrate this life being found in being together in His Kingdom. The point of arriving isn’t to just get “what I want”, but it’s to enjoy His presence in our midst, to engage again with Jesus’ message and mission to this world, to be reminded together what we are here to be and do, to enjoy each other’s stories and company as fellow Christ-bearers and eventually head home inspired from it all.
So, what’s this got to do with church planting, when I already have a gathering I go to?
I’ve seen weddings that reflect the couple getting married with individuality and flair. I’ve seen enough Westfield’s across the country to know exactly which shops to expect in them: Stevens, Just Cuts, Footlocker…
Gatherings take on a life of their own. They have nuances and style that reflect their makers, where as services just copy-and-paste what the franchise wants done, or what will be successful. If it’s a gathering that we are to be, not a franchise, then we must enjoy the rhythms we find ourselves in as a collective of individuals from our lives in the world, use the creativity we have been given and come together to love God, love each other and enjoy Him forever the way we would like to for the sake of our community and city.
Planting a church means gathering as a community focussed on the Kingdom of God; coming together to witness, enjoy and express, for the sake of the world. It means there’s a gap that’s been spotted – maybe a location, or a people group, or a set of values that aren’t being embodied yet – and to build that kind of special one-of-a-kind gathering of people. The kind that if it never happened, it could never be said to have – just like the Greeks used to say.