Ohio Trip 12: Four Meetings and an Epiphany

Day Nine of my trip gave me the opportunity to attend for different meetings of Grace Gathering.

MEETING 1

Corporate worship at Grace Gathering (GG) happens on Sunday morning in a multi-purpose gym/meeting hall with concert-style lighting, commercial grade carpet, and tons of round tables for gathering around during the service. And while the praise band led worship from the stage, the pastor spoke from the middle of the floor, which I thought was great. There’s an unspoken message communicated in the arrangement of a room, and having the preacher address the congregation like this really says something.

Chris’s message was about using a variety of forms of expression for worship. It was interactive. It began with a call for people to share personalized Psalms they had written the week before, and three people took advantage of the open mic to read theirs to the whole congregation. I loved that. My only disappointment was that he cut it off after only three. I wanted to hear many more. But I guess he had a lot more to say, and only so much time to say it. After he spoke about raising hands or clapping during worship, we sang a song and did what he suggested. After he spoke about laying prostrate before God in worship, we spread out and did just that. I thought that was pretty well done. He encouraged all who were in attendance to go home to their home churches and try putting these forms into practice. Clearly there was fundamental integration between the equipping ministry of the teaching pastor and the work-it-out-in-real-life function of the house church here at GG. As my hosts, the Heckleys, told me, the HC setting “gets trumpeted” from the pulpit (or gym floor) every week. And that’s what it takes. The guy up front’s gotta believe in it, or it just won’t fly.

MEETING 2

After “big church” (as we called it growing up) I had the pleasure of joining one of the small groups for their meeting in one of the rooms at the church building. Because this group specializes in ministering to people with special needs, they use the church’s handicap-accessible facilities for their meetings. Today they were having a party, and I had a good time. One new friend wandered in looking for some company and found a room full of accepting folks. Since he had lost his wife several months ago, he was clearly still hurting and looking for some fellowship and encouragement. He seemed to have found it the moment he walked in. I was touched by that.

I was also touched by the warmth and encouragement of the group as prayer concerns and updates were offered. The fellowship and community-knitting was evident to me, an it was like water for my soul. We prayed for one another, ate some pizza, and played Mad Gabs and laughed a lot. It was a good party, with some very sweet people. I’m glad Scott recommended visiting them.

MEETING 3

Immediately after that the leaders of all the HC’s at GG got together to talk about their progress in the transition from “attractional” to “incarnational” (those aren’t their words, I borrowed them from somewhere else). I was glad to sit in on this meeting as well, because I got to see some of the downside to this task. There was some notable discouragement apparent in the group, as many of them were struggling to transfer ownership of the small group from the leaders to the rest of the Body. This is where the rubber meets the road, and it takes some outstanding ministry to change folks from passive spectators to active participants in the work of the church.

My suspicion is that it takes a heavy dose of high, deep revelation from the gospel to make this transition happen well, and I just didn’t hang around long enough to figure out if that has been a part of their experience. Let me digress from the leaders’ meeting for a second to explain what I mean:

The Rest of the Gospel

The way I see it, the gospel is not just a short story, with four or five bullet points telling you how to “get saved” and go to heaven. The gospel, as I understand it, is a much larger story that begins with God seeking to establish a family on Earth whom He will inhabit, and through whom He express Himself in visible, tangible ways. This is what Christ came to accomplish, and it doesn’t stop when you get saved–it’s only just begun.

I think that larger story, when grasped and communicated in all its vast richness, FUELS the mission of the church in such a way that your methodology becomes so much less important then what drives the activity of the church. More to the point, I think a church can major on pragmatic goals, structures, methods, and measurements, and never really hit that “sweet spot” that I’m talking about.

When you hit a golf ball right, it makes this beautiful “click” noise, and you have to feel it to know exactly what I’m talking about. That’s what happens when the ball and the club come together the right way. All the golf lessons in the world won’t fix your game until you discover what hitting on that “sweet spot” feels like.

It’s kind of like that. When a group of people really SEE what it means to be in Christ and for Him to be in them, as a them, it changes everything. It opens up a world of ministry that wouldn’t make sense in any other context. Folks have to see what it means to be the Body of Christ. It’s like an epiphany. You mind shifts and suddenly you look at the church in a totally new way.

Folks at GG (and Apex and anywhere else) will have to be struck by this realization. Something has to click in place in their minds before the church really “gets it” and becomes what she was meant to be. I’ve known this for a long time. But what’s new to me at the moment is the possibility that our actions may sometimes precede our thinking just as readily as the other way around. I was taught that belief always precedes action, and that you have to change how people think before you can change how they behave. Nowadays I’m not so dogmatic about this. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s just as likely that you can initiate new behavior and watch it gradually lead to a changed way of thinking. In other words, belief and behavior are symbiotic, just like the different corners of the triangle from the last post. Sometimes one precedes the other, but sometimes it’s the other way around. I dunno. Just something I’m processing these days.

The upshot of all this is that I still think churches need a significant amount of ministry from its leaders in order to equip them to do the work of the church (see Ephesians 4:11-16). I still think that ministry needs to be heavily soaked in the “bigger Christ” and the “bigger cross” that I wrote about in Christ In Y’all. But then, that’s why you write a book, isn’t it? Because you believe in something?

MEETING 4

My visit with GG ended with a visit to one last HC, this time at the home of Brad and Heather Thomas. This group felt more familiar to me than so many previous ones this week because these were all young families with small kids. Their logistical struggles were similar to ours (what do you do with/for all these kids?!). But this group felt like they are still figuring out what they’re about, in a way. The leaders of this group still hold the reins, and they’ve got a long way to go for that to no longer be the case.

What encouraged me most about this is that they know this is their objective. They discussed that shift in functioning from the leadership to the rest of the Body, and that means they’re light years ahead of so many other churches who don’t even know that’s their goal. There’s a significant hurdle to jump when it comes to this transfer of leadership and it remains to be seen whether it can be done on this scale all at once.

Which is easier: Starting small, with a single small group, building in the distributed leadership from the beginning and building outward from the first group, or taking a medium-sized church (with several hundred people) and rolling out a transition plan for all of them en masse? The latter would take some serious patience, humility, and a very slow pace in order to be done well.

And the former? Well not everybody has the luxury of starting from scratch, or the gifting for it. I sure see some benefit to being a part of a larger support network from the beginning. Starting small from scratch means starting with precious few resources. Maybe it’s a different story in the midst of a nation-wide revival (e.g. Xenos in the Jesus Movement), but what about right now? What about in the South, where more people trust the validity of an established church than some fly-by-night rogue folks starting their own thing?

Like I said, still processing…

On a personal note, I enjoyed hanging out some with Brad Thomas, who reminds me of me in a lot of ways. Only he’s got real design skills, and designs logos for a living. So I asked him to come up with a new cover design for my book (and this blog). I’ve wanted that since the very beginning, and now it looks like the Lord provided somebody to fill that need. Woohoo! You should see a way cooler book redesign soon, so stay tuned. I’ll also be revising the book in order to account for some of the shift in my thinking over the last year or two. I hope to have it ready in time to send to the next House Church conference in Dallas.

There’s so much more that can be said upon reflection about this trip. It’ll take me a while to unpack and digest all that I saw and heard along the way. But I’ll try to tie it all together a little in the final post in this series.

In the meantime, I leave you with a couple of photos I snapped on my way out of Indiana early Monday morning.

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