Right now in these challenging times people seem to be either seeking God or running away- a paradox of faith. The only distinguishable difference is the fertility of the soil in their hearts. The principles in the Parable of the Sower are still alive and well in this present age, 2000 years after they were taught by Jesus.
Regardless of the circumstances that each one of us faces, there remain some immutable principles that affect the healthiness of each church gathering, whether it is a simple church that meets in a home or a mega-church in the four walls of a denominational setting.
The following seven principles are a measure of spiritual health and the potential for the kingdom of God in each locale. Even if you are not participating in a fellowship, my hope is that you will seek to invest and become a part of one to strengthen the spiritual vitality you now possess.
Jesus Christ is at the center of the time and God comes first. Jesus is the only CEO of the church, while we remain brothers and sisters on a level and equal footing. The time we meet as a church is not to be controlled by man. God should be the first and prioritized focus, then man afterwards. Jesus declares, we should “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these other things shall be added unto us (Matthew 6:33 KJV).
This seems obvious, but how many church gatherings have you participated in where announcements are discussed first. This is a bad idea and begins the time with man and his business first. I am sure well-meaning folk want to get it out of the way, but in doing so, they violate the heart of God and biblical priority. It never seems right when I have seen this happen.
The time is lead and guided by mature believers to guard and encourage godly participation. It is the responsibility of the leaders to lead and guide the time to maximize the benefit for all. There is both structure and free flow. If you are heavy on structure, the result is stifling of the spirit. If you are heavy on free flow, the result is chaos and lack of clarity.
However, there can be trouble if a new person comes in and tries to dominate and impose on the others. The leaders are to gently help the gathering stay focused and beneficial. If it strays, they should bring it back in the spirit of a gracious facilitator who has God’s glory in mind. The goal is to let the spirit have His way and to try to submit to what the spirit wants in each gathering. This requires practice from the humble and mature leaders; but it is attainable.
True fellowship of the spirit takes place between the participants and God and everyone is encouraged to exercise their gifts and abilities in prayer and worship. What does this look like in the practical realm? Invest the first portion of your time together waiting before the Lord and praying together to God with Him as the main focus.
Stay away from intercession and your own personal requests. This is a time to glory in the Lord and His goodness. He deserves our utmost attention and love. He knows we are hurting and have issues to grapple with and yet, He still deserves our undivided worship right from the beginning. This is an acceptable sacrifice that God appreciates and the rest of the time will be blessed.
True fellowship between believers takes place as real life enters the scene (both the good and hard things). After God has been focused on to the satisfaction of the spirit, then it is a good time to focus on one another’s needs (Galatians 6:2). Pray for one another- for healing and help- and to bless each other in Jesus’ name.
A meal served after the worship time helps true fellowship to take place as life issues surface to be dealt with. People leave built up and blessed, in better condition than when they arrived. This is how you know that true fellowship is experienced. You leave a different person than when you walked in. This is your spiritual family and there is no healthier environment to be around.
The Word of God is speaking to the hearts and the minds of the participants and spiritual transformation is occurring. It is healthy for each person to come and bring forth a word, a hymn and a spiritual song, as time permits. I think it wise for the leaders and mature ones to prepare for the topic and to study and share in a complimentary way. It is also healthy to let everyone know ahead of time what the topic is and to have a timely word from anyone as the spirit leads.
Questions are permissible and testimonies are powerful if God is speaking to a heart from what has just been shared. Let it flow forth in an orderly and relevant way. This is how the spirit speaks to the church, through mutual and two-way dialog.
Progress in spiritual maturity and discipleship is experienced throughout the time together and in between meeting times as part of organic and natural spiritual growth. When the right and healthy environment is experienced, it is like a seed placed in fertile soil that springs up without warning to produce a crop 30, 60 and 100-fold what was sown. This is the powerer result of having a healthy environment in which to meet and participate.
The group is actively sharing their faith (Philemon 6) with each other daily (Hebrews 3:13) and having an impact on the society where they live- evangelism and discipleship is a natural part of church life rather than programmatic. (Col. 1:28-29, 2 Tim. 2:2). The success of our meeting together is experienced throughout the week as a testimony that Jesus is alive in and through us and we believe Him for great things in His name. To Him be the glory and the honor as we represent Him in the world.