I remember the privilege of sitting across from a powerful, anointed woman of God several years ago. I was a fly on the wall as she spoke openly and casually with those around her. The simplest thing came out of her mouth, "We need to gather in all manner of places, under trees, in parking lots, wherever..."
The word gather came off her lips dripping with anointing. It was as though God Himself had spoken it. It lingered in the air with divinely activated potential. How could such a simple word come with so much power? It lingered in my spirit for years before God began to unfold the vision for Unprecedented People.
CHRISTIANS ALWAYS GATHER
All over the world, Christians are gathering. We gather in large numbers and in small. We gather in public and in underground churches. We gather in celebration and we gather in loss. Gathering for the Christian is nothing new! In fact, the Hebrew author instructs, "And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near" (Hebrews 10:25, NLT emphasis added).
Still, it is under attack.
To gather is perhaps the hardest thing for the North American church to do in the digital age. There is too much. There are too many choices, places to go, people to see. We prefer getting groceries delivered to our door, ordering from Amazon to avoid another stop, and telling Alexa to play worship music while we do dishes and stay home.
Churches have been grappling with the shifts in membership trends for some time now, slowly acclimating to a new pace of life and cultural mindset. But what does this mean for discipleship? How does it affect the need for accelerated discipleship to raise this generation and the next as effective, kingdom ambassadors, equipped to steward the gospel in a new world?
Effective, transformative, and empowering discipleship cannot take place without consistent and intimate gathering. Why? Because transformation happens in the context of relationship. And relationship happens in the context of consistent and intimate gathering.
Just like you and I have been formed by our own families and cultures of origin, we are re-formed by living in a new family and culture. By gathering in and living life together, in loyalty and commitment, we can re-wire the default settings of our old ways to establish new ones. We can become new – kainos – “Unprecedented - without precedent, of a different kind.” New blood and bond unite us as we are being newly created in Christ.
Here's the thing. I may want to be "transformed by the renewing of my mind" (Romans 12:2), but I still don't have time! I can't do it all! I can't build my career, maintain relationships, keep up with the trends, pay attention to my health, and engage with the church enough to see real change bear in my life. The pieces aren't fitting together, and this generation is struggling to make sense of it all.
AN OLD CHALLENGE
We are facing a new challenge in this digital age if we are going to get serious about discipling the next generation. One hour on Sunday isn't enough to develop relational intimacy with God and others, but no one thinks they have time to add more.
One of the things I love about being Wesleyan is our heritage as master disciplers. John Wesley created a unique network of gatherings that varied in size and purpose. He realized that several kinds of gathering were necessary for transformative discipleship to take place that would advance the kingdom of God here on earth. There were large societies of 50 or more for a more cognitive learning experience, then class meetings of around twelve met for prayer, study, and fellowship, then bands of 3 people gathered regularly for accountability and deeper encouragement.
Wesley developed an organizational strategy to meet a very clear objective. He raised up a kingdom army of Christ-followers who spread the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the known and newly discovered world. It was God's provision for a new age, a radical act of faithfulness through which hundreds of thousands were saved. The new world was radically influenced by these Jesus-followers and the Person they represented, affecting our lives even today.
Are we in the same kind of time? Are we facing the same kind of need Wesley was caught up in so many years ago? I believe we are! And I believe God will be faithful today as He was before. I believe He is crafting a new/old strategy to meet the same objective as Wesley, to raise up a generation of Jesus-followers equipped to carry and unleash the grace of God on an unsuspecting world. One very key part of this strategy is how we gather. In this digital age with virtual communities and endless connectivity, we need a serious strategy to build intimacy with God and one another for the purposes of re-formation, being made new (Unprecedented).
Unprecedented People are rooted in the love of God and our love for one another. We are re-formed into a different family, with a different culture, and a different perspective. Out of that place, like branches grafted into the Vine, can we bear fruit, living lives of effective grace that truly bless and impact the world around us (John 15).
So we'll gather. In small pockets and in large. Online and face-to-face. In houses and church buildings. Under trees, in parking lots, wherever.
Learning how to gather effectively is for another post.