After more than three months, lockdown is starting to lift – for some, at least. If we had our own building, we would now be able to open it for individual prayer, and we’d be starting to make plans for a socially-distanced return to meeting in person. As it is, while we’re actively monitoring the situation and thinking ahead, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to meet at the primary school before the start of the new school year. This gives us time to stop and think: when we do return, what will we have learned? What might we do differently, or not do at all?
If we look to the churches of Acts for our model, we see what they considered to be the basics of being a church:
- Meeting together in close unity1the Greek word (κοινωνία) is variously translated as participation, fellowship and contribution – clearly this is deeply-rooted friendship, not just waving at a distance!
- Listening to and learning from the teaching of the apostles
- Eating together in each other’s homes, during which time they would break bread
- Praying together
- Praising God
- Sharing resources with other believers according to need
- Serving each other in the way God had gifted them
- Receiving and responding to the words and work of the Holy Spirit
- New believers being baptised in water and in the Holy Spirit (usually simultaneously2We do read of some believers in Acts 8 who have received baptism in water, but not in the Spirit; also, in Acts 10, we see believers filled with the Spirit who are then subsequently baptised in water)
If we look beyond Acts to the letters of the New Testament, we might add to this:
- Confessing sins to one another3Not just to God: see James 5, 1 John 1
- Hospitality – communally welcoming and providing for visiting believers
- Actively overcoming difference (status, race, conscience) in love, forgiveness and mutual submission (to each other and to elders)
- Having a care for the community’s spiritual health (encouraging love and good deeds, rejecting false teaching, guarding each other’s morality)
- Giving generously to support church-planting and “spiritual parents”4Whether Paul was the first on the scene or whether he arrived and found believers already, he seems to have assumed a role of “spiritual father” to the church, and refers to himself as such
- Receiving input from people beyond the local church – those received as “spiritual parents” in multiple churches
- Being a place where unbelievers can experience true faith
What does this mean for our own fellowship? It’s great to see plenty there that’s familiar, because we’re already doing it. However, with this chance to pause and reshape, what should change? Is there an opportunity to simplify what we do? Here are a few of my early thoughts – and I’d love to hear yours.
One reflection is that our Zoom meetings end with “breakout rooms”, in which we don’t choose who we are put with, but chat and pray with a random selection of people. As a result, I am sure some people have talked to others who they would not normally have spoken to in a typical month of meetings in person. I wonder how we can capture some of that in how we meet in future: how could we change our setup to avoid sitting with the same people each week? There is the potential for closer fellowship if we think this through. Zoom has also partially levelled the playing field of those who make friends easily and those who are shy; of those who are gregarious and those who live alone. I am sure that we can do more to make the fellowship a true family for those who do not have family nearby. I’m particularly keen to hear from people in this situation – how can we be a better family to you?
The early church seems to have been in the habit of eating together very frequently – possibly daily. It also seems that they broke bread in this context: bread and wine were the major components of a meal, so the breaking of bread would normally have been a shared meal – a very special one, shared only by those who had faith in Christ. We read that they broke bread in each other’s homes, which introduces the aspect of hospitality. When we return to meeting in person, I wonder whether we ought to break bread more often than monthly, and whether we might find some way to connect it with offering hospitality in our homes.
I am struck that we have no regular practice of confessing our sins to each other. Last Sunday, it was great to have Gordon leading us in confessing our sins to God – however, that in itself was a rarity. I am not sure I’ve ever been in a church where confession to one another was part of a Sunday meeting, but I have certainly been in churches where there is a strong expectation that we do this in smaller groups midweek. We should think about where it does fit at WCC, and how we can commend it to everyone.
In a regular Sunday morning at the school, how much of our time do we spend listening? It was clearly the expectation of the early church that God would speak to them as they met – and that they would then weigh those words and respond to them accordingly. We have seen this process be very fruitful recently in deciding what to do about Holiday Club this summer, and it has led to strong decision-making and deep peace about the outcome. Acts sees these words of knowledge, words of wisdom and prophecies bringing correction, guidance, and encouragement, and Paul says that they’re a necessary tool for building up the body of Christ. When we start to gather again in person, I wonder how we can make space for people to reflect on what they think God is saying to our congregation, and to share it if they do? As something that is not part of our regular practice, this won’t simply start happening spontaneously, so we’ll have to consciously make space for it. I’m keen that we do so!
Lastly, we had to postpone plans to baptise some of our young people a few weeks into lockdown – and I look forward to returning to that later in the year. I would love to see new people being baptised both in water and in the Holy Spirit on a regular basis – those who are new to faith, but also anyone who has not yet received either baptism.
I have picked out a few reflections, and would be interested to hear yours. You can leave comments below – why not think, pray, and ask yourself what we could do differently when we return to meeting together in person?