Select Page

Meeting Together: What’s Missing?

by Chip Brogden
I once met regularly with some people in a house church that had adopted the philosophy of “no leaders.”  Everyone just came together once a week and talked about whatever occurred to them.  Supposedly this was what it meant to be “led by the Spirit.”

After a few weeks of this I noticed that the “Spirit” always seemed to “lead” them to talk about sports, or wine, or the churches they came out of.  Nothing of any spiritual consequence ever happened.

That all changed one evening when I was able to steer the conversation around towards something of spiritual significance.  I was able to ask some questions and generate interest in a particular topic.  Then, when I was asked, I opened my Bible, threw caution to the wind, ignored their unwritten rules about having “no leadership,”  and taught without interruption for forty-five minutes.  They listened in rapt attention.  When the meeting concluded, someone commented how good the meeting was – that they felt like we had actually fulfilled some purpose and learned something that would help us grow, as compared to previous meetings where nothing seemed to happen.

Did it occur to anyone that I had simply exercised spiritual leadership?  Not by lording over, or pushing them somewhere they didn’t want to go, or using a title or gift in order to bend them to my will.  I only shared my heart and gently guided the discussion towards a particular goal: that Christ would be increased, and the people would be brought one step closer to spiritual maturity.

Anyone could have done that.  The point is that no one else did.  And so I did.  The act of providing some leadership in this situation did not put me in charge.  It did not make me their pastor.  It did not give me any special privileges or say-so.  It was a simple expression of the heart of God for His people to make some progress towards a worthy goal of spiritual maturity.  And when it was presented to them in this manner, they naturally and eagerly responded to it without even realizing I had broken their rules.

I know that this group is not unusual, but is typical of many meetings and many groups I have experienced. Without a purpose – and without leadership to keep people aligned to that purpose – home fellowships are as spiritually unsatisfying as the institutional church services they aspire to break free from.

Fellowship, or Companionship?

“Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (Amos 3:3, NLT)

To walk together, we have to agree on what the goal is.  Before we discuss how to meet, where to meet, who to meet with, or what to do when meeting, we must answer the question of why meet at all?  What is the purpose?  What is the reason?  For many, the reason is fellowship.  This sounds like a spiritual motivation but it is largely self-seeking.  What we really  want, need, and crave is companionship with others.  We call it fellowship because it sounds spiritual and not as self-centered.  But there is a world of difference between fellowship and companionship.

The distinction is important, because if companionship is the goal, it is very unlikely that spiritual growth will occur.  Companionship is often mistaken for fellowship, and fellowship is often mistaken for spirituality.  That is a very deceptive notion.  If mere companionship was the goal, and spiritual growth was the end result of meeting together, then let us meet together as often as we can: let us stack the meetings one right after the other; and let us look to those who meet the most as being the most spiritually mature!

But in actual practice, we know that there is no correlation at all between the number of meetings attended and the spiritual maturity of the attendees.  It seems instead that the spiritually immature are the ones most in need of a meeting, and the quickest to fall away when the meetings are not available.

People will gather, and people will meet, and people will seek out the company of other people.  This is the human condition; it is not a spiritual requirement, and the meeting itself will not lead to anything of spiritual value, unless we decide and agree with one another, from the very beginning, as to why we gather.

Why do we meet?  What is the purpose?  What is the goal?  Without establishing this from the beginning, the meeting meanders.  Nothing of any spiritual consequence takes place, and the meeting itself is usually dominated by whoever is the loudest, or the most talkative, or the most needy.

So why should we gather? The real purpose for meeting together should be to grow spiritually; and as we grow spiritually together, true spiritual fellowship with one another is the inevitable outcome.

Only Carnal Christians Reject Spiritual Leadership

“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us” (3 John 9).

How interesting that those who reject all forms of leadership will also say that it is best to gather with no agenda, with no purpose, with no plan, with no goal, apart from a general notion of “fellowship,” trusting that the Spirit will simply lead and direct the meeting.  Again, this sounds so noble and spiritual!  But in the real world, these heady ideas simply fall apart.   Why?  Because it assumes that everyone who gathers is “in the Spirit.”  It assumes that everyone attending the meeting is able to be led by the Spirit.  Actually, most people who attend a meeting are carnal. They are not in the Spirit when they gather, they are in the flesh.  They are not spiritually mature, they are spiritually immature.  That is not a statement of condemnation, it is just reality.  But that reality must be recognized and acknowledged before anyone can grow beyond it. That is one reason why both the carnal and the spiritual must meet together – to grow, to learn, to be encouraged, to receive something that will help them in their journey.

But the carnal must cooperate with the spiritual.  Without spiritually mature people to assist and facilitate spiritual growth, the carnal simply remain carnal.  The meeting is an exercise in futility – the blind leading the blind.  Or refusing to be led at all, believing that “Jesus is our leader,” and not understanding that the carnal mind is enmity against God, and those who are in the flesh cannot be led by the Spirit.

The carnal shun leadership, thinking this will somehow make them more spiritual than more organized believers.  Or, thinking that anything smacking of leadership must mean an institutional hierarchy.  While rightly rejecting the hierarchy, they go to the opposite extreme of having “no leaders”  – as if leadership itself is evil.  This reflects a lack of experience with what real spiritual leadership is all about.  It is understandable, given all the poor examples of leadership and all the abuses that have come from carnal religious leaders.  But the solution is not to disavow the principle of leadership, but rather, to understand what true spiritual leadership is.  What does it look like?  How should it function?

What if we could have all the benefits of spiritual leadership without any of the negatives we have come to associate with leadership?  What if we could welcome those gifted by God to guide, facilitate, serve, help keep things on track and on target, and assist when problems arise – without being self-serving, arrogant, or unapproachable?

Let us pray for our eyes to be opened to those servant-leaders who are sent to us for our spiritual edification.   Every meeting has an agenda, stated or not.  Every group has leaders, recognized or not.  Pretending there is no agenda and no leader is naïve.  Far better to acknowledge the reality, and then come to a mutual understanding and agreement as to what the agenda is going to be, and who is responsible to facilitate things and keep them on track. It is not unspiritual to decide in advance, “This is the purpose for which we are gathered; this is the goal we are working towards; this is the result we seek.”  Let us be in agreement about this before we come together.  Then, when we come together, there is no question or difficulty about the purpose.  It automatically puts everyone on the same page.  It helps to keep things from drifting, or meandering, or disintegrating into meaninglessness.  And it automatically filters out the ones who have ulterior motives or different goals.

Jesus might have said “make fellowships,” or “build churches,” or “conduct meetings.”  But He said “make disciples,” which is more labor-intensive than anything else He could have said.  Spiritually mature disciples of Jesus will not be made without setting spiritual maturity as a goal, and then working towards the fulfillment of that goal.  If we have this goal in mind when we meet, and if we welcome the assistance of true spiritual leaders, the meeting can provide something of tremendous value to the Kingdom of God and to each member of the Ekklesia.

16 Comments

  1. Paula.harries

    This is a very helpful and timely article, thank you. I have been waiting on the Lord, asking Him to open up new opportunities for fellowship. Two weeks ago, things started to happen. Soon a small meeting will gather in my home. I in no way want to follow a pattern of meeting which is more like a tete a tete, with tea and biscuits thrown in, enough time has been wasted this way, in the past. I feel your article has clarified the way forward.Everything resonates with what I feel in my heart.I do not want to be the person who messes up this God given opportunity to enjoy real fellowship, so I thank you Chip, for this insightful and timely article. The Lord bless you.

    Reply
  2. Brian

    Went through the same experience, Chip. Wanted to have fellowship meetings outside the IC, but with no agenda. No “pastor” person (after we tried that first). Tried to let the Spirit direct the conversation and have “body ministry,” but wandered all over creation. Since then we’ve found the most effective meetings when we have them are Bible studies. Need the word to be taught. We use the Kay Arthur’s Precepts inductive study books. We each study the word and do our homework and answer the book’s promptings and come and discuss our insights and revelations. Opens up lots of opportunities to discuss other topics and needs, also. Always leave blessed.

    Reply
    • sherry

      Brian,
      I have also studied with Kay Arthur, as Precept Ministries in Chattanooga, Tn. is 15 minutes from my house. She has a bible study group on Tuesday’s for local women. She teaches us herself as she is broadcasting her radio station. This is a 2-3 hour teaching with 2 hour studies for daily homework. She is a great leader for women and children. Her son teaches more know and men are coming more, but Kay has a special gift from the Lord in how she is able to put you at the feet of Christ. This is her only desire as a leader. I have learned more from her study groups than at Church, Suday School, and other bible studies I have attended. I have not been as much since Kay’s husband has been sick and she care’s for him more now, but she does radio still. I’m thankful Chip has put this teaching on today as it is true there is so much carnality that the Spirit of God is quenched. I do agree that not all who come to the studies and meetings are on the same spiritual page and it is very hard to gain spiritual perspective. I really do better to go alone in a very quiet place with the Lord to hear from Him. This is where my spiritual growth has taken place on a deeper level. Kay’s studies can take you to a deeper level with Christ as long as you don’t get caught up in the markings and technique’s that she uses with scripture to keep you focused on Christ and His word. Good Luck with your studies and spiritual growth in the Lord and may He be magnified highly.

      Reply
  3. Paul Harbin

    Amen.

    Reply
  4. Susan

    Chip, you always seems to put into words the ponderings and thoughts of my heart.

    This one is a good balance, as it addresses what goes wrong when there is no leadership of the Spirit when people meet together. Which is perhaps, one of the main reasons I’ve been cautious about pursuing doing anything since being led by Holy Spirit to leave the institutional church 6 years ago … in addition to 30+ years of institutional training having to ‘unlearn’ a lot of ‘traditions of men’ and allow Holy Spirit to take me through some spiritual detox in preparation.

    As you state — making disciples is labor intensive. Yet, I can no longer disregard Jesus’ command. Hoping in 2014 He will direct my husband and I to embark on a new journey as seek to gather with other believers desiring to grow up in Him.
    Thanks again for all that you do.

    Reply
  5. eve

    i attend a housegroup with a leader and we have a bible study time, it is not from my church…now that i have joined the salvation army recently, but in this housegroup we take the time to read the word in full, ie not just the scriptures that meets the message wanted to be given; we study each line in turn and we get such a time of blessing from them, and we have open discussion times with time given for any of us to ask or answer questions. It is a place of blessing and one that i would be reluctant to leave.

    Church is a group of believers who desire to grow closer to the Word.

    ej x

    Reply
  6. liz

    Hi Chip,
    this article was one of the best ones I have read (including why does fellowship elude us). I really appreciate you sharing in some ways your experiences for good or bad since living free of the institution. We tend to hear so much about coming out but the struggle has been (for us) what it now looks like. I desperately miss community and fellowship and corporate worship but we don’t want to create something that suits us, instead we have waited. We have been out on our own for a year and half and have preteen children and there is a lot of unknowns and its so tempting to just ‘do’ something for the sake of it. I love reading what you write in developing maturity and fellowship and hunger for more of God (not just conversation) whilst sitting outside the norm.

    Reply
  7. kenneth dawson

    wow chip that was excellent and it went right along with what happened in our gathering this morning-I talked to the people about my problems im having in my relationship with my daughters–then later one lady looked right at me and said–from my experiences with my daughter I have learned not to always preach the gospel at her but to just let her know that I really do love her and to wait on the lord to open her up to her readiness to hear the gospel–I was truly ministered to by the spirit of the lord–I call that true companionship.

    Reply
  8. Pandora Brinker

    – Praise The Lord.

    And Thanks.

    Reply
    • Der

      Simply thhis is wonderfull!
      may God increase his wisdom up on all of us to share and excercise such announted words of God.
      Be blessed Chip.

      Reply
  9. Lynne Clark

    that is a wonderful and timely message and I agree wholeheartedly, I belonged to a home fellowship after been lead outside the normal church, the time with the group of only 2 or three met each week, sometimes more and we made sure that the purpose was to glorify the Lord and see that his name was glorified and magnified, sometimes we used music, other times we prayed in the spirit and then the Lord lead us into what to share, more often than not, someone was ministered to prophetically and everyone was encouraged. I sure miss that time and am praying that I can have that again, not exactly the same, but as the Lord leads and I am happy if some one is wiling to lead the time so the name of Jesus is magnified

    Reply
  10. Jim

    Chip,
    I really enjoyed the article and can relate to it having tried house church for about 4 years , then just walking w God n meeting w people in more real relationship ways n then going back to a new church plant. We had a group w some former pastors in the IC that would tend to talk too much and seemed to need everyone to bow down to their wisdom n not question anything they said, that’s what they were used to. If people can learn to let the Spirit truly lead the gathering and come with something from God that they can share, the spontaneity of an every member sharing a revelation of Christ to me seemed more life giving than a verse by verse planned teaching controlled by one man and everyone looking to him for answers. There were mature believers who would take responsibility for keeping it Christ centered, but it seemed more alive when there was freedom n spontaneity n people came prepared to share. Now though I just want to focus on knowing Christ making him known n loving people. Not satisfied back in church n may need to leave again n just simply walk w him n trust him for connections. Bless you I love your teachings

    Reply
  11. Hannah

    I am an immigrant from the East to the West groping around for the reality that I was used to as a child in believing in Jesus Christ and His Word and His lifestyle on earth. Since we are made to believe that the West has all the answers to spiritual growth with its institutions, denominations, movements, etc, etc! I became totally frustrated and confused but never gave up, since Jesus said , ” Seek and you shall find.” At a bookstore in Australia, while visiting my cousin, I came across a book by Watchman Nee; and that was the beginning for my spiritual growth at home, with his books, my bible and concordance, I found my rest In Christ and understood the verse, “Come unto ME, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Today, i thank God for the internet, looking for websites and blog sites with like minded people that I can ‘fellowship’ with. I came across your article this morning and knew right away in my spirit, that I could agree with you because East and West could only meet in Christ. At this point, I am ready to open my home for ‘fellowship in the Spirit’, not for a ‘social,’ but to share Christ, to edify, encourage and pray for one another as we are instructed to do. I request your prayers for the same. Thanks Chip and keep up the good work that God has started in you.

    Reply
  12. Nancy Williams

    Very good article, Chip, and very needed. Thank you.

    Reply
  13. Stephen Penney

    Very wise ;o)

    Reply
  14. CS

    This is a very insightful article. I left the last two Bible studies I began attending because they were both taken over by people who needed the attention on them and who had to have others acknowledge how spiritual they were. We could not focus on Jesus because of the corrosive effects of people who needed the focus upon them. Apart from a focus upon Jesus nothing changes and little more than wasting of time is accomplished by meetings sidetracked in such manner.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *