the weblog of Alan Knox

Messy Meetings…

Posted by on Feb 16, 2007 in edification, gathering | 28 comments

Relationships can be messy. We all know this. We have experienced “messy” relationships, and Scripture tells us that relating to people will not be easy. If relationships were easy and maintenance free, then we would not need “Spirit power” in order to love people. If relationships were not messy, then we would not need “Spirit power” in order to bear with one another with patience. In fact, one of the amazing things about our new life in Christ is that we can now – finally – relate to people who we would not naturally be able to relate to. We can now relate to them supernaturally, because we can now relate to God.

Of course, we do not always live in the supernatural. We do not always walk in a worthy manner. We do not always follow the Spirit. We have seen what happens in our lives and in the lives of others when this happens. Things get messy. But, we all know – or at least, we all SHOULD know – that we do not turn our backs on people when their lives get messy.

But, what about during times when the church gathers together? I believe that Scripture teaches that all believers should have the opportunity to interact with one another when the church gathers. This interaction should always be led by the Spirit, motivated by love, and for the purpose of edifying (building up to maturity) other followers of Jesus Christ. I believe God works through the gifts of all in order to grow the entire body of Christ into maturity in Christ Jesus, and I believe that this should happen anytime the church gathers.

But, what happens when one of those “participants” speaks when not led by the Spirit? What happens when someone is not motivated by love, but contributes anyway? What happens when someone acts, but their purpose is not to build up the body? What happens when someone is hurting, and they let the church know about their hurt? What happens when someone is afraid, and they voice their fear? What happens when someone disagrees?

In other words, what happens when things get messy during the meeting of the church?

There are several options in this scenario. The first option – and the one usually taken throughout most of church history, whether people realize it or not – is to limit the amount of participation during the meeting of the church. If only certain people are allowed to speak or sing or pray or contribute, then there is less chance for things to get messy. This is usually done in the name of “order”. However, I think there is an inherent problem with this solution. For one thing, this solution suggests – even inaudibly – that only certain people are qualified to contribute and only certain people are necessary for the proper functioning of the church. Also, this solution suggests – even inadibly – that the event of the meeting is more important than the people who are meeting. This option also suggests that “messy” relationships between people are equivalent to disorder, and are thus not proper for times when the church gathers.

Another option is to allow the mess to occur, then trust the Spirit of God to use the people of God to lovingly care for the “messy” people – which, can be me or you at times, if we are honest. Thus, even when the church meets, there is a need for “Spirit empowered” love and “Spirit empowered” patience.

What are the implications of this option? Well, first of all, we have to admit that we do not know what will happen when the church gathers together. Things may not go “as planned”. Thus, we have to admit to ourselves and to others that our plan – if we have one – is not the most important thing. Instead, the people become more important than the event. We also must – truly – trust the Holy Spirit to work in and through his people, even during the meeting of the church. We must admit that we do not have all the answer, and that God may not choose to work through us during this meeting (regardless of our title, position, role, function, gifting, etc.). God may choose to work through someone else. He may even choose to work through someone’s mess – if we allow him to.

This is very difficult to do – it is even difficult to think. Even after thinking through this idea of “church” for several years, I still have this habitual understanding that I should be quiet (thus, reverent) when I come together with the church (unless, of course, I have been scheduled to speak). There is also this traditional idea that “order” means “according to plan”.

So, what are we going to do with “messy” people and “messy” meetings? Can we trust God enough to allow him to work through us and others during the meeting, even when things are out of our hands? Can we allow peple to hurt, cry, doubt, complain, disagree, etc. while the church meets without rushing them off to a back room or asking them to leave altogether? Can we allow the church to be the church to one another even when the church is meeting?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 2-16-2007

    Great Post,

    I have been in too many “messy” situations in the ministry.

    I agree, we must not restrict particiaption of God’s people.

    That being said, I have come to the point where I do not allow anything that is carnal or in your words “messy,” to go unchecked. As the Shepherd it is my responsibility to Convince, rebuke and exhort. Over the last couple of years, I attempt to as loving as I can, call people on their behavior or comments, Privately.

  2. 2-16-2007

    I have been on a kind of “blog fast.” Given a deadline by my wife and Professor to get something done on my DMin project.

    Sorry I did not respond to earlier comments left.


  3. 2-16-2007

    I believe this is one of the best reasons for the “two-winged church.” Messy situations are best handled in small-group meetings. However, there are certain things that happen specifically in large-group meetings that, in my opinion, it would be a big loss to do away with. However, if you let the large-group meetings get to out of hand, manipulative people begin to dominate, and no one ends up being edified. That’s why we need both.

  4. 2-16-2007


    Thank you for the comments, and welcome back. I hope you were able to get your work done for your DMin project. What is your project?

    You said: “I have come to the point where I do not allow…” and “As the Shepherd it is my responsibility to convince, rebuke, and exhort.” I’m wondering, can you share with me Scripture that points to pastors as being more responsible than other believers for what happens when the church gathers together?


    You have brought up the idea of the “two-winged church” a couple of times now. Just as I asked Tim, can you point me to Scripture that specifies different approaches to different sized groups of believers?


  5. 2-16-2007


    What comes to mind off the top of my head are: Acts 2 “the temple court” and “house to house;” the prayer meeting in Acts 12 where Peter was knocking on the door; the Lecture Hall of Tyrranus in Acts 19; the meeting in Troas in Acts 20 where Paul “talked on and on” and Eutychus fell out of the window; and the meetings described in 1 Cor. 14.26 where each one had a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.

    It is more an indirect inference than an overt teaching, but I see there are certain group dynamic contexts that facilitate what was going on in each of these different meetings.

  6. 2-16-2007


    I agree that these are all different meetings of the church. The church gathered together in the temple courts, in houses, and in the school of Tyrannus. These were certainly different sizes of meetings. I am not asking about that – I agree with you on that. My question is this: Where does Scripture teach that a meeting of a larger group of believers should have a different purpose, different activities, different atmosphere, different leadership approach, etc. than a meeting of a smaller group of believers?

    To ask this a different way: In the “two-winged church” approach that you mentioned, what happens in the “small group” and cannot happen in the “large group” and vice-versa? Please point these differences out from Scripture.


  7. 2-16-2007


    Very interesting post. I agree with many of the conclusions you have drawn. Frankly, I would prefer a “messy meeting” than a formal structure that, in my opinion, does not really represent any of the participants lives and true feelings.


    You said, “there are certain things that happen specifically in large-group meetings that, in my opinion, it would be a big loss to do away with.” What do you think some of those losses might be? I recently posed a similar question to Maël in his recent blog about thinking in community.


    P.S. Alan, what about Robert’s Rules of Conduct :).

  8. 2-16-2007


    I know of nothing but a formal meeting. I would love to be a part of any gathering of the church where people felt free to be real.


  9. 2-16-2007

    great post and conversation allin.
    i would tend to agree with allen because the churches that i have been to since becoming a Christian seem to be event orientated. They either go well, or come off well, or were poorly done or attended or the like, and are judged successful or not from that. What it appears to be is a mirror of our culture of style over substance and a corporate model. Most are not allowed to be on stage because they are not qualified, a woman, a child, too old, or too dumb. that is only my experience with staged church. but from what i have seen, an interactive church can be more sanctifying as people interact with the group and the priesthood of believers holds them accountable for the way they act. Otherwise, church gatherings becomes a spectator event instead of interactive and edifying and sanctifying. this is all a mute point because it seems to be based only on my experience though. but at least in that experience for me, church seems more real or gripping or sanctifying or something i can’t describe. This all comes from someone who primarily stays in the OT so take it for what its worth. thanks again allan. eventually i may spell your name right.

  10. 2-16-2007


    I was trying to come up with a way to misspell your name, but with only two letters, I didn’t have much choice. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this. I wish more people would join this discussion.


  11. 2-16-2007


    As I said before, I believe it will be hard to point to overt teaching on this from Scripture, but I do believe that common sense, and liberty in how church is done (which I believe can be demonstrated from Scripture) would lead one towards the point of view I am advocating. It’s kind of like the Church of Christ, and musical instruments. You can’t demonstrate it in the New Testament, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing.

    Alan & Lew,

    In a large-group setting, it is more conducive for an exceptionally gifted teacher to use his gifts, allowing more people to benefit from the edification provided. Also, I know this is subjective, but I think there is something special about large-group worship in song before the Lord that is hard to reproduce in small group settings. Also, the large group is a way for many believers to come together to demonstrate the unity we have in Christ in a different way than what is possible in exclusively small groups. Also, the attraction of a larger group can sometimes be important in providing a viable witness to the non-believing community, especially in contexts like here in Spain, where evangelicals are often viewed as a sect.

  12. 2-16-2007


    I think there are specific passages of Scripture that helps us see how God expects the church to interact with one another (for example, Acts 2:42-47, 1 Cor 12-14, Romans 12 (and the following verses), etc.). However, I do not see any indication that certain things are for smaller groups of believers and other things are for larger groups of believers. Perhaps I’m missing something, but so far no one has been able to point to a difference. Instead, the difference between “large groups” and “small groups” are usually relegated to “efficiency” or “pragmatics”. I am not ignoring efficiency or pragmatics, however, if Scripture teaches us how to act toward one another when we gather – and I think Scripture does teach us that – then we should obey Scripture before we turn to efficiency and pragmatics.

    So, I’m still looking for Scripture that teaches us that God expects different things from believers when they meet with larger groups than smaller groups.


  13. 2-16-2007

    Alan –

    I’ve been reading the comments and thinking about this post today. What keeps coming to my mind is the Casting Crowns’ song Stained Glass Masquerade. In case you, or anyone else, doesn’t know the lyrics:

    Is there anyone that fails
    Is there anyone that falls
    Am I the only one in church today,
    feelin so small

    Cause when I take a look around
    Everybody seems so strong
    I know they’ll soon discover
    That I don’t belong

    So I tuck it all away,
    like everything’s okay
    If I make them all believe it,
    maybe I’ll believe it too
    So with a painted grin,
    I play the part again
    So everyone will see me
    the way that I see them

    Are we happy plastic people
    Under shiny plastic steeples
    With walls around our weakness
    And smiles to hide our pain

    But if the invitation’s open
    To every heart that has been broken
    Maybe then we close the curtain on our stained glass masquerade

    Is there anyone who’s been there
    Are there any hands to raise
    Am I the only one who’s traded
    In the altar for a stage

    The performance is convincing
    And we know every line by heart
    Only when no one is watching
    Can we really fall apart

    But would it set me free
    If I dared to let you see
    The truth behind the person
    That you imagine me to be

    Would your arms be open
    Or would you walk away
    Would love of Jesus
    Be enough to make you stay

    This reminds me that some of the most beautiful times I have had with the body of Christ have been when the meetings got really messy, both in large and small gatherings. The lyrics to this song are so good, so insightful. I think we have traded in the altar for a stage, the performance is conving and we do know every line by heart. I am guilty, I must confess.

    I must also confess that it’s sometimes tiring to be a pastor’s wife and live in a glass house and have so many expectations put on you. I have allowed those things to affect me in a negative way. I often hear this song and think, “I’m just going to do what the song says – I’m going to dare to let you see the truth behind the person you imagine me to be – perhaps that will set us both free.”

    That may not have been exactly what you were thinking, but it’s what has been on my mind today related to this post. I am reminded that I am not walking in the freedom that is mine in Jesus Christ.

    Stop picking on me! 😉


  14. 2-16-2007

    If we allow things to get messy in our corporate gatherings then we’ll be late to Piccadilly on Sunday…Can you hear the nursery “servants” if things are allowed to get messy causing church to go past 12:00??? (OK sorry…)

    It’s interesting to me that our small group gathering in our home is at least 3 hours and our corporate gatherings are 2 to 2 1/2 hours…maximum. It does get messy in our corporate gatherings from time to time, it’s always messy in our home groups. In my opinion the small groups (that we have anyway) are more like the biblical examples of church in the NT…

    Be blessed…

  15. 2-16-2007


    I have heard that song before, but I was not thinking of it for this post. Thank you for adding it to our discussion. “Stained-glass saints” are the opposite of what Scripture describes as the people of God. I pray that the Spirit will free you to reveal who you really are to God’s people – God already knows, and He loves and accepts you. Perhaps this is true freedom.


    Nursery… nursery… hmmm… perhaps that’s one of those “messy” issues that we don’t want interfering with our meeting?

    I’ve heard several people say that the “small group” is more like the NT church – where true fellowship is found. What does that say about the “large group”? If it is not like the NT church, what is it like? What is it?


  16. 2-16-2007

    Alan, thanks again for challenging us to love the body of Christ. I admit I am afraid of doing church this way because when people open up/share problems/confess sins/etc…. we have a responsibility to love people in all those situations – which is really really difficult. Right now, the way pastors are expected to do so much of the “loving” on their own, this type of mess is just that, a mess. However, if the church was standing together as a church, this wouldn’t be messy at all, but it would bring the church closer together. If people didn’t wait for the pastor to pray for someone else, to meet a need, to counsel a brother, to rebuke someone humbly, to encourage with a psalm or hymn – first of all, we wouldn’t need a church staff, teaching elders would be taken off their pedestal (or pulpit), and I think Christ would be honored. Thank you for following God in leading us toward a better understanding of the church.

    David, I also do not see anything in the Scriptures supporting the idea of a two-winged church, though I understand and appreciate your rationale. A problem I have with the small groups though is that the groups are often chosen according to age/occupation/marital status, this is just silly as it separates exactly those categories which should be mixing in order to encourage one another (married-single, parents-nonparents, kids-adults) The church should just meet and be the church wherever they are.

  17. 2-17-2007


    Welcome back to my blog. I appreciate your comments here. I know that there are many people thinking through what it means to be the church. The implications are far-reaching, and I don’t think I understand it yet.

    There is one thing in particular that I think you are spot on here. If believers were acting as they should toward one another, then “messiness” would not be an issue, and “messiness” would not be considered strange or disruptive.


  18. 2-17-2007

    Alan, it is killing me more and more not to have found you prior till now. This is excellent. And, I appreciate the interaction in these comments as well. Much to be added from reading them, which is what good blogging should facilitate.

    I like the idea of allowing for Messy Meetings. It also could, arguably, make it easier to sense when the Spirit is moving. Anything can be faked by the great Faker, but I don’t think we should let fear of disorder govern our faith in God’s word about the gathering of believers.

    You are definitely making me think! I wouldn’t completely discount David’s comments, however (not that you are).

  19. 2-17-2007


    Thanks for joining the discussion. I agree that the comments add much to the topic,and they are usually more valuable than what I originally posted.

    Your thoughts about “faking” during the meeting of the church are right. “Faking” (to seem better or worse / more or less than you are) is never from God. We should not set up an environment where people are encouraged to “fake” who they are or where they are with God.

    I also agree that David’s comments should not be discounted. David always brings a wealth of wisdom and experience to the discussion, and I always look forward to interacting and learning from him.


  20. 2-17-2007

    You said-
    “I’ve heard several people say that the “small group” is more like the NT church – where true fellowship is found. What does that say about the “large group”?”

    In my opinion and experience, the large church gatherings have become something that they were probably never intended to be. There’s a dynamic in a large group (perhaps it’s simply less intimacy) that seems to build relational “walls” which keep the group from being real. When we allow ourselves to be transparent in our small groups (6-8 people) we tend to take 2-3 hours just ministering to and edifying one another. With 150 people this would probably be less “practical”…I’m not saying that’s okay, just trying to give a “why” to explain the “what”…

    We’ve tried breaking down our large group into small groups or prayer circles, but the prayer requests are usually “churchy” for the most part and rarely does any real ministry take place.

    The second part of your question was-
    “If it is not like the NT church, what is it like? What is it?”

    Good question. I really don’t know. I’ll have to think that through a bit… What IS it like???

    Be blessed…

  21. 2-17-2007


    You’ve pointed out the dilemma that I am facing in my own life. Scripture tells us that we are to relate to one another in order to know one another and care for one another and be able to teach/admonish/exhort one another – not in a nebulous “everybody needs this”, but in a personal way. That happens in a small group but not a large group. Instead, in a large group we are told that we have better music, more talented teachers, and more resources. Which is required by Scripture – close relationships or better music/teachers/resources? Which do we emphasize? Why?

    Sorry about all the questions… I really am continuing to work through all of this.


  22. 2-18-2007


    Awhile back, I mentioned to you on another post the book “Assembling Together” by Watchman Nee. While I definitely would not agree with all of Nee’s conclusions about everything, he is someone who has written a lot about ecclesiology, and always interacts a lot with what the Scripture actually says. Thus, there are almost always some good insights to be gleaned, if you are prepared to throw out some “bathwater” at the same time.

    I need to go back and skim through “Assembling Together” again before answering you more thoroughly on your insistence on looking to Scripture for finding justification for different types of church meetings. If I remember correctly, Nee has some interesting and helpful things to say on this point. I’ll try to get back in the not too distant future with some more thoughts on this, after I find a bit of time to skim through Nee again.

  23. 2-18-2007


    Thanks for recommending Nee again. I have not read much from him, but I have heard good things. As far as reading carefully and not sticking to everything that Nee says, I think that’s true of all writers – at least, all human writers. I’m looking forward to what you find.


  24. 2-18-2007

    Again, more good questions. I have been unable to put a finger on what our Sunday morning services are… This is troubling. (so thanks! You’ve given me ANOTHER subject to rack my brain with!!)

    you asked-
    “Which is required by Scripture – close relationships or better music/teachers/resources? Which do we emphasize? Why?”

    Relationships…real and intimate relationships. Better teachers, music and resources are not necessarily indicative of excellent ministries or more biblically acceptable churches. But often these are the things that we emphasize in the institutional church. I don’t know why… But I’m starting to ask.

    Be blessed…

  25. 2-18-2007


    I’m asking as well. I love good teaching and good music. My preferences do not equal God’s requirements though. Thus, my struggle…


  26. 11-3-2008

    Hi everybody,

    I came accross this post looking for some answers to what you have labeled “messy meetings”. I just didn’t have a word for it.

    Your post and the relpy’s have been interseting. But I did not see any actual applications, just general idea’s.

    I would like to give a couple of actual applications and see if any of you can help.

    My problem is not with “messy meetings”, my problem is as a small fellowship it is always the “same mess”. When we open up for a time of sharing it is always the same people sharing and most of the time it has nothing to do with glorifying God or edifying anyone else. Any help?

    Second is we have a new person comming, he has only been with us for a month. He has shared every Sunday, even the first time he came. I don’t know him and have no idea what he might say. Most of what he has shared so far has been a negitive influence on a postive meeting Any help?

    By the way, when we are sharing we always mention that what each has to share should always be for edification, but this seems to be be of to avail.

    I don’t mind meetings being messy. But what good does messy do if the meeting goes an extra hour and God is not maginified and no one is helped or edified in any way?

    I agree with timothy and I do not want to restrict Gods people but how best do we do that?

    Do you allow anyone to share, new or old, then wait until after the damage is done to clean up, or are there some peramitors you let evryone know about before you let the mess begin?

    Any thoughts would be great.


  27. 11-3-2008


    In the past, when someone seemed to speak just to speak, I would talk to them privately to remind them both of the reason for speaking in the meeting (edification), and the necessity of allowing others the opportunity to speak as well. If someone continued to speak inappropriately, then I think it might be necessary to say something publicly. That hasn’t happened for us yet.

    If you want to talk about more specific examples, please send me an email. You’ll find my email address in the left sidebar of my blog.


  28. 12-12-2011

    How about somewhere in the middle? Set a stage of freedom with guidelines. People will know they have the freedom to allow the Spirit to move but with some established guidelines that enable order.


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