the weblog of Alan Knox

Messy Meetings

Posted by on Aug 1, 2008 in edification, gathering | 6 comments

One of my favorite posts is one that I wrote about 18 months ago called “Messy Meetings“. People are messy; relationships are messy; and yet our church meetings are rarely messy. That tells me that our church meetings do not really reflect who we are. Instead, they are contrived and orchestrated and inauthentic. Even today, I think that messy meetings would be more beneficial to the body of Christ.

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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 inaudibly – 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 people 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?


6 Comments

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  1. 8-1-2008

    It’s all cosmetics. We see the command to have orderly gatherings as having to manufacture them and we employ ushers and others to ensure that things are always done prestine. So we put on a show for the people and for God all the while He may be looking the other way. Not saying He does not accept our praise because whatever we attempt to do is acceptable because we are in Christ, but the show and tell isn’t very pleasing. I think He made that clear in Malachi. My opinion by the way.

  2. 8-2-2008

    I think the problem is, we have an embedded set of assumptions that are cultural and not in the Spirit of Christ. These assumptions are generational, thus accepted and carried forward by us. The assumptions are basically a list of “should’s” and “must be’s”. These are both individual and corporate assumptions but identifying and breaking free from them is difficult as the beliefs are undergirded by two realities.

    1. Foundational beliefs and foundational assumptions are mixed together. The group will not move from either because, “God says this in His Bible!”

    2. At an individual level to be different from the expectations is too scary. Rather than face condemnation and judgment, we enter into pretense of being fully lined up with all the “should’s” and “must be’s”.

    Bottom line, individually we accept (selfishly enjoy?) the reduced responsibility of living by misconceptions based on God’s Word and accepted communally. Corporately, we don’t know how to deal lovingly with each other’s mess.

    The whole cultural moves forward in time with little or no effective change.

    How to move forward?

    One suggestion: Identify the nuances of condemnation and judgment within the group that keep people nodding “yes” when open discussion and the power of love is needed for change.

  3. 8-2-2008

    Lionel,

    If I were to be honest, there are many times when I’ve been “cosmetic” during the church meeting. I’ve “put on a show” as well. Its difficult to be real, especially when you think people will not accept you because of it. But, I think this is what God calls us to.

    David (ded),

    Yes! It is amazing how many times I’ve talked to people who let their assumptions lead them, but who are never willing to test their assumptions. This is what they’ve been taught, and they’re happy with that.

    -Alan

  4. 8-2-2008

    Much agreed Alan. I do it every Sunday and sometimes leave more discouraged than I came. It isn’t really church culture. That is why I used “we”! I guess I should have just used I.

  5. 8-2-2008

    Alan,

    I couldn’t count the number of times I have heard the assertion that,”The Bible is our rule for faith and practice”, but seldom observed the truths, the assertion states, put into practice.

    Many of the “assumptions” ‘ded’ speaks of are based on the limitations we place on our willingness to actually practice those truths.

    To practice these truths is to acknowledge that God holds sovereignty over us, and to deny any vestige of self-sovereignty.

    Sadly, most of the brethren I know would be disgusted at “the lack of order” in the “messy meetings” described in Scripture.

    God in control? He just might allow a messy meeting! We can’t have that can we? What will people say?

  6. 8-2-2008

    Lionel,

    Me too, brother.

    Aussie John,

    Isn’t it amazing that we quote “God is a God of order” from 1 Cor 14, but we wouldn’t recognize a meeting similar to what is described in 1 Cor 14 as an “ordered” meeting. I think, like you said, we want to control the “order” instead of allowing the Spirit to control the “order”.

    -Alan