Facilitating a Spirit-led gathering: Idea #4

First Corinthians 2:16 says this: 

 For,    “Who can know the Lord’s thoughts?

      Who knows enough to teach him?”

   But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.

The body of Christ often has the mind of Christ.  It is not something that is experienced so much individually as corporately.  Together, we have the mind of Christ.

Therefore, if we are facilitating a gathering there are some key questions that we can ask.  For example, someone may mention a need.  The person helping to facilitate may say, "Does anyone have any sense as to what the Lord wants us to do next?"  Someone suggests, "Maybe we should pray about it."  "Do others sense the same thing?"  Usually there is agreement, and so you go ahead and pray.  But maybe someone will suggest that you do something practical.  Does this have agreement from those there too?

Here are some other situations when a question may help to bring out what the Lord wants from the body.

Someone reads a verse of Scripture:  "Does anyone have a sense of what Jesus is trying to say to us through this passage?"

A time of prolonged silence (sometimes the silence itself is from the Lord):  "Is the Lord saying anything to anyone as we listen to him here?"

A picture or prophecy: "Let's weigh this and see what the Lord is saying to us through it."  Or, "Does this picture speak to anyone here about a situation in their life?"

Questions to the body will often lead to following the Holy Spirit.



Learning to follow the Holy Spirit with not-yet believers: Idea #3

We love to start with groups of people the majority of whom do not yet know Jesus.  Right from the start we have them talking about what God is doing in their lives (a concept know as prevenience–God is at work in the heart of the unbeliever before they know him) and praying, and we encourage them to listen to what God might be saying to them.  I have never known any unbeliever to have a problem with this, and if they are encouraged to do this before they become believers, it is never a problem later on.

In the past few months I have come across some ideas for working with new groups by David Watson that facilitate this.  He asks each person in the group to share:

  • What has gone well lately that gave you joy?
  • What has caused you, or someone you know, stress lately?

As people share, it is easy to move from the first question into saying, "Let's praise God for this,"  or "Let's talk to God about this situation."

You may ask, "Is this following the Holy Spirit?"  If someone brings up a problem, do you think God wants to deal with it?  Of course he does.  And it is easy to ask people to give any impressions they think God may be giving them as they pray about the situation too.

An example of how teaching can be led by the Holy Spirit: Idea #2

The comments below were a response by April Sellers  on the Arkadelphia Simple Church Network site (www.arkadelphiahousechurch.com) to my post on listening to the Lord in meetings.  

We don't often talk about teaching in house church.  Within simple churches, we most commonly learn from the Word in the context of an interactive Bible study where everybody participates and is learning from the Word together.  But 1 Corinthians 14:26 does talk about teaching.  So how do we handle it within the simple church context if the Lord gives us a "teaching"?

I thought that April's comments were a very interesting example of the "teaching" mentioned in this verse, and a great example of following the Holy Spirit.

"I recently read this great, short article by Felicity Dale on how to hear God in the context of a gathering. The article is really short, but I’ll summarize it anyway. If we really want to let Jesus be the head of His church, we have to let Him lead the meetings.  The way to do this in a meeting is to listen to the Holy Spirit, fully engage in the meetings and share the spontaneous thoughts, songs, scriptures, etc.  that God gives you. Don’t try to force it by thinking, “Hmm…what kind of song or scripture would go best with this?” Just share what God gives you.

For example, at our meeting last Sunday, I (April) brought a teaching that God have given me earlier in the week. As I was sharing this teaching,  different people would speak up and share scriptures, insight, convictions and experiences that the Lord brought to mind from the teaching I was sharing or from something else that someone said.  We had a really great time as we learned from and encouraged each other. I wasn’t worried that we “strayed” from what I had brought to teach. Actually, I hoped that would happen. I hoped that God would take what I had brought and weave it together with what everyone else had shared.  God did weave it together, and he built us together, as a church, in the process.  As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of this scripture:

When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (1st Corinthians 14:26)"


Ideas on how to follow the Holy Spirit in a gathering: #1

This is the first of several posts that look at how to follow the Holy Spirit when we gather.

Everyone spends some time (10 minutes or more) on their own seeking God for what he would like them to bring. It might be a Bible passage, a thought, a picture, a song, a prayer need etc. Then as each one makes their contribution, respond to it and see what the Lord does. Is there a theme in what people have brought that you can follow?

We have seen God move in remarkable ways when we have done this.  For example, one time a group of us had gathered just to listen to God.  As each one came back and shared something, one of the prophetic people in our midst condensed what each person said, and presented it at the end as a prophetic "tapestry" from the Lord to us.  Even the person who said, "I got nothing" was included!

How do you hear God in the context of a gathering?

Jesus wants to be Lord of our times together.  He is not the honored guest but the Master of Ceremonies.  If we are to follow the Holy Spirit in a gathering, it is important to know how to hear him in a group context.  How do you know what is the Holy Spirit and what is your own thoughts?

The best way we know of to do this is to participate fully in what is going on, making it your own vehicle of communication with the Lord.  Then what comes spontaneously to mind (a flow of spontaneous thoughts) is likely to be the Holy Spirit communicating with you.  So for example, if someone is giving a praise report or praising God in prayer, and a certain song comes to mind, that is likely to be the Holy Spirit.  So you suggest that the group sings it (or if you have the confidence, start the song).  Then maybe that song prompts someone else to bring a word of prophecy, or reminds them of a Scripture.  As one and another trusts the Lord and speaks out as he prompts, the Holy Spirit leads.

What doesn't work so well is to sit there thinking, "I wonder if anyone is going to say anything.  Maybe I'll lead out in prayer," or "Is there a song that would fit in with that Scripture?"  These are not spontaneous thoughts, and although the Holy Spirit can lead in that way, he is much more likely to do so as we join in fully with what the Spirit is currently doing.



What are Spirit-led meetings

Chris Jefferies posted the following comment to the last post I wrote, and it reminded me so much of when we learned the principles of following the Holy Spirit back in the UK.  It was so good, I thought it worth posting as a main blog.

"Felicity, you and Tony will certainly remember times in the 1970s in the UK when the Holy Spirit really had control. He'd be pouring his life into each one – a tongue here and an interpretation there, a song, some verses from the Bible, a prayer, praise, worship, prophecy. And at the end we all went home encouraged and built together with the theme of the evening fresh in our hearts. And depend on it – there was always a theme. Often we couldn't see it creeping up on us, he would surprise us again and again.

But somehow we let all that go, we lost it, many of us thought it was necessary to add structures and leadership and so we built our own houses and gave them names and left his house broken and abandoned (Haggai 1:2-11). Your post reminds me of those times. We still have them sometimes. But when it doesn't work out we think, 'What did we do wrong?' But, as Paul Young likes to say, it's not about what we do, it's about who he is. If we could remember and really believe that it's all about who he is we'd come before him with hearts full of praise and worship and we'd let him run the meeting. Much as John White explained so recently as a guest on your blog. And if we could apply the principle of 'who he is' to our lives (not just to meetings) he might break out in awesome power 24/7! He wants so much to build his church, but often we will not let him do it."

Like Chris, I remember those times very well.  The power and presence of the Holy Spirit was almost tangible.  I remember running to get to the meeting because I couldn't wait to get into the Lord's presence with the rest of the body of Christ.  No one dared go in with unconfessed sin because the Holy Spirit was likely to address it publicly.  I remember times when everyone was on their faces on the floor, lost in God's presence.  

It was in that kind of context that we learned to follow the Holy Spirit in a gathering.  Week after week we would watch the Holy Spirit lead and guide in his own unmistakable fashion, drawing out whatever theme he had for us.  

Things may not be as dramatic in this current move of what God is doing (the house church movement in the UK was very tied in to the charismatic movement).  But the Holy Spirit still leads clearly, and I'm spoiled for anything else!


Who is in control when we gather?

Our friend Wolfgang Simson, likes to say that programs are what the church is reduced to when they don't know how to follow the Holy Spirit!

The main difference between meeting in a house and simple/organic church is that we learn to follow the Holy Spirit when we get together.  The key verse we refer to is 1 Corinthians 14:26 which says, to paraphrase, when you come together, everybody has a contribution to make.

Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. 

The Lord is the MC of our meetings.  He has his plan for our times together.  He knows each person present, and their needs.  He understands the Father's purposes for our church and our responsibility within the Kingdom.  The Holy Spirit is like the conductor of an orchestra.  If everybody plays the same melody all the time, we miss out on the symphony that the Holy Spirit creates as he leads each person individually to bring their own contributions.  We are the body of Christ, each with out own personalities and character.  We are not looking for conformity but diversity and a gathering where Jesus is truly head allows everyone to participate as the Holy Spirit leads.



Guest post: John White on the importance of the simplicity of hearing God


“The single most important thing that makes house church meetings reproducible” 

Felicity has written a very helpful blog on the subject of simple patterns for house church.  There are many benefits to this kind of simplicity.  One of the benefits is that it makes it easy for house churches to reproduce. 

The question then becomes how can house churches be simple?  How can they become “simple churches”?  What are those simple patterns? 

Some years ago, the Lord linked for me this idea of simplicity with Mt. 18:20.  “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”  The Lord seemed to say, “What would you do if I physically showed up at your house church meeting?”  My response was, “Well, I would immediately turn the meeting over to you!”  And, He said, “Exactly.”  

Our dialogue continued.  “But, Lord, you don’t show up physically.”  He said, “That’s true but your statement also shows that you don’t yet fully understand the role of the Holy Spirit.  My Father has given you another Coach (paraklete) who will guide you just like I did when I was physically present with My disciples.  It’s exactly the same. (Jn. 14:15-17 and Jn. 16:12-15).  I want you to let Him lead just as you would if I were physically present with your church.” 

What I realized from this conversation was that this was the simplest pattern of all.  When we meet, Jesus is truly present through the Holy Spirit.  It’s His church (not mine) and He brings the agenda.  He can be trusted to see that everything that needs to get done will get done – Bible study, prayer, fellowship, mission, etc.  He is way better at leading church than we are.  So, we only have one thing do so – listen to Him and do what He says.  It doesn’t get any simpler than that! 

How do we practically work this out?  We simply teach our house churches when they meet to take 20-30 minutes to ask the Lord this question, “What do You want to say to Your church today?”  Everyone has paper and pencil and writes what they hear.  Then, we come together and share what we heard and do that.  Our saying is that “church emerges out of listening.” 

Of course, there is more to be said about this process.  How do you learn to hear God’s voice?  How do you weigh/discern what people hear?  Etc.  But, the central practice is the essence of simplicity.  Listen to Jesus and do what He says.  Which, by the way, is how Jesus Himself lived.  “I do nothing on my own initiative.  I only do/say what I see the Father doing or saying.”  Jn. 5:19.


Even talking with God needs to be reproducible

The fourth reproducible element from Acts 2:42 in our times together is prayer.  Prayer is foundational.  It takes many forms.  It includes praise, supplication, intercession for unbelievers, prayer for each other, warfare and so on. Again, the Holy Spirit is very creative and as we listen to him and follow his leading, we will find ourselves praying into many different situations and in many different ways.  Prayer often follows our time of fellowship together when praise reports or needs will come to light.

If we want to see multiplying churches, then even our prayers need to be simple.  We don't need to pray five-minute sermons. Anyone can copy simple conversational prayer.  A Filipino church planter said, "I never do anything in church that a one-week old Christian would be unable to reproduce," and that includes prayer.

Prayer doesn't need to sound religious.  Let's give up "thee's" and "thou's" and religious language.  God is our Father, and even though we approach him with the utmost respect and adoration, we can also enter the throne room without fear because of what Jesus has done for us.  I'm often reminded of the picture of JFK's office with his son hiding under the desk.  Just as John had automatic access to the President of the United States of America, we (corporately) have access to the God who holds the universe in his hands at all times.  We speak with him and he speaks with us.

Jfk oval office

This helps to prevent religious rituals in a simple/organic church

The third of the four things that the early disciples devoted themselves to was "breaking bread."  The second half of 1 Corinthians 11, which discusses the problems caused when some people ate all the food without waiting for others to arrive or even got drunk (!), makes it plain that this was in the context of a full meal (verse 21).  It isn't referring to a fragment of cracker or bread and a thimbleful of wine or grape juice taken solemnly and silently together!  We know too from Acts 2:46 that the new believers shared their meals together.

Food preparation

Most simple/organic churches meet in the context of a meal.  There is something about eating together that enables fellowship, and it's harder to be "religious" where food is involved.  Eating together usually involves laughter and sharing, good-natured banter and deep heart-to-heart discussions.  As one of our friends likes to say, "How do you spell fellowship?  It's four letters:    


Most groups that we know share a potluck meal–it is reproducible and doesn't leave too much work with the host family.  A lot of fellowship goes on too over the preparation of food and the clean-up later.  Some groups may even have their whole time together around the dining table.

What about communion.  We often add taking the bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus' death on the cross into the context of the meal.  Maybe we break into smaller groups to share together, or have each person share with someone they would like to pray for.  The Lord is very creative and again, and if we avoid repetitious practices, it doesn't  become a religious ritual.