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.

What we have that the world longs for

In the last post we looked at the first of the four things mentioned in Acts 2:42, namely the apostles' doctrine.

Fellowship The second of these is fellowship.  The Greek word koinonia has connotations of intimacy, of community, of communication.  What does it look like in the context of simple church?  It means a willingness for transparency and vulnerability; it means knowing each other well enough that you can tell if there's a problem in someone's life without their needing to say a word; it means letting down the masks; it means laughing with those who laugh and weeping with those who weep. Its a group of people who know each others' weaknesses and love one another anyway!

The world is longing for this.  Most people, especially after they have entered the workforce, go to work in the morning, come home and watch television in the evenings. On the weekends, they struggle to catch up with all that needs doing.   Their lives are consumed with work and their kids' activities.  They are often lonely, and feel stressed because they have no one with whom to share the things going on in their lives.  (Statistics show that sharing life with a friend is often as effective as seeing a counselor.)

Fellowship isn't limited to meetings.  It's a community lifestyle

Do we have real fellowship when we come together?

Four things the early church did when they gathered and four useful symbols

Jesus spoke far more about the Kingdom than he did about the church.  He demonstrated the Kingdom, taught about it, lived its principles.  Between his resurrection and his ascension, he spent 40 days speaking to his disciples about the Kingdom (Acts 1:3). Then came the Day of Pentecost, when 3,000 became disciples.  

What did all these new believers do?  They met in the temple and they met from house to house.   (Very soon they had to give up the larger meetings because of persecution.) They devoted themselves to four things:  the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers (Acts 2:42).  Why did they do this?  Because this was what they knew from living with Jesus.

Let's look at how this might work out in simple churches today.  As we described in the last post, we do not need more good teaching.  As Neil Cole  likes to say, "We have been educated beyond our obedience!"  What we need is more learning and application of what we have learned.

In our experience, the best way to accomplish this is with some form of participatory Bible study.  We often use four symbols to facilitate this:

  • A question mark–is there something you don't understand
  • A lightbulb–is there an "aha moment" when you receive some new understanding about the verse
  • An arrow–God is speaking to you directly and you need to do something as a result
  • An ear–who needs to hear what I have just learned

Obviously this is just a way to facilitate an interactive study, not a method to be followed religiously.  But once someone has done it once, they can easily replicate it with friends at work or at school.  We frequently use it with unbelievers as a way to facilitate a discovery evangelistic Bible study.

The single most important thing that makes house church meetings reproducible

One of the problems with the "Honey, I shrunk the church!" approach is that it is too complex to be reproducible, especially by new believers.  Since most people's greatest fear is of public speaking, that makes giving a talk a huge hurdle for people to attempt, even with a smaller audience.  What if there is not a skilled guitarist in the group?  Or no one is used to leading a meeting?

If we are to see rapidly multiplying churches, then the one thing that makes our times together reproducible is simplicity!

Let's apply that principle to what might happen in our times together.

Meals:  if we produce a gourmet home-cooked meal when we get together, then what it says to others is that they could only consider hosting something if they can produce something similar.   Anyone can arrange a simple potluck when everyone contributes.

Praying:  if someone prays 5 minute sermon prayers, this will inhibit anyone but the most experienced Christian from praying.  Brief sentence prayers are much wiser–everybody gets a turn, or even multiple turns.

Teaching:  this is an idol in many Western churches today.  Many pastors spend hours preparing a sermon–but according to research conducted by the Barna group, the typical attender cannot remember the topic 2 hours later.  No, the important thing is that people learn and apply Biblical truths, and they are far more likely to do that if they participate themselves.  People remember 20% of what they hear, 50% of what they see and hear and 70% of what they say themselves.  A participatory study of the Bible is far more effective than a talk or sermon, and there is no preparation required.

If simple patterns are introduced right from the start, then anyone can facilitate a simple/house/organic church.  We've even had believers who are only a few weeks old in the Lord lead simple church gatherings once a simple pattern has been demonstrated.

What is church? Three pictures

In the last post, we described that we are not looking for, "Honey, I shrunk the church," where someone leads from the front and there is pre-organized worship and teaching.

But before we look at what a church meeting looks like we need to answer an important question, "What is church?"  All of us know it is not the building, but how many of us think of it as the event,  the meeting, as in, we GO to church.  But church is never described as a meeting in the New Testament.

There are three main pictures of church given in the New Testament:  

1.   Body A body (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12):  All the members of the body are important, and so is the diversity.  The Corinthians passage makes it plain that we should celebrate our differences.  The body doesn't consist of all eyes, or all hands.  Each is important.  Not only that, greater honor should be given to weaker members of the boy.  As each person contributes what the Holy Spirit gives them and according to their gifting, Christ is more fully demonstrated in our midst.  Jesus is the head of this body and all of us are connected to the head.


2.   Temple OT A temple (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:20):  A physical building cannot contain God (Acts 7:48).  We are living stones built into a temple.  God no longer dwells in buildings, but in this living temple.  Jesus is the cornerstone of this temple.


3.   Family A family (Ephesians 2:19):  You do not go to family.  Being family doesn't depend on meeting together, but on relationship.  Now healthy families will get together–often–but it is not the meeting together that makes us family, but our relationship together.  We are all sons/daughters of God (John 1:12)  Jesus himself is the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Romans 8:19)



What’s the difference between a church that meets in a house and a simple/organic/house church?

All over the country, people are meeting in homes instead of in buildings as their main expression of church.  According to George Barna, that figure is about 5% of the adult population of this country!  Similar results were obtained in surveys by Ed Stetzer of the Southern Baptists and the Pew Forun.

Amazing!  Who would have thought…

However, just transferring the location of church isn't enough.  If all we do is exchange the pews for couches and the steeple for a chimney, we have done what our friend, John White, calls, "Honey, I shrunk the church!"  And we have missed out on the glorious freedom of simple/organic church.

Miniature church

We suspect that many people in house church still do what they used to do in the buildings–and usually they do it badly.  Someone has been asked to lead the worship, another person gives a talk, another is responsible for the kids.  Unfortunately, the lone guitarist lacks the professional expertise of the worship band that led worship in the building and the person who gives the sermon hasn't had hours to prepare a stimulating talk because he's been working at a job all week. To be honest, we might be better off staying in the building!

So what should we do differently?  What's the difference between a church that happens to meet in a house, and a simple/organic/house church.  Watch this space…