“Let me state clearly, the church was created to gather. I am not saying that we only go back to pre-pandemic models or break provincial health directives, but ‘gathering’ is in our DNA.”
In a recent pandemic lament, a pastor shared his dismay and distress concerning those he was entrusted to lead. “I am flying blind,” he said. “About a third of our congregation are engaging online, following on social media, connecting with neighbours, participating in an online small group, and investing financially. A second group have less engagement, give sporadically, and are watching online at their convenience. But I am deeply troubled by those with no engagement (that we know of) who have basically disappeared. They have formed new spiritual habits void of gathering and may never come back.”
As I listened to his consternation, I was reminded of Vince Lombardi, legendary NFL coach. After the 1960 Green Bay Packers championship loss, Lombardi opened the next summer training camp by uttering the now famous statement. “Gentlemen,” he said, holding a pigskin in his hand, “this is a football.” He began a tradition of starting from scratch, assuming that the players were blank slates who carried over no knowledge from the year before … He began with the most elemental statement of all….1
Let me state clearly, the church was created to gather. I am not saying that we only go back to pre-pandemic models or break provincial health directives, but “gathering” is in our DNA.
Spiritual “gatherings” began with an altar, a tent or tabernacle, and then the temple. Second Chronicles 6:18 reminds us, “The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” In Matthew 16:18 Jesus states that He will build “his church.” The Greek word “Ekklesia,” from ek (out of) and klesis (“a calling” or “the assembled ones”) is also “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly.”2
It was also a governmental word “used among the Greeks [to define] a body of citizens ‘gathered’ to discuss the affairs of State, (Acts 19:39).”3
“Where the Temple and the synagogue differ with Jesus’ Ekklesia, however, is in the areas of constitution, location and mobility. The Temple and the synagogue were static institutions that functioned in buildings that members had to go to on specified occasions, whereas the Ekklesia was a building-less, mobile people movement designed to operate 24/7 in the marketplace for the purpose of having an impact on everybody and everything.”4 Groups as small as two or three Roman citizens constituted a conventus as a local expression. In Acts 16, leaders rightfully panicked when Paul, a fellow Roman citizen, was beaten without due process. When citizens came together, it automatically brought laws and the protection of the emperor, and the power and presence of Rome, into their midst. When we as believers gather, even just two or three, we demonstrate the full power of Christ. He shows up!
In December 1999, Fidel Castro allowed the first public gathering of Christians in Cuba after the 1959 revolution. Believers began to gather timorously. For four decades, many had experienced imprisonment and were now wrestling with newfound freedom. Was it a trap? Would it soon end? They were transitioning from meeting under the watchful eye of communist officials to being able to worship freely. Services felt like huge family celebrations. Now, just two decades later, Cuba’s 300 Assembly of God churches have grown to over 10,000, and missionaries are being sent out. Courageous leaders understood the value of gathering and being the church. Is God setting up the Canadian church for something similar?
An Eastern European leader shared this challenge: “Don’t ever give up in freedom what we would never have given up in persecution. That is our witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ!”5 “Whenever the church was on the run, dispersed, under fire, or in the midst of change and challenges, they found strength by gathering together. It also gave them strength to persevere in the mission. The greater the threat, the greater their need to be together. The more marginal they grew in the surrounding culture, the more meaningful their experience of fellowship. The longer the distance between their face-to-face visits, the more passionate their words were to each other and the more they longed for time together”6 (Romans 1:8-13).
Gathering is inherent in the identity of the church. “It is natural for people to find a place to connect with other Jesus followers; it is natural witness to the world to see people united in a common cause; and it is a helpful way to move people in the same direction, communicate vision, gather resources, augment a parent’s spiritual development of their children, find new friends and shepherding help, and share Scripture, sacraments, and worship.”7 The church service is not inherently the problem, but it can lead to the consumer-oriented faith we have all come to know and lament. Weekly services take a lot of time and resources and have the potential of lulling people into a spectator religiosity.8
As a believer, you become a member of God’s “household” (Ephesians 2:19). People know your name and your story. You journey through life together. Disciple making happens in community and was never designed for isolation. “The gathering should be an experience that people cannot get from everyday life, not pandering to consumeristic tendencies, and should be a place to call people into a bigger story of giving their life away. The gathering should be flexible, pliable and adjustable, and we gather in a way that makes people want to GO.”9
In our gathering, we build a throne where God may “dwell” (Psalm 22:3). Our corporate worship reflects the coming reality of our shared eternal worship experience. (Revelation 7:9). When we gather, we experience His power and His presence. He shows up!
Brian Egert is the Mission Canada assistant to the general superintendent of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. He and his wife, Beverly, and their two young adult children live in Burlington, Ont. Photo © istockphoto.com.
- David Maraniss, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999), 247.
- Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Blue Letter Bible, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1577&t=KJV.
- Ed Silvoso,Ekklesia: Rediscovering God’s Instrument for Global Transformation (Bloomington, MN: Chosen Books, 2017), 25.
- Ibid., 196
- Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 169-170.
- Ibid., 170
- Ibid., 163
- Ibid., 185-189.