It didn’t happen every year, but when it did, it was awesome.
From as far back as I can remember, my Polish relatives would come together for huge family reunions. Usually it would happen every other year or so, but regardless of the frequency, these were epic events. We would all get back together as one big family, and it was as if no time had passed. Everyone was glad to be together and picked up the conversations (or feuds) right where we had left off.
I remember running into people I knew from school or my bowling league, only to find out that they were in fact a “cousin of a cousin” and we had never known about the connection. It was great to realize that I was a part of a much larger network of relatives — a family spread out all over town. There were grandparents and great-grandparents, a million aunts and uncles, cousins, new babies, games, and… FOOD!
If you wanted to learn how to play horseshoes, you would learn from the best — Uncle Walter and Little John. These guys crushed everyone and then gloated about it. My father could never beat either of them, but he tried nonetheless. If you wanted to learn how to make the best Polish foods, after sampling an endless variety, you could get recipes and tips from all the aunts and cousins. Passing on the traditions, passing on the goodness and love.
These celebrations were filled with stories we had never heard before — or were tired of hearing — yet they touched us in deep ways. They connected us to our traditions and reminded us of who we were, who I still am today. They formed my identity and our identity as a family. These times connected our younger family members to older ones, and being together made us grateful and excited to be a part of this growing family.
It was imperfect, for sure, but it was our family.
A Community Gathered
Whenever we come together as the church, this is what we’re experiencing too: a family reunion.
Our gatherings are times filled with brothers, sisters, and spiritual parents all getting together, not out of compulsion or duty, but from a desire to bond, grow, and show love for one another. Some of you may have started on this journey of living as a family on mission with the goal of planting a new church in your city. Others may have experienced growth and multiplication in your MC [Missional Community] and now seek the benefits that can be gained when the larger family comes back together with all their different gifts, perspectives, and experiences.
Not everyone who reads this book will want to see their MC grow into a new, public gathering akin to a church “service.” You might even be asking the question, “Do we need to have larger gatherings or bring all of our missional communities together?” No. But you get to.
I sincerely believe that there are great biblical, historical, and pragmatic reasons to gather together as the larger body of Christ… when the timing is right. And in appropriate ways that foster, rather than hinder, the mission of making disciples.
I have found on numerous occasions that as our own MC has multiplied, and then in turn the new MCs have multiplied again, there is a real and natural desire for everyone to want to be together, to see those brothers and sisters whom we have discipled and sent, to hear their stories and share ours. We missed the unique gifts and perspectives of the others, so we began planning how and when we could start “gathering up the family” to remember God’s goodness to us, pray for one another, and learn forward. And we found that it could happen on Sunday… Tuesday… or any other day of the week.
Before long, by God’s grace, you may find yourself in a similar situation, with similar needs and desires for your community. But don’t start off by thinking that the goal here is to get a big ol’ church service going with all of the programs and challenges of space, money, and staffing. Rather, think of it more as a celebration or a family reunion, where everyone brings
something to share, telling their stories of what God is doing in their lives and being encouraged and equipped for mission
in the rest of their normal life rhythms. At times, the things you do together may resemble some of the stuff you have experienced or heard about churches doing in the past, but it’s important to be sure you know why you’re doing what you do when you gather, and what the overall goals for those times together should be.
Who Does What?
The apostle Paul, who arguably started the majority of the churches we read about in the New Testament, tells us in 1 Corinthians 14 what it should be like when we gather together as the church. Note that he is not saying that this is the only way this works or that it only happens at a formal church service or in a church building, as some have tried to argue. Paul says that when a larger group of saints gathers, possibly from multiple oikos, and comes together as God’s family, there is a certain flavor to their gathering. I love the way Eugene Peterson translates this (emphasis mine):
So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. If prayers are offered in tongues, two or three’s the limit, and then only if someone is present who can interpret what you’re saying. Otherwise, keep it between God and yourself. And no more than two or three speakers at a meeting, with the rest of you listening and taking it to heart.
Take your turn, no one person taking over. Then each speaker gets a chance to say something special from God, and you all learn from each other. If you choose to speak, you’re also responsible for how and when you speak. When we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. This goes for all the churches — no exceptions.
You will notice here that there are a lot of different things going on and everyone is invited into the mix. Jesus speaks by his Spirit to and through everyone who is submitted to him. This community aspect of our being together is vital to the overall health, maturity, and witness of the church in any context.
Everyone is needed. Everyone is important.
If, when you gather your MCs together, just a few special people do everything, you tear down what’s been seeded into your community life where everyone has a role and is a vital part of the body of Christ. However, as larger gatherings begin to take place, you will need to be sure that the extended church family understands that the brothers or sisters with more mature and developed skills (i.e., those that are appropriate and helpful for these larger gatherings) may share their gifts more frequently and in more noticeable ways. They are modeling something for everyone. Also, the community should begin to see these same mature saints equipping others and seeding multiplication and growth into every aspect of these gathered times. This is part of our discipleship too.
“So often the church service that we quietly sit through every Sunday, year after year, actually hinders spiritual transformation. It does so because (1) it encourages passivity, (2) it limits functioning, and (3) it implies that putting in one hour per week is the key to the victorious Christian life.” — Frank Viola and George Barna
Excerpted with permission from Small Is Big, Slow Is Fast: Living And Leading Your Family And Community On God’s Mission by Caesar Kalinowski, copyright Zondervan, 2014.
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Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you about gathering as a Church family — like a family reunion!