I was so encouraged this week to hear how one of the Connection groups met to pray for North Korea, particularly our brothers and sisters living there.
Using brilliant creativity they were able to simulate something of what it might be like for disciples of Jesus living under the North Korean communist regime – a country where the church is forced to scatter.
The gift of creativity provides many benefits. If one of these is that it stirs us to prayer and good works, then I say more!
For a while now I have wanted to take the opportunity to outline some reasons why we do not always meet together as a church on a Sunday. We call these occasions The Hill Scattered.
Before I do, I wish to state very emphatically that The Hill greatly values and prioritises meeting together for teaching and worship as a whole church. The reason for is the explicit commands within Scripture. Therefore, neglecting meeting together would be a grave mistake. However, this is not the pattern or purpose of The Hill Scattered.
If you do not have time to read the whole blog then here are the benefits listed (in no particular order of importance!):
1. Scattered is an intentional activity
2. Scattered reminds where we meet is not where they met
3. Scattered values the concept of sabbath/rest
4. Scattered gives us the opportunity to be with people
5. Scattered opens our eyes to the world around us
6. Scattered opens our mouth to the Lord of the harvest
7. Scattered causes a crisis in our lives
8. Scattered honours those who serve the most
9. Scattered wisely paces a small church
10. Scattered heightens the value of meeting together
11. Scattered disciples us for persecution
Scattered is an intentional activity
To think The Hill Scattered is anything other than intentional would be to confuse this activity (rather than non-activity) as showing a disregard for the freedom we have in Wales to meet in open, without fear or prejudice.
It has the same level of intentionality as meeting together does. To make the best of use of the time afforded by not meeting requires deliberate thought, prayer and creativity.
In the UK I know of many churches that have occasionally cancelled their Sunday gathering. The majority of these were forced to make that decision due to external circumstances. One example was when the meeting venue was located on a marathon route. Another was when the street became a crime scene! On each occasion the churches had to re-think, which resulted in both creative community and witness.
In The Hill we have simply chosen to be more intentional than await external circumstances beyond our control. We see The Hill Scattered has an opportunity for creativity, and one that may sow fruitful seeds for the gospel in a different way to our primary traditions.
It is never just about when we do or don’t meet, but about why we do or don’t meet. We aim to be intentional disciples in everything, even when doing nothing!
Scattered reminds us where we meet is not where they met
It is highly improbable, if not impossible, that the early church met regularly the way that we do. Yes, they met together. Yes, they received teaching, worship and prayed together. Yes, they met regularly, possibly daily during certain seasons. But we should not fool ourselves (and we do) that our pattern, our expression or our tradition is ‘pure’ to the Bible. They would not have had seats, pulpits, lights, stages, bands, microphones, projectors, websites, notice sheets and refreshments etc. It probably would have been far more disruptive, uncomfortable, informal, unplanned and communal.
The early church would have gathered in the synagogue (the home of Judaism), temple courts or market places. Probably most often they met in the homes of wealthier disciples. We even have examples of Jesus meeting in the homes of those with a more dubious reputation! Perhaps his disciples met in fields, by the watering holes, rivers and shaded woodland? In short, we just don’t possess all the details or knowledge to follow a clear pattern.
This does not mean that what we do is wrong or unhelpful (on the contrary!), but it does mean that we need to be very wary of protecting our traditions with the same zeal that we should protect the truths and commands of Scripture.
Scattered values the concept of sabbath/rest
In our culture we are always very busy. We have what feels like a million time saving devices, but these often just make us busier, more active and sometimes (if we are doing well!) actually more productive. I sometimes wonder how many of us ever really honour the creation instigated mandate of sabbath (24 hours of rest). By pausing meeting together we are bringing rest on to the radar of a very crowded airspace!
The Hill Scattered enables us to do something different. Time has been redeemed. Of course we can carve out other time in the week, but by having this intentional pause as a community of believers we cause ourselves to stop, think and reflect. Because of our faithfulness to meeting and one another, we have immediately redeemed a segment of time for an opportunity for something creative. Examples of how to spend this time include a day of rest, solitude, an open house for our friends and neighbours, a leisurely lunch, a long walk or even 24 hours away.
Scattered gives us the opportunity to be with people
Following on from the third benefit, we can make use of the time provided to spend longer with people and, most of all, those who do not know Jesus Christ. Knowing that many of the church will also be free at this time we can organise a social activity where the church can meet the world and be fishers of men and women together.
Scattered opens our eyes to the world around us
One activity that would not be a waste of time would be to visit the beach, shops, pubs etc. at the time we normally meet. Let your heart observe how many hundreds, even thousands, of people attend a different place of worship. This will open our eyes to the reality of how big we really are, what we have left to do and why we must be so intentional about it.
Scattered opens our mouth to the Lord of the harvest
Following on from the fifth benefit, we will be stirred to pray to God for fruitfulness as a church in proclaiming the gospel and seeing people redeemed from the idols that enslave them. When we become truly aware of the task that lies before us we will realise that prayer is our greatest weapon.
Scattered causes a crisis in our lives
When we are asked to consider all the benefits of intentionally scattering we are made to confront the breadth, depth and nature of our relationships with those who do not know Jesus Christ, and even those that do! How many people do we really know? How many people have we deliberately loved, befriended, cared for and spent time with. What activities and contexts exist in our lives to create relationships. Love takes time and friendship rarely just happens. It requires effort, risk, consistency and intentionality. The Hill Scattered confronts us with this, and may just provoke us to action, or encourage us to press on with whatever steps we are taking.
Scattered honours those who serve the most
The Hill Scattered provides the most faithful, committed and hardworking within the church permission to rest. It says to them “we value you and you are released from your commitments and stewardship within the church context of a Sunday. Spend extended time honouring God amongst your loved ones, particularly those who live further away”. The Hill Scattered redeems the weekend. I love the passage in Mark 7 where Jesus challenges the religious folk who are so zealous for their laws that they have broken the commandment to honour their fathers and mothers. Perhaps one day we should have The Hill Scattered on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?
Scattered wisely paces a small church
The logistics of modern Sunday meetings can often become tougher than any church intended. At worst the Sunday meeting becomes the pet that needs to be constantly fed, with a limited amount of time and resources. The risk is that small churches try and grow further and faster than the roots really allow. The result is that these churches become rota-driven, not disciple-driven or witness-driven, to such an extent it hinders creativity, gifting and genuine loving service.
Scattered heightens the value of meeting together
Have you ever fasted for a period of time? When you come to eat again you have a fresh appreciation and gratitude for the food set before you. In a similar way The Hill Scattered can cause us to hunger, value and be grateful for the church in providing such nourishing connection, community, teaching and corporate worship. So yes, ironically, not meeting actually makes meeting even better!
We live in a consumer culture where we expect everything to be on demand – and whilst we do not intend it we can approach the meetings of the church like this. They are there when we need them – every Sunday, from preach, to worship, to serving the children. But if we don’t need them, then we give little thought as to whether they are still there or not (and what plans may have gone into that meeting). In one sense this is fine, this is the real world and the way we all operate naturally, but in another sense this MAY reveal a lack of valuing and honouring the importance of coming together as a whole church.
One result of this fresh appreciation is that The Hill Scattered begins to find its way into the diary. We build it into our planning and, of greater importance, we add the precious practice of meeting together in too.
Scattered disciples us for persecution
When one well-respected and well-known preacher moved on from a particular church, large numbers of people also moved on overnight. Reflecting on this one of the leaders of that church observed “We didn’t have a church, we had a preaching centre”.
The lesson here is that true community must be built outside Sunday meetings. The Hill Scattered helps build a church that thinks like this. It teaches everyone, including the leadership, that the church is not defined (only expressed) by the Sunday meeting. We are far more than that, and the absence of that meeting will not damage or hinder our relationship, worship, growth and mission. In fact, it may encourage these things. The Hill Scattered remind us that one day we may find ourselves in a situation like North Korea. If that happens we will have helped ensure that we are a church that thrives in winter as well as summer.