A few years ago when I had the role of pastor in a traditional congregation, one of my frustrations was the reluctance of members to step out in ministry or service. The culture of the church was that initiatives were to always come from “the elders.” The idea that an individual in the congregation could act independently was unheard of. The one time I encouraged someone to go ahead with something, I wound up irritating the head of one of the departments of the church—I violated a territorial boundary. Frustrating. The problem was that in my life among house churches I had gotten used to functioning in an environment without a formal hierarchy.
In My Opinion…
The Summit Fellowships describe the relationship among the groups as, “functionally autonomous, but voluntarily interdependent.” That means that we regard each group as its own congregation. It is not assumed that anyone has the operational authority over the network. I may be the older kid on the block—I’ve been around since the beginning 25 years ago—but that doesn’t mean I am the final authority. At the same time, we regard being answerable to other groups and persons as an essential value. In other words, we give members of the community the right to call us into question or to question decisions and decision-making. In his book, The Outward Bound, Vernard Eller calls that methodology, “giving your church the business.” You can read Eller’s chapter on that by clicking here.
Over the summer, Gathering 242 has been praying about multiplying into two smaller fellowships. If everyone shows up, there can be as many as 25, which pretty well max’s out the living room. Not only that, the larger size works against the intimacy that is vital in a home church. The group seems pretty convinced that some action needs to be taken. But what? The group decided to pray about it.
Everyone is agreed that what they want it that elusive “will of God.” So, as we pray how will we know we have discovered it? An audible voice? Burning bush? Handwriting on the wall? Experience shows that the will of God is often discovered on the road. That means that as we begin to move we welcome the closed door as much as the open one. It is as though the Lord is saying, “Go ahead. Stop worrying and make your best choice. I’ll be your heavenly GPS (in 500 feet, turn right…”). If you miss your turn, I’ll intervene and set the revised course. You’ve prayed for my guidance, so get moving and I’ll guide you. You said you want My will, and I want you to be in My will, so as long as you don’t get stubbornly attached to the road you’re on, you’ll be fine.”
That’s precisely what happened in the early church in Acts 15, the “Jerusalem Council.” There are a couple of telling phrases that give us a glimpse about how the will of God was discovered:
“The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate…”
Clearly, the church was arguing the matters about which they were unclear. They were searching for the will of God among all those opinions. Now, look at the way they characterized the results of all that discussion:
“…it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord,” and, “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”
It has been our experience that within the church, God often chooses to speak to all of us through each of us. It may not be a smooth process, but He is quite capable of getting through to His people. If we submit our ways unto the Lord (Psalm 37:5) we can trust Him to direct our steps (Proverbs 16:9) even if we stumble along the way. One thing is sure. As long as we remain submitted, we won’t accidentally overpower the will of Almighty God.