Michael's transforming story
This informative letter is written by a friend and colleague who has long been involved in extensive church leadership roles as well as facilitating the training of hundreds of people for overseas ministry. At present Michael and his wife Freda oversee three house churches involving overseas students many of whom live in these houses here in NZ. These students regularly gather for informal fellowship, lively discussion and relevant Biblical instruction. Here is Michael's interesting story.
"I thought this might interest others who may be wavering between continuing with the “traditional” church and getting involved with a simple church...and this is more a personal reflection, rather than a criticism of the church.
"For more than seven years I was involved in pastoral ministry in a denominational church in a city in NZ. Although it was a suburban church, it was considered reasonably large with some 350+ regular worshippers each week, a Sunday school of 60 or 70 and a youth ministry of more than 100. During the 1960’s and 70’s the church had gone through a time of renewal and was actively involved with the charismatic movement. In many ways it was a “service” church, helping folk from other local churches in the area with healing, renewal and prayer. Then they were sent back to their own church to continue the process. There were five regular services held each week, two midweek of a charismatic nature and three on Sundays. During the week at one stage there were almost 20 bible study groups. So all in all, a thriving church with many good things happening.
"On one occasion I was approached by one of the elders and asked if I would like to bring my family out to their place on a Thursday evening to have a meal together, and perhaps to pray for me if there were any particular needs. On arriving another family was also there and we ended up having a wonderful evening together, eating, laughing, sharing and praying. The next week another family joined us and before too long there were several more. Nothing was planned or organised. Everyone brought food along for the shared meal. The children played together for a while after dinner and were then put down in sleeping bags in the bedrooms or hallways at various times during the evening. At some stage someone would lean over the back of a couch and pull out a guitar and there would be spontaneous singing, worshipping the Lord with old and new, songs. Scripture verses were read out and people shared from these how the Lord had spoken to them during the week. Needs were first of all prayed for, and on many occasions were able to be met from the folk who were there in the group. If anyone had a need for practical help, everyone gathered around to assist. Over several weekends for example, we all came together to help extend the lounge of the family’s house where we were meeting. By this stage some of the neighbours were asking what was going on on a Thursday night, and were duly invited to come along where before too long they found the Lord. After a while some of those in the group started their own gatherings in their homes, inviting in neighbours and friends, many of whom had never ever attended a Sunday church service.
"After this had continued for several years I became aware of a change that had occurred within myself. On a Sunday morning I found I was standing in the pulpit “performing” when it came to conducting a service. And I was starting to feel a sense of “Oh, no, it’s Sunday again” especially when it came to preparing and delivering the required sermon. I felt that there was an expectation to "spoon feed" each Sunday those who had come along and yet it often seemed that it wasn’t making a great deal of difference when it came to applying biblical truths and principles. I recall on one occasion at the end of a service noticing people walking along the footpath outside and the question that immediately came into my mind was “How relevant was what has just occurred here in the service over the last 90 minutes to those outside the church?” I realised then that while it was nice and meaningful for those inside the building, in all probability it wasn’t very relevant to those "outside" who had no knowledge of Jesus.
"But Thursday evening was a different story altogether. I found I was hanging out all week for the Thursday night fellowship and couldn’t wait to get there. The spiritual life was vibrant, there was no preparation needed (apart from everyone spending time with the Lord during the week) and the Holy Spirit knew what was required each time we met. Everyone could be involved in some way, bringing a psalm, a hymn a spiritual song, or sharing something that the Lord had done in their lives or spoken to them about. The Word was fresh because it was shared by those in the group who had discovered it for themselves and had applied it to their own lives. It had the effect on others to want to wait on the Lord even more and grow in their knowledge of Him. Those who didn’t know the Lord who were invited to come along were drawn to Jesus by the genuine love that was expressed in the relationships with each other and the spontaneous worship of Him.
"It wasn’t until years later that I realised that in fact the Thursday evening fellowship was really “church” in the New Testament sense of the word, more so than the Sunday, structured program."
Thanks Michael, it's good to hear from someone who is actually "doing the stuff". Thank you to for the news of the people under your care who have returned to their own nations as messengers equipped with the Good News. Messengers who have learned to plant and encourage the ministry of simple, organic churches.
Your feedback welcome