“CONNECTING THE DOTS”
February 15, 2008
“What was your favorite part of the conference?” asked one of the parties of our carpool as we drove home from a weekend gathering in southern California.
As others shared their opinions I struggled to come up with an answer. We had just taken part in what could be described as an historic meeting of the minds of those immersed in the house-church movement worldwide. The gathering was entitled, Organic Church Movements Conference, and it was sponsored by Church Multiplication Associates. It was thrilling to hear what the Lord was doing through the growing tidal wave of simple-church advocates. The main speakers were excellent; the workshops were relevant and informative. The worship was inspirational and the fellowship sweet. How could anyone prioritize the value of all the events which had taken place that weekend?
After a long pause I offered my thoughts choosing my words carefully while still pondering the question in my mind. “I loved the conference; it was one of the better ones I have attended. But to me the best part of the weekend has been the fellowship in the car on the way to and from.”
In the days since returning from the conference I have continued to think about my answer to that question. Four companions shared the seven hour journey on Friday from the San Francisco Bay Area to our hotel in Ontario, California. The same four returned together on Sunday afternoon and evening. On the way we had plenty of time to recount our personal faith journeys and explain how the Lord had led us into the simple church movement. We laughed together, prayed together, read Scripture together, shared our joys and sorrows together, ate together, and worshiped together.
One member of our party learned during our trip that he was in the process of becoming a granddad for the second time. We prayed for his daughter and the health of the new baby. Then we rejoiced when we received word of a successful delivery. On the way home, one of our fellow travelers learned of a tragic accident involving some of his family’s closest friends. A child’s life was taken and the mother’s life was hanging in the balance. We offered intense prayer for those who were hurting and bereaved.
On our return trip we discussed at length the topics which were raised during the conference and how they impacted our ministry in the Bay Area. Then we lifted up our voices in an impassioned plea for the Lord of the Harvest to grant us more workers for the harvest, more vibrant families of Jesus meeting throughout the Bay Area and beyond, more outpouring of His Spirit, more empowering of His people, more new citizens of the kingdom, and more revival. As the miles passed by we became more and more excited about what God was doing and was about to do in our area for the advancement of the Kingdom of Heaven.
What was so special about a road trip with three others in a crowded vehicle through a massive expanse of California freeways? Counting both Friday and Sunday we had church for some 700 miles and 15 hours, and no one fell asleep! I’m guessing that might be one for the record book. There were no sermons, no praise bands, no choral anthems, no worship bulletins, and no stained-glass cathedrals. Well, okay, we did sort of chip in to help share the expenses but no one passed a collection plate. There was nothing of what most people normally think of when describing a church service, but nonetheless it was one of the most inspirational church gatherings I have ever attended.
As I continued to contemplate the weekend’s activities the Lord brought to mind a children’s take-home paper from Sunday school I remember seeing awhile back. It was a plain white sheet of paper covered with dots each of which had a number beside it. The directions called for taking a pencil and connecting the dots in numerical order. Once completed, an outline of the head of Christ was clearly visible. What was the Lord trying to tell me?
The Church, for the most part, has become an expert at creating dots. Visit any church in the west, sadly including many house churches, and you will conclude we are event driven. For most of us it’s all about the main weekly gathering or the mid-week Bible studies. We have Sunday morning dots, Saturday night dots, Wednesday evening prayer dots, men’s accountability dots, women’s missionary society dots, youth group dots, special concert dots, revival dots, rally dots, a host of conference dots, mega-dots and mini-dots. And if we get tired of the same old dots we can read a multitude of books written on how to create bigger and better dots. I wish I could say life in the simple church movement is different but I must admit that many gatherings I have experienced left me feeling like we just traded a large dot for a small one.
So what’s the problem? When church is all about the dots, event driven, it squeezes the Christian life into a single place at a single time. Jesus becomes less visible in the midst of our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our communities, and our normal daily routine. When the bulk of our energy and resources is directed toward the dots, the rest of our lives can become a confused jumble of disconnected events, void of the presence of Christ. When the dots become our main focus, it is astonishingly easy to lose sight of our Lord in everyday life. How foolish are we to believe the Lord speaks to us and desires our fellowship only at the dots? I’m afraid the church has become so caught up in creating the perfect events that we have forgotten what happens in between. The solution is simple; connect the dots.
“I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.” – Psalm 34:1. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.” – Hebrews 13:15.
The truth is church for the mature believer should never be about a certain time at a given location. Church is a continuum of fellowship with Jesus, not a series of events. It is linear, not a smattering of disconnected dots. There is no opening call to worship and no closing benediction. It is one continuous, Spirit-drawn line weaving its way through every moment of our lives.
When I wake up in the morning I am immediately in prayer. Later my prayers flow into my regular quiet time. If possible my wife and I will spend some time praying and sharing Jesus with one another. On my way to wherever I am teaching music that day I will be praying for my students. During the music lessons I am constantly listening to the Spirit for an opportunity to share my faith. On the way home I am thanking God for providing a way for me to earn a living. If we are doing church somewhere that evening we will spend our travel time in the car praying for those we expect to be at the gathering and for God to lead us into a deeper relationship with Him and with each other. On the way home from such a fellowship we will be rejoicing and praising God for the time we experienced together. While I am climbing into bed at the end of the day I will be thanking God for His strength and guidance. And the line continues the next day, and the next day, and the next day connecting all the dots into a marvelous picture of Christ.
“For to me, to live is Christ…” – Philippians 1:21. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
Do I ever fail to experience continual church? Of course I fail, many times everyday. Linear church is a constant struggle, but it is well worth the effort and I am slowly learning that sometimes the road to the gathering may be as much or more inspirational than the gathering itself. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23.
There is an underlying, constant excitement that exists in linear church, a feeling that at any moment Christ may show up and doors of opportunity will burst open. The phone will ring and someone will be in need of encouragement. A knock at the door will lead to some impromptu marriage counseling. A friendly greeting at a restaurant will give rise to a new church being planted. A timely word of kindness will make way for an opportunity to share the Gospel with an unbeliever. Since all of this has happened recently in my life it tends to make one more alert to His presence. After all, we don’t want to be caught napping during church. “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.” – Luke 12:35-36.
Have you found yourself dosing off in church recently? Has your spiritual life been a little hit or miss? Does it resemble a white sheet of paper filled with an occasional ink blot, or perhaps a jumbled up conglomeration of nonsensical specks? May I suggest you try connecting the dots? You might just be amazed at who appears before your eyes. “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” – Psalm 105:4.
Bill, a child of God striving to connect the dots