Lesson 9 The Meetings Of The Church

“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22,23)

The gathering of the Lord’s people, especially on the Lord’s Day, is the focus of church fellowship. Fellowship and ministry certainly should go beyond only one day per week. However, stimulating meetings often determine either progress or failure for the local church. Assembly believers, like family members, must gather together to encourage one another, enjoy one another, and, above all, enjoy the Lord’s presence and Word. Most congregations are judged on the basis of whether meetings are lively, profitable, and inspiring. True fellowship is spiritual sharing in the Body of Christ.

If our ideals and maturity were sufficiently high, we would come to worship and serve the Lord, seeking nothing for ourselves except the blessing of His presence. However, only a few have attained to this high spiritual state. Church meetings carry the burden of high expectations. People look for warmth and love, a sense of being as welcome as when they are at home. They are interested in the quality of the message given from the pulpit. The best preachers have always attracted the largest crowds. Further, there is an increasing demand for services which will satisfy diversified needs. Maintaining a spiritual focus is a real challenge for today’s churches.

The present age has challenged the church with complex problems and stressful pressures. The world’s value system too often becomes our standard. Television is a tremendous competitor for the time and attentions of people. Professional sports and other major entertainment attractions make a church meeting seem dull by comparison. The rise in use of drugs and alcoholic beverages creates vast new problems. Rock music seizes and hold the minds of youth, sometimes with destructive impact. In society, immorality and family breakdowns are the rule, not the exception. Yearly more mothers have entered the workplace, often leaving their children to return to empty homes after school. Clearly, the church must change many of its traditional methods if these challenges are to be met as we seek to reach the world for Christ in this generation.

Meetings Of The Early Church

The first believers had no church buildings and so met together in homes or other existing facilities. As the separation from Judaism became more distinct, they no longer went to the synagogues. The Temple in Jerusalem where the believers met in early years, was destroyed in 70 A.D., and all that was associated with it was swept away. Then a simpler order was established. Believers gathered everywhere to the Person of Jesus rather than to a central sanctuary. God dwelled in people, not in holy buildings. Robed priests, candles, and incense were replaced by believers coming through Jesus Christ in personal access to the Lord (Heb. 6:19).

Acts 20:7 establishes the first day of the week, which was the day that Jesus rose from the dead, as the new day of Christian meeting. The central observance was the Lord’s Supper, also called the Breaking of Bread. It was in the aftermath of this meeting that Paul, like others, preached. There was often an
agape or
love feast that preceded the communion, in which a common meal was shared (1 Cor. 11:20-22; Jude 12). A second century writing called the Didache, gives this exhortation, “On the Lord’s Day, assemble and Break Bread and give thanks, having first confessed your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure.”

There was opportunity for many brethren to participate in the meeting. “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26-33). The major church meeting gave many of the men the opportunity to share before the entire assembly and to utilize the spiritual gifts given among them. Slaves and masters met on a common spiritual ground, often in the owner’s home (Philemon 1,2). Here was an equal brotherhood, showing respect to those whom it was due (1 Tim. 6:1-2). Most activities seem to have been concentrated in one general meeting, commonly held in the evenings when the work was finished. No doubt there were other meetings for prayer or teaching and sharing, but this was the central meeting of the early church.

Meetings Of The Modern Church

There are major differences between the simple pattern described above and that which is widespread today. Big buildings with many rooms for various functions are now common. The beauty of the building, its location, interior furnishings, children’s rooms and even sports facilities are utilized as attractions to visitors. Well-trained choirs, soloists, instrumentalists, and guest musicians provide a major part of the program. There are separate ministries and meetings for youth, children, seniors, couples, collegiates, singles and other groups. The “center piece” of most modern congregations is the preacher, especially if he is skilled. The major churches of the U.S. are built around a noted minister. His personal popularity is a major key to the church’s growth.

Increasingly, churches are dropping Sunday evening services, and sometimes midweek services, placing the emphasis entirely on Sunday morning. Although Sunday School has been a mainstay of the church since its inception in England over 100 years ago, it has been declining in attendance since then. Time allotted for the services has also been lessening. An hour seems to be the limit for most services where preaching is the center rather than worship.

In more conservative assemblies there is a continuation of traditional meeting times and activities. Preaching and teaching of the Word has generally been curtailed. Time for food and refreshments has been increased. Many congregations have grown older by not reaching out to young people, not even retaining the youth that have grown up in church families. Older people are generally satisfied to continue traditional meetings in much the same way as was done 50 years ago, despite the lack of church growth.

Meetings Of The Spiritual Church

We hesitate to use the term
spiritual church but it is to draw attention to what is desirable in church meetings that will both please the Lord and build up the people of God. A spiritual church is not characterized by dullness and deadness, and should be free from worldliness and superficiality.

1. The Pattern for Good Meetings. Priority emphasis should be upon worship of the Lord, since God seeks this (John 4:23). This collective worship should center around the communion elements at the Lord’s Supper, just as the Lord requested of us (Luke 22:19), and the early church practiced (Acts 2:42). Open or participative worship should be made available to the brethren. This worship needs to be warm, overflowing, and spontaneous; not dull, formal, or labored. There should be a separate time for consecutive preaching of the Word of God by someone able to give an edifying and challenging ministry. It need not be the same man every week, but it should be done by gifted teachers and preachers. There ought to be another time set apart for study, discussion, and teaching from God’s Word for both adults and youth. The children also need special teaching, care, and supervision in their limited time at the meeting. There should be opportunity for corporate prayer. This may be done at other meetings. It is best to have special times set aside for the saints to pray. Uplifting music, led by spiritual people, should be included in most meetings. Evangelistic meetings should still be conducted in the church building, but real outreach is best done
outside the assembly. It is difficult to combine all these meetings into one session, even if time is extended.

Small group fellowships or home Bible study and prayer gatherings are meeting the needs of people seeking community and fellowship within the church. Such groups may average 10-15 people in attendance. If led effectively, with ample time for participation, prayer, and sharing, such groups will induce people to come and be involved. Children’s meetings, emphasizing crafts, Bible memory work, teaching, and games, are helpful. Women’s Bible study groups have developed for those women who are free to attend during the day. There is a danger, however, of scheduling too many meetings, which can seriously disrupt family life.

2. Prescription for Good Meetings. What makes for good meetings in the church? More than anything else it is spiritual people who share their lives with one another. It is also men of God preaching and teaching the Word in power. If both of these components are present, the meetings will be profitable, no matter what the details may be. Therefore, improving the meetings requires raising the level of spiritual life in the assembly.

Some contrasts might be made between good meetings and poor ones. Orderly meetings are more profitable than disorderly ones (1 Cor. 14:33-40). Disorderly, unscriptural, or poorly prepared meetings are unprofitable. There ought to be edifying ministry of the Word and edifying music. We should seek to have inspiring meetings that lift us into the presence of God. A good meeting is when all major elements are well done. This applies to those who give announcements, lead singing or take part in ways other than preaching. It honors God to have things done well. This usually takes preparation and thought, both of which should be the result of the leading of the Spirit. We need the Lord’s working in our meetings.

It is important to have those who participate in any area be functioning according to their gift from God. The hand should not seek to do that which only the foot does well. Only the eye can function as an eye, to use the figure of speech employed in 1 Corinthians 12. The proper area of each person’s gift usually is determined by the judgment of the leaders, as well as the congregation. A man is not the proper judge for his own gift. The prophets speak, but the others judge (1 Cor. 12:20). Some can teach the Word in an edifying way; others are either dull or simply without impact in what they say. Some can lead singing; others cannot. Someone may make a good chairman; another cannot. It is good to channel each believer into the area of ministry for which they are best suited. Some, perhaps many, do not belong at all in the public eye. They can serve the Lord in other ways. If possible do not assign people in church positions for any other reason than when they display divine enabling for that task.

3. Atmosphere of Good Meetings. When visitors or others enter a gathering they sense something in the air. They are warmly welcomed or gently ignored. They sense love and friendliness or coolness. They can also sense joy or dreariness and heaviness. They sense sincerity or a lack of reality in the people around them. They sense excitement about the church, or all seems like a routine. Is there expectancy because God is present to work, or is this only a meeting of human beings not much different from a fraternal club or ladies society? Do they think, “This is a live church” or “This is a dull, dead church”? What can one do to create a good atmosphere? Consider these suggestions:

a. If you are in a position of responsibility, recognize a negative situation and realize that something may need to be done. What vital things are missing? List a few specific things that could be done which might be helpful. It is better to have constructive ideas than negative complaints. Every negative has a corresponding positive. Look for solutions.

b. Rearranging surface things does not change underlying deficiencies. The spiritual factor always underlies the surface problem. If a board has rotted, paint will only be a temporary cover.

c. If you are an attender, come spiritually prepared. Be ready to minister to others, and to reach out to newcomers; to serve rather than to be served. The people themselves determine the general atmosphere of any meeting.

Conclusion And Application

In the early church there was dynamic power flowing from a constant inflow of changed and rejoicing people, filled with the working of the Spirit of God. People alive to the Spirit will be sharing their faith regularly as a way of life. It is said, “They went everywhere gossiping the gospel” (Acts 8:4). Lively meetings have lively people present. When numbers are being increased by adult converts they bring new life and enthusiasm.

The need for this outreach also tells us that the believers cannot be spending excessive amounts of time going to Christian meetings or activities, which would prevent them from spending time in building bridges with unsaved and unchurched neighbors. Unless there is a determined effort by believers to reach those without Christ, evangelism will never improve in the local church. This takes a great deal of determination and a clear daily priority on the hearts of those in fellowship.

The 20th Century is not the 1st Century, and there have been many changes in the world. The basics of our message have not and cannot be changed. What was central in importance to God remains the same today. Adjustment in details of meetings or adaptations to the culture in which we live may be required, as long as we do not compromise principles. It take spiritual discernment to know the difference between fundamental principles and methodological details. The same spiritual discernment ought to tell us when we have very good meetings or poor ones.

Lesson 9 The Meetings Of The Church

1. What were the essential ingredients of the meetings of the early church (Acts 2:41,42)? How does this compare with what we are doing today?

2. When did the believers meet together, and for what purposes did they meet (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-34)?

3. Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. What things make for a bad meeting? How should a good meeting operate?

4. What is the warning given in Hebrews 10:25? How would you explain to someone the need to take this warning seriously? Why do you have an obligation to participate?

5. What, if anything, might we add or adjust to the New Testament model of the church meetings to make them effective today in our culture? What are the dangers of too much concession to the prevailing culture?

6. Is there anything in the notes of this lesson which is unclear to you? Do you have any unanswered questions regarding this lesson?