January 21 – Gathering


Main Focus: After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the most consistently apparent rhythm of his followers is that they gather together.

Being the Church is our next series in 2024; having kicked off the year with two weeks on our 2024 theme, A Lived Amen, next we’re going to spend five weeks talking about what it means to be the church by looking at five hallmarks of church membership: gathering, community, serving, giving, and evangelism (Love One). Of course, a series like this could feel legalistic right out the gate, like all we’re doing is promoting a checklist to build good churchgoers. But that couldn’t be further from the goal.

We’ll be pulling our whole series out of Acts 2:42-47 (with supporting texts to help us in our discussion). In Acts 1-2, Jesus ascended into heaven and sent his Spirit to be present in and with his people. What happened next was the organic communal response to the presence and power of God in people. These five weeks unpack the simple reality of the early church, of those who have beheld Jesus, been gifted his Spirit, and begun to follow in his footsteps. That’s our goal. Our pastors and staff members aren’t interested in burdening our church with a checklist; really we aspire to enjoy the same freedom and collaboration we see among Jesus’s earliest followers.

This week we’ll dive into that first of these five practices: gathering together. Forty-eight days after Jesus’s resurrection, thousands and thousands of Jews were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot, what we call Pentecost. On Shavuot the giving of the Torah is celebrated, but that year God’s word arrived in a profoundly new way—the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’s followers in tongues of fire, enabling them to proclaim the good news of the gospel in every language, and after a short sermon from Peter over 3000 men, women, and children repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:1-41).

It’s this community of believers that’s described in Acts 2:42-47. Aside from the small core of Jesus’s disciples, the rest of the early church was made up of recent converts. Their brand-new faith in the risen Lord Jesus united them and changed their lives from top to bottom, pulling them together into a tight-knit community, centering their lives on the teachings of the apostles, and stirring them up to show radical generosity towards one another. You get the sense that these people simply couldn’t stop getting together to rejoice over their new life in Christ (in discussion we’ll touch on this compelling frequency). This was a community of resurrection, a community we can participate in with them across the ages.

In discussion, we’ll turn to Hebrews 10:19-25 to drill down more into our need for the worship gathering. There the author connects the gospel message (“the new and living way that [Jesus] opened for us”) to our faithful response to God (“let us draw near with a true heart”), which inevitably leads to our communal life of worship (“stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together”). This helps us see the importance that the Bible places on our shared worship, which is crucial enough to warrant this command to not neglect it. But again, this is no heartless checklist—in the same exact passage we’re reminded of the gospel message, that we are saved not by our works but by Jesus’s finished work. This, as we’ll deliberately touch on, frees us from legalistically attending worship as a means of currying God’s favor or checking religious boxes.

We’ll end by discussing how the commands to stir up one another to love and good works, to meet together, and to encourage one another are things we both need to receive from others and things others need to receive from us. We’ll ask this question to remind ourselves that the worship gathering does something that singing songs by yourself in the car can never provide—embodied, person-to-person, given and received blessing. All that the worship gathering provides for us—people to smile and pray and sing with, to hug and brush past in the communion line, to introduce ourselves to—this is the physical life of the family of God which we all desperately need to give and receive.

Lastly, here’s the summary on this practice from the Vintage Membership document:

Worship gatherings have been a staple for followers of Jesus for almost two thousand years. At these gatherings we praise Jesus by welcoming one another joyfully, singing together, being led by pastors and deacons, hearing from God’s Word, giving to support the work of the church, and celebrating the sacraments. And all this is more than a mere ritual or cultural practice— remarkably, through the Spirit, Jesus himself is with his church when she gathers, blessing and sustaining her.

Discussion questions

– Could someone read Acts 2:42-47 for us?

– What stood out to you from the passage?

– Why do you think these people gathered together so frequently?

– Could someone read Hebrews 10:19-25 for us?

– Why do you think the Bible urges us not to neglect worshiping with others?

– Look at verses 19-22—how can Jesus’s death free us from legalistically attending worship gatherings?

– Look at verses 24-25—what are some ways you need this from others and think you can give this to others?