How does the church keep from being too inward focused? How does the church balance the big gatherings with smaller service initiatives? It’s questions like these that Hugh Halter and Matt Smay seek to answer in their book And: The Gathered and Scattered Church. Halter and Smay don’t want people to lose their love for the church, even if they sense something is wrong. They see an entire generation which love God but “won’t settle for stale church anymore” (18).
A proper understanding the balancing act of the gathered church is to remember that the church is a “sent” community. In reference to Israel, we see that God “takes pleasures in his people so that they will make his name and his ways renowned throughout the nations” (39). Ultimately, Jesus was the “sent” One of God. He was sent to our world to redeem. Now as his people, the church picks up where Jesus left off and is sent into the world (44).
The church can begin moving towards living missionally wherever she is. The church must engage the culture which means getting to know people. This only happens over time (57). The traditional ministry flow is for people to be engaged, then to be invited to a church service, then conversion, and finally, discipleship (60). Halter and Smay conclude that if a church planter is starting from scratch, we must first engage the culture, then form community, and finally, structure a congregation. An established church must do the opposition: structure–>form community–>engage culture (63). But even established church can start the missional flow anywhere. The starting place is how a few people begin forming community where they can be on mission together (69).
Forming community can help kill consumerism. Too many people come to church to “get something out of it” rather than pouring out their lives for the sake of others (73). Church leaders can wean people off the wrong things by cutting out what people consume (81). Take away spiritual goods and services! Try to replace those things with real, authentic relationships, “Discipleship can’t happen from the pulpit or through church programs. It seems to happen best when a leader gives someone personal time” (86).
An important aspect of growing people is considering spiritual formation. How do you move people into maturity? Halter and Smay advocate for an overlapping process of spiritual formation. It includes: inclusive community, mission, and communion (with God) (97). Unfortunately, many churches don’t have a process. Or they may have a lop-sided process. Or churches may ignore the barriers to getting involved in community or mobilized for mission (98-100).
Their spiritual formation process include four stages.
- Observance: See if someone’s story matches the story of their church. The link to the next phase is the “Call Out.” The call out is a challenge to come and die with the church.
- Preparation: A short-term experience that helps people find their heart again for church and God (112). The experience balances community, mission, and typical spiritual disciplines. It’s putting faith into practice. The link to the next phase is public sending and blessing.
- Participation: People are not trying and doing (115). They are learning to live incarnationally. The next link is commission or membership.
- Partnership: This a level of leadership where someone is owning their own growth and that of others (119).
Next, there is a balance to gathering and scattering. In fact, they don’t have to be opposed to one another.
- Mobilizing a portion of people for mission could be a good start
- We need to give people a process for spiritual formation. It needs to be intentional and push them. The LINKS between the steps are important.