Can Christians Gather?

If you didn’t believe me as a pastor, will you believe me now as one who is not?

  1. Now, most of what I do with my time is dictated by others. The rest is taken up with the incessant demands of everyday life, including sleep. This is just normalcy for most people. This is why we enjoy our weekends so much. This is why Sunday mornings are so extravagantly wonderful. There is nothing to do but relax. In a few hours unusually free of applied pressures, no one can even tell us to go buy something, because where I live all stores are closed on Sunday mornings. No one is telling me what to do or what to believe.
  2. All week long, in the our work lives and on the news and all around us, we are inundated with agenda. Agenda agenda agenda. Purpose purpose purpose. Goals goals goals. Vision vision vision. Passion passion passion. It’s so thick in the air we breathe that we could cut it with a knife. Sometimes we don’t even realize how pervasive and assumed it is. But Sunday mornings are remarkably free of that. Especially if I keep the TV off and stay away from other popular media.
  3. Throughout the week on the car radio and on the television and in the papers billboards and magazines we are plastered with the ridiculous ideologies of others. We watch silly people flash their stupid beliefs with such childish pride that we squirm in embarrassment for them. We have to watch and listen to perfectly grown men and women make fools of themselves with their ludicrous ideas attended with uncontrolled emotion. It’s humiliating to the human race. We honestly do wonder where the sense of reason has escaped to.

So the last thing I want is to go to church for more of the same: to be dictated to, pressured with an agenda, and subjected to childish beliefs.

Can Christians gather without being dictated to? Can Christians gather without a vision being thrust upon them? Can Christians gather to seriously question, explore, examine and discover intellectually?

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  • Chris Kirk


    We have been informally gathering with others without an agenda for over 20 years. Totally free and open, Spirit led fellowship. We have no hierarchy or mission statement. We just eat, pray, sing and share as it is being unfolded to us by The Spirit at that very moment.

  • Yes. I have a few friends that gather all the time without agenda, especially without it being ‘christian’, we just live life together. Then once and a while we get together for a book study or something, without a ‘leader’, we share and talk and let God lead.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry this is anonymous, but I wouldn’t want anyone to feel hurt. I was a church pastor too once, now I’m ministering in a way that looks a lot more like the “7:00 am to 7:00 pm” job that I had before I got ordained. And, yeah, I’m tired when I get home too.

    I’m wondering, Nakedpastor, what you did as a pastor? I was on call 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. I drove 30 miles to the hospital in the middle of the night when someone was ill and when they just had a panic attack. I got told to “take care of myself” and criticized for not attending the potluck lunches on my one day a week off. I was loved by my church members and also expected to give them the attention I would have given them if they were my fathers and mothers, daughters and sons.

    My spouse and I dealt with the vandalism to the church at 2:00 am in the morning, dealt with the mentally-ill guy who came around at 10:30 pm threatening us and told we should “take care of ourselves”. We got criticized for maintaining the boundaries of right and wrong and criticized for not maintaining them.

    On the upside, we were prayed for, welcomed into people’s homes, loved, cared for, and given the privilege of sharing in very deep times of people’s lives – both good and bad.

    I may very well be a church pastor again in the future. It’s a “job” like no other (because it really isn’t a job and really is a way of life).

    But please don’t maintain the fiction that I had all the time in the world to screw around and that I didn’t understand what my church members were going through.

  • Sister Marie

    Can Christians gather? Maybe. It’s hard to find a church without some kind of underlying political agenda. I left one church because they could not avoid demonizing liberals, Democrats, or the current president. With so many sick and suffering people, one would think that their priorities would be more aligned with those of Jesus Christ.

  • Mark VH

    You asked three questions at the bottom. My experience of the first two is an outright yes.

    My answer to the third is mostly yes, but they should gather as humans, if that makes any sense. And the fewer the better.

  • Um… Anonymous… I’m not sure what you’re getting at. If you think I was accusing pastors of being lazy or “screwing around”, I was not. i was a pastor myself and know what my schedule was like. sounds like you have been accused of screwing around before and maybe you’re sensitive to that. anyway… i didn’t mean to communicate that.

  • We are this Sunday afternoon…but there is an agenda:

    Concert in the park at 3 PM
    BBQ back at our place after
    Open a couple of bottles of wine
    Hang out together & see what comes up!

    Definitely no pressure, dictating…and no childish beliefs, but hopefully a dose of childlike behavior!

    Tough, but someone has to do it! ;~)

  • JD

    Your ideal sounds like the “small group” I was in before the leader moved away. Then his buddy took over leadership and started pushing his opinion, which diminished the group to the point that it just faded away.

  • BrianMpei

    yes, yes and yes.

  • Dennis

    Everyone has an agenda. Every pastor, leader and Christian when they go to church do so expecting something from each other. If a pastor could look out in the crowd on Sunday morning and could see a sign expressing the ultimate expectation of each person listening, he’d not be able to function. If the average congregant knew the secret desires of the pastor, they’d be going to Elk’s club for chicken wings and martinis.

    The word dictate creates a particularly negative response. I want my pastor to have a plan to help me grow. I want him to be motivated to “present everyone perfect in Christ”. I want him to spur me on I just don’t want the dubious bullshit gilt laden nonsense. I want a relationship and I want complete honesty. I want to see sin and brokenness. The only dictates I want to hear are a good thrashing once in a while when we act unloving and selfish.

  • Yes, I think so. But it is the exception rather than the rule. Our church does this quite well I think.

  • “Can Christians gather to seriously question, explore, examine and discover intellectually?”
    Yes. That’s a large part of why I do go to church, my church in particular, and what I like about Sunday School (when I manage to make it).

    And when we’re not exploring & discovering, we’re praising, preferably with joyful noises. There’s no agenda or goal in that, just being and doing.

  • crystal

    Yes, we should still “gather together’ but not necessarily in large numbers. In a crowd, the herd instinct tends to manifests itself, and we all start wanting to impress others and be drawn into a kind of silly “sheep” thing where our individuality flies out the window. (Where in the bible does it ever say we are supposed to lose our individuality?) Not going off the topic here, I feel that it is best if one talks one on one with a close friend when it comes to spiritual matters. I have a friend like that with whom I can share my Christian struggles and she with me. I’m tired of the whole “church gathering” thing.

    I remembered recently how arrogant I was during the first few years after I came to the Lord, (saved ) how in bible studies I always felt that I had it all sewn up. so to speak, that I knew exactly what the scriptures were saying. That was thirty three years ago and now where am I? Now I feel I know nothing, that I’m starting out for the first time. I think that God is pleased with me for that because now I’m like a child. I’m open and willing to look around and see what is out there. I have no agendas or goals or visions, other than what I perceive God reveals to me for my own personal consumption, and that’s my business, nobody else’s.

    So, yes, we still do need each other, but I don’t think we need a pastor who outlines a plan for us to grow, or a pastor who gives us a thrashing once in awhile ( sorry, Dennis) because Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide us and speak to us, not Man. Man gets it wrong sometimes and that leads to so much hurt and confusion.

    I’m glad that Jesus said that where two or three are gathered in his name, there he would be. That means that I can meet my friend at the mall over coffee and we can be assured that Jesus ( in the form of the Holy Spirit ) is present, guiding our conversation. Of course, he is with us individually, too, never let us forget that.

    Now I cringe at large advertised church meetings. Once, I attended them with such lofty expectations.I was addicted to the buzz in the room as I entered, the idea of what was going to show up that evening ( hopefully, God) and the feeling that I was part of something wondrous and magical. Sadly, I was more often than not, left with a let down feeling. Nothing magical happened, or if it did, it was what I now recognize as emotional hysteria. That’s not to say that God didn’t give me insights or hope at those meetings. He quite often did, but I stopped chasing those feelings after a while, once I experienced those insights in my daily life. I became more introspective and calm about my faith, and that’s where I am today.

    Where does that leave church for me in my walk? Like David ( I think) I shy away from church and don’t know if I will ever go back. I don’t seem to need it at the moment.

    Can Christians still gather? My answer is yes, but not with agendas etc- I don’t believe God intended that…Crystal.

  • Maybe Gray

    This comes down to friendships first, beliefs second. When friendships are based heavily on shared beliefs, things get authoritarian and judgmental quickly.

  • Reading the article title again, Can Christians Gather? Let’s put it this way. Can garden-variety human beings gather? If we find out that they can, then the answer for Christians is yes, as long as they can act like human beings.

  • sounds like you’ve only now discovered the sabbath day off. how ironic.


    How many of us have seen or participated in placing a hand on the wall of the sanctuary and then said, “This is not the church.” With this act, we were trying to illustrate that it is the people of our faith community who are the church and not the building. Do we have any idea what we just said? If the building is not the church, why do we spend so much time and effort dealing with it? If the building is not the church, why is it so important to us? After we have said, “This is not the church,” have we ever taken a far look in the direction we just pointed? What happens when we extend that thought?

    What do capital campaigns and 6- or 7- or 8-digit mortgages (or any mortgage amount) and sanctuaries with high vaulted ceilings and proper acoustic resonance and stained glass windows and basketball courts and dining halls and sculpted altars and carved pulpits and custom-built communion tables and decorative carpet and imported floor tiles and plentiful paved parking lots and meticulously manicured gardens have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

    What do fund-raisers and all the accompanying effort and bother and time and finding and organizing the required workers have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

    What do praise bands and church orchestras and bell choirs and octaves of tuned bells and multi-rank pipe organs and grand pianos and synthesizers and adult choirs and children choirs and choir auditions and choir robes and music folders and the search and review and selection analysis and purchase of new music and multi-line PA systems and multi-screen video systems and live broadcasts and recorded broadcasts and hours of rehearsal time and church bulletins and church bulletin art work and church bulletin paper and designer fonts and newsletters and mailing lists and advertising and advertising placement and multi-media web sites and visits by unique IP addresses and the use of and the presence on new media have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

    What do membership drives and attendance numbers and baptism numbers and tithing and bequests and endowments and liturgical employees and non-liturgical employees and salaries and benefits and committees and committee meetings and church boards and church board meetings and the consequential and unavoidable church politics have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

    Much of what we call successful Christianity and successful worship and successful congregations has nothing to do with living and sharing the Good News.

    Once we begin to think of our faith in terms of largeness instead of largess or in terms of measurable success or significant achievements or community stature or statistically significant gains or business models or congregational models or appropriate budget processes or cash flow direction or generally accepted accounting practices or independent audits or administrative requirements or managerial transparency or proper leadership roles and boundaries or membership trends or effective organizational structures or a current and accurate vision statement – at that point, we have become the money changers – we have lost our faith and deserve to be driven away for we are neither living nor sharing the Good News.

    What would happen if the church universal – every congregational property, every regional office, every national office, every seminary, every camp – was sold and the net proceeds were used to establish a trust fund endowment to support nutritional, medical, legal, and educational services for the poor, the lost, and the hurt?

    When you want a new status quo – a status quo different from the current status quo – you are asking for revolution. When you desire radical transformation – you are asking for revolution. When you are tired of capital campaigns for more structural imagery; nauseated by controversy over who is fit to be a church member, deacon, or elder; repulsed by the aggregation and protection of authority that defines narrow rigid paths to ordination; grievously hurt by the abandonment and refusal to acknowledge congregations who dare to be excited by their proclaiming and living the Good News; or sick of choosing better organization over better outreach – you are asking for revolution.

    “Doing” has to be the new definition of faith. A “new definition” will not be statements of purpose/mission/vision or political participation or public stances on issues or styles of worship. It will be specific activities; specific ways of living that are the new definition. Participating in CODA or LifeLine or Habitat for Humanity will not be an outreach activity; it will be what we do and definitive of who we are. Supporting a free clinic or a food pantry or a shelter for the homeless will not be the focus of an annual fund-raising event; it will be part of our continuously active and visible theological and spiritual DNA. Worship will not be every Sunday morning – it will be whenever and wherever 2 or 3 (not 200 or 300, not 2,000 or 3,000, not 20,000 or 30,000) are gathered to live, study, and contemplate the Good News. Indeed, “doing” will be about living and being the Good News, not scheduling it as a repetitive activity on our digital calendar on the same day at the same time that always occurs at the same location and always follows the same program and sequence just so it will be easier to update the Sunday bulletin. “Doing” our faith does not require capital campaigns; local, regional, or national governing boards; seminaries; or licensing/ordination policies.

    “Doing” our faith has to be seen as a radical, counter-cultural, defiant way of living. By its very nature, our faith is not supposed to be institutionalized and not measured by largeness, cultural pervasiveness, or authoritarianism. Our faith is supposed to be personal and divinely humane. Our faithful doing is to be delivered person-to-person, face-to-face, one-to-one – not by an invisible faceless remote committee or collective or on-line flash mob. “Doing” our faith can be accomplished only with more personal involvement and not with more technology that is “better,” more pervasive, more invasive, and increasingly remote and detached.

    Congregations need to consider gathering for worship and meetings in homes. The home congregation is not an act of isolation or withdrawal. When used honestly and openly, the home congregation is a rejection of the costs and traps and abuses of church and denominational institutionalism and authoritarianism. A home congregation is an act of wholly embracing and finely focusing on missional generosity, hospitality and justice. Just imagine: A congregation that gathers only for worship or organizing direct missional outreach. Just imagine: Church with no church governing boards and no board meetings, no committees and no committee meetings, no rehearsals, no fund-raisers, no capital campaigns, no finances, no buildings, no property, no maintenance or repairs or replacements, no employees, no membership drives. Just imagine: Church as only worship, only studying, only witnessing in word and service to each other and the world.

  • Christians can gather. But they are gathered for a purpose. And that purpose id the proclamation of the Word and to administer the Sacraments.

    Questions and study are good, at Bible study, but not during worship where good order needs to be maintained lest it cause someone to stumble.

  • Elderyl

    Yes. We can. All of the above. A year ago I would have doubted it possible, and now I see it playing out before me, though I can still hardly believe it. But being in this new place does have one cost, I have to more intentionally lay aside my judgments and visions and be slow to speak and quick to listen. Perhaps this is one of the benefits from being beleaguered. Pain can lead to sensitivity.
    During Lent, I am leading an art class as a spiritual discipline. Our only vision is that we will have pieces to use in the services of Holy Week. I am very excited because we are created to be creative and this is the first time I’ve been able to fully share my gifts this way in church. I am excited this will be a project without age restrictions; children will create next to grandmothers. I didn’t come up with the idea, but it is wonderful and already has been a source of healing as the project has developed. I came from a church that did dictate and constrict and stomped on my family for questioning. Art leads to questions, good art, in my opinion, makes us think and question. The fact that this church welcomes this as a spiritual discipline is proof for me that Christians can gather.

  • Worship is not a form of or for the purpose of law and order. It is not a time for establishing, promoting or preserving human authority or human institutions that require obediance, command and control.

    Worship is being in relationship with God as a community. Worship is a time of sharing, praying, questioning, pondering, searching, actively being the Kingdom of God – and learning how to imbue our life with that Kingdom and how to live that Kingdom into the world.

    The question has always been: Do I worship a God of war and hate OR do I live in relationship with a God of love and grace?

    I choose the latter.

  • bob

    “Questions and study are good, at Bible study, but not during worship where good order needs to be maintained lest it cause someone to stumble.”


  • Doug (WearyPilgrim)

    One time years ago, in the middle of a sermon I was preaching on the Biblical metaphor of sheep and Shepherd, I said something to the effect that sheep tend not to be terribly bright and will blindly follow whatever or whoever attracts their attention. One of my parishioners immediately leaped to his feet and, asserting that I had never worked on a farm and therefore knew nothing about sheep, proceeded not only to challenge what I had just said but to make me look like an idiot.

    Didn’t cause anyone to stumble . . . except me. I felt like I wanted to thump him.

  • steve t

    i think steve martin may be best keeping away from any church i go to 🙂 if your preaching rot someone needs to say it, and im sorry but waiting till a mid week bible study to voice that so as to not ruin the smooth running of your show dont work for me, preaching needs to create room for doubt for questions etc. still room for a passionate shared vision . some order is a good idea and i would reserve heckles for preachers who really deserve them. but if you come across like your own opinions are the word of god and no other voices get a chance to be heard then your asking for trouble. far as overworked pastors go i feel for you but you need to learn to delegate to share responibility and power, if the community your part of arent up for that get the heck out of their fast.

  • Mags Tyler

    I think I love Doug Sloan. What a fantastic reply – any objections to me copying it and reading it to eveyone I know?

  • Worship services are not a free for all.

    You are free to walk out or say something at the door to the pastor.

    I have been to many churches where whay they were preaching was bullshit…but I held my tongue (out of courtesy for the others) until the door, and then I never came back.

    I’m not saying we have to be automotons…but we ought be decent.

  • Mags,

    Here is the link to the full text:

    Feel free to share as you see fit – please cite your source.

  • “Can Christians gather without being dictated to? Can Christians gather without a vision being thrust upon them? Can Christians gather to seriously question, explore, examine and discover intellectually?” (NP)

    I don’t mind some direction and vision – namely for younger people that may need that type of structure – since it does help one become ‘disciplined’ in their personal lives. So, some of that I have little problems with.

    However as an adult now, the answer is ‘no’ to…’gather to seriously question, explore, examine and discover intellectually’. The church is just not that concerned with this aspect of faith – it’s more rote and routine and get the dance steps down so everyone is doing the same conga.

    The church is really quite anti-intellectual and in order for it to work effectively it needs to be.

  • Christine

    As the most recent member of your regular readership to leave a church (two days ago) with no intention of attending another *takes a sarcastic bow*, it is a poignant set of questions for me.

    I had a very special community that did very well all the things you refer to in your questions above. But over the last half year or so has become a distinctly-not-alternative place of membership drives, inner leadership circles, and hierarchical, secretive decision-making. What once was an open forum now preferences denominational theologies, and defends and promotes an organization uncritically and unquestioningly. The allegience is to organizational norms, over and above the values originally inshrined in the community and the best interests of its members. It is a place where people seek to be something other than what they are, and for their own desires and conveniences rather than anything that’s even claimed to be devinely-inspired or for the good of anyone else. Other than the day and location of services, my little alternative refuge is now a regular denominational, institutional church.

    I had hoped it was just my imaginiation as I viewed the shifts. I assumed if it was real, it was accidental, rather than an outright betrayal of the stated values of our group. But I was told otherwise, so here I am, on the other side.

    I’m angry, of course, and dissapointed. The hardest part is that these trends, including the move away from collective decision-making, was made by one or two. But since we had a stated commitment to group decision-making, all those decisions were therefore illegitimate (it’s not like we all agreed that future decisions would be made by the elite(s) only). And the decisions were underhanded, as the group wasn’t even informed that such decisions were being made. So, I feel like my group was stolen from me by people I trusted. And, of course, the perpetrators are ignorant to this betrayal, with it not even occuring to them that they may have done something hurtful and inappropriate. So, in other words, it feels like a regular church now, too.

    David, I honestly believe the answer to your questions is a resounding “yes”. Because I’ve seen it. What I’ve been wondering is, at what level of formality and organization do we risk losing that in favour of institutional pressures? I believed my group had the necessary informality (or at least sufficient commitment to those values to avoid the previously mild pressure created from belonging to a larger network). But clearly, I was wrong. As I seek out something turly alternative – hopefully including but also going beyond beers and coffees – I given this a lot of thought, in hopes of not crossing that line in the future.

  • Sad to hear that Christine. The truth is that’s what I experienced. It takes constant perseverance to prevent this from happening. It can never be assumed. One can never relax. It always happens. But once this dis-ease takes root, it is almost impossible to uproot it. Sad to say, this is what happened in my last church. Before this happened it was, for the most part, beautiful. I had to leave too.

  • Christine

    Thanks, David. I also want to say that your honesty about your experience over these many months has really helped. As I’ve been going through this, I’ve been able to think on all of your posts on this site and know I’m not alone. By stimulating the conversation about the institutional church, you also gave me an opportunity to gain a clearer understanding for myself of what I was and wasn’t willing to accept of those institutions.

    While it didn’t change the outcome for that community, it’s made this process and my ultimate decision much healthier and easier for me. It’s much appreciated.

  • Crystal

    Doug Sloan,”Reclaiming Church” I agree with your comments, especially the eighth paragraph where you talk about churches selling up everything and giving their money to worthy causes ( like they would ever do that, but should, in my opinion) and the ninth paragraph that revolution is what is needed. Wish more Christians thought like that, but every time I spoke that way in my ex-church I got ignored.

    Doug ( WearyPilgrim ) Your parishioner was correct. Sheep are not stupid. The latest research on sheep in the UK proves that they have intelligence and do not just blindly follow. That kind of blows apart the old “sheep and shepherd” story that most Christians believe without question and which most pastors love to toss out at their “stupid sheep” languishing in the pews.

    Perhaps a pastor should thoroughly research before he speaks to his congregation these days. Facts change as our knowledge about nature and the world increases. Congregants are better informed than they used to be. You can’t pull the wool (no pun intended) over their eyes like you used to be able to.

    I had an embarrassing experience some years ago when I listened and took for “gospel” something somebody lectured about in my church, and then proceeded to use it to illustrate a concept in my testimony before a large group of women. I didn’t bother or think to do my own research on the subject matter. Later on I discovered that I had imparted false information and was so upset that I apologized to the entire church. I felt that my integrity had been shot to pieces, and it was all my own doing. Now, before I say anything, I check it out from many sources. ( I have always loved woolly sheep and am glad they have thinking capacities like other worthy animals. )

  • Ian

    Thanks for asking the opportunity to comment. I’m not sure David if the question has any relevance to me anymore. After decades of living within a Christian culture I found I could no longer be “normal”, that the only way I could engage with others was via Church activities, language and a truncated view of life. I found that one could only relate within a particular context and that much of ordinary, everyday life – hopes and aspirations were not allowed to be expressed.

    I know that Christians gathering together is mandated via scriptural references in Matthew and also Paul takes it somewhat further and puts structure around Christ’s simple statements and so an whole edifice is built which we slavishly follow. But, for me at least, not anymore.

    I applied this type of thinking all the time to my own life – reverse engineering my experiences to fit with specific scriptures – and it is such a backwards approach, emotionally exhausting and intellectually frustrating.

    Now, I think it more important to live with others, regardless of beliefs, and to concentrate on enjoying and fostering the good in others, being a compassionate and caring person, approaching life by concentrating on what is happening now. I’m finding that ever so slowly I’m able to fit back into being someone comfortable with being a regular person and fitting back into my community.