After a few weeks of this I noticed that the “Spirit” always seemed to “lead” them to talk about sports, or wine, or the churches they came out of. Nothing of any spiritual consequence ever happened.
That all changed one evening when I was able to steer the conversation around towards something of spiritual significance. I was able to ask some questions and generate interest in a particular topic. Then, when I was asked, I opened my Bible, threw caution to the wind, ignored their unwritten rules about having “no leadership,” and taught without interruption for forty-five minutes. They listened in rapt attention. When the meeting concluded, someone commented how good the meeting was – that they felt like we had actually fulfilled some purpose and learned something that would help us grow, as compared to previous meetings where nothing seemed to happen.
Did it occur to anyone that I had simply exercised spiritual leadership? Not by lording over, or pushing them somewhere they didn’t want to go, or using a title or gift in order to bend them to my will. I only shared my heart and gently guided the discussion towards a particular goal: that Christ would be increased, and the people would be brought one step closer to spiritual maturity.
Anyone could have done that. The point is that no one else did. And so I did. The act of providing some leadership in this situation did not put me in charge. It did not make me their pastor. It did not give me any special privileges or say-so. It was a simple expression of the heart of God for His people to make some progress towards a worthy goal of spiritual maturity. And when it was presented to them in this manner, they naturally and eagerly responded to it without even realizing I had broken their rules.
I know that this group is not unusual, but is typical of many meetings and many groups I have experienced. Without a purpose – and without leadership to keep people aligned to that purpose – home fellowships are as spiritually unsatisfying as the institutional church services they aspire to break free from.
Fellowship, or Companionship?
“Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (Amos 3:3, NLT)
To walk together, we have to agree on what the goal is. Before we discuss how to meet, where to meet, who to meet with, or what to do when meeting, we must answer the question of why meet at all? What is the purpose? What is the reason? For many, the reason is fellowship. This sounds like a spiritual motivation but it is largely self-seeking. What we really want, need, and crave is companionship with others. We call it fellowship because it sounds spiritual and not as self-centered. But there is a world of difference between fellowship and companionship.
The distinction is important, because if companionship is the goal, it is very unlikely that spiritual growth will occur. Companionship is often mistaken for fellowship, and fellowship is often mistaken for spirituality. That is a very deceptive notion. If mere companionship was the goal, and spiritual growth was the end result of meeting together, then let us meet together as often as we can: let us stack the meetings one right after the other; and let us look to those who meet the most as being the most spiritually mature!
But in actual practice, we know that there is no correlation at all between the number of meetings attended and the spiritual maturity of the attendees. It seems instead that the spiritually immature are the ones most in need of a meeting, and the quickest to fall away when the meetings are not available.
People will gather, and people will meet, and people will seek out the company of other people. This is the human condition; it is not a spiritual requirement, and the meeting itself will not lead to anything of spiritual value, unless we decide and agree with one another, from the very beginning, as to why we gather.
Why do we meet? What is the purpose? What is the goal? Without establishing this from the beginning, the meeting meanders. Nothing of any spiritual consequence takes place, and the meeting itself is usually dominated by whoever is the loudest, or the most talkative, or the most needy.
So why should we gather? The real purpose for meeting together should be to grow spiritually; and as we grow spiritually together, true spiritual fellowship with one another is the inevitable outcome.
Only Carnal Christians Reject Spiritual Leadership
“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us” (3 John 9).
How interesting that those who reject all forms of leadership will also say that it is best to gather with no agenda, with no purpose, with no plan, with no goal, apart from a general notion of “fellowship,” trusting that the Spirit will simply lead and direct the meeting. Again, this sounds so noble and spiritual! But in the real world, these heady ideas simply fall apart. Why? Because it assumes that everyone who gathers is “in the Spirit.” It assumes that everyone attending the meeting is able to be led by the Spirit. Actually, most people who attend a meeting are carnal. They are not in the Spirit when they gather, they are in the flesh. They are not spiritually mature, they are spiritually immature. That is not a statement of condemnation, it is just reality. But that reality must be recognized and acknowledged before anyone can grow beyond it. That is one reason why both the carnal and the spiritual must meet together – to grow, to learn, to be encouraged, to receive something that will help them in their journey.
But the carnal must cooperate with the spiritual. Without spiritually mature people to assist and facilitate spiritual growth, the carnal simply remain carnal. The meeting is an exercise in futility – the blind leading the blind. Or refusing to be led at all, believing that “Jesus is our leader,” and not understanding that the carnal mind is enmity against God, and those who are in the flesh cannot be led by the Spirit.
The carnal shun leadership, thinking this will somehow make them more spiritual than more organized believers. Or, thinking that anything smacking of leadership must mean an institutional hierarchy. While rightly rejecting the hierarchy, they go to the opposite extreme of having “no leaders” – as if leadership itself is evil. This reflects a lack of experience with what real spiritual leadership is all about. It is understandable, given all the poor examples of leadership and all the abuses that have come from carnal religious leaders. But the solution is not to disavow the principle of leadership, but rather, to understand what true spiritual leadership is. What does it look like? How should it function?
What if we could have all the benefits of spiritual leadership without any of the negatives we have come to associate with leadership? What if we could welcome those gifted by God to guide, facilitate, serve, help keep things on track and on target, and assist when problems arise – without being self-serving, arrogant, or unapproachable?
Let us pray for our eyes to be opened to those servant-leaders who are sent to us for our spiritual edification. Every meeting has an agenda, stated or not. Every group has leaders, recognized or not. Pretending there is no agenda and no leader is naïve. Far better to acknowledge the reality, and then come to a mutual understanding and agreement as to what the agenda is going to be, and who is responsible to facilitate things and keep them on track. It is not unspiritual to decide in advance, “This is the purpose for which we are gathered; this is the goal we are working towards; this is the result we seek.” Let us be in agreement about this before we come together. Then, when we come together, there is no question or difficulty about the purpose. It automatically puts everyone on the same page. It helps to keep things from drifting, or meandering, or disintegrating into meaninglessness. And it automatically filters out the ones who have ulterior motives or different goals.
Jesus might have said “make fellowships,” or “build churches,” or “conduct meetings.” But He said “make disciples,” which is more labor-intensive than anything else He could have said. Spiritually mature disciples of Jesus will not be made without setting spiritual maturity as a goal, and then working towards the fulfillment of that goal. If we have this goal in mind when we meet, and if we welcome the assistance of true spiritual leaders, the meeting can provide something of tremendous value to the Kingdom of God and to each member of the Ekklesia.