Window into a fellowship in Greensboro, NC
Here is a window into the shared life and function of a home-based assembly/fellowship/ekklesia in Greensboro, NC. As you will see below, there is no official process to ratify this description. It is from one member's vantage point. We are all free to share, describe, and invite people to our group as the Spirit leads us. This post is my invitation to you if you live in or near Greensboro, NC. That said, I believe this accurately reflects our current state as I have experienced it, or heard it discussed within the group.
We are a group of Jesus' disciples (multiple families) who gather regularly (usually at least weekly) to "stir one another up toward love and good works" as one small part of Christ's global family. We have embraced along the way several values that shape our relationships, gatherings, and work - all of which have helped us to function as a family rather than a corporation: open "membership", shared authority, shared responsibility, shared resources, and a shared center of gravity. Following are some explanations for what I mean by each value. It's worth noting that these values could (should, in my view) be applied throughout all our relationships within Jesus' family, not just with "our group" - at least to the extent that brothers and sisters we encounter will allow, welcome, and embrace them. To that end, we are always open to wider connection with disciples of Jesus - connections that may be less frequent or intimate, but can still be sources of support, help, and encouragement as the needs or opportunities arise. So back to the values...
There's no official membership role. So "membership" includes all of Christ's family who choose to participate (any who trust and follow Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God). If you show up and are "in Christ", you are already in - and encouraged to participate fully! 1 Cor 1:2, Eph 4:1-7, 1 John 5:1. Of course, the more frequent your participation, the more opportunity you have to impact and be impacted within the group. We do find that true fellowship requires the hard work of communicating our way through barriers and baggage that we all carry, which requires intentional regularity of gathering, lots of patience, willingness to repent from our old ways as needed (which is usually a lot), and large doses of grace and forgiveness when we do.
All members have equal authority and importance under the ultimate authority of Christ alone, and we "submit to one another" for mutual accountability. As such, the gatherings are not a good place to hide - but rather to face and address together the raw truth of our walk with Christ in this world. Luke 22:24-30, Eph 5:21, 1 Peter 5:1-5, Phil 2:1-11
All members share equal responsibility for carrying out the many "one another" activities that are taught in the Scriptures, even though gifting varies from person to person and time to time as the Spirit leads us toward unity and maturity in Christ. So the levels and directions of initiative will vary from person to person as the Spirit leads - but not by expectation or compulsion. Eph 4:11-16; 5:15:21, Gal 6:1-10, 1 Cor 14:26
We are growing continuously in this. I'm not saying we have arrived. But there is a commitment, in principle, to viewing all our individual resources (time, talents, property, homes, money, businesses, tools, vehicles, etc) as FAMILY resources (since they all truly belong to our Father). So love gifts to meet needs or partner with each other in various ways are becoming more common, as well as lending tools and giving time to one another with helping hands. Like I said, this is an area where we are still growing together. 1 John 3:17, Acts 2:44, Eph 4:28
Shared Center of Gravity
This is perhaps the most difficult value to live out - and the one we have only begun to explore. The idea is simply that Christ and His family is to be our primary center of gravity, around which all our other earthly relationships and pursuits should revolve. This requires a MAJOR change in our default thought process which usually views ourselves or our “earthly” family units as independent centers of gravity around which everything else must revolve. It requires us to die to self and put Jesus and His family first in our lives. So for example, there would ideally be no major decision in our individual lives where we don’t first consider (and perhaps communicate about as needed) the impact that decision will have on our family in Christ. Job changes, relocations, or major new time or resource commitments might be some examples. Our goal in this is to live life together on more levels than just a weekly gathering - finding common points of interest and service that we can engage in together. But that will likely require us each to let go of some other pursuits that would only pull our time and resources away from one other. If we are communicating on this level with each other, perferring one another, then "leaving" this group to pursue other paths would look more like being "sent" by this group into some other part of God's story in this world, since we would all be invited to understand it, speak into it, pray for it, and support it. None of this, of course, should ever be done by compulsion or control. It should always be pursued freely and willingly as we die more and more to ourselves. Matt 6:33
The values above seem to have shaped our fellowship so far in a number of ways...
A corporate structure to define us is not desired or needed. We don't even use a name (and really don't miss it). Corporate structures require limited definitions of membership (to determine who gets to vote). They also require authority hierarchies to make operational decisions about corporate resources. But since we simply share our private resources as needed (love gifts) to facilitate gatherings, meet needs, or partner together, there are no corporate resources to govern.
Staff positions are not desired, and are not needed. All the work is shared by all of us freely as the Spirit leads and gifts us. We are to meet one another's physical or financial needs as they arise and as we are able, equally true for those who take on the extra initiative of leadership. But that is very different from an employment contract, salary, or professional clergy. An important part of leading, actually, is keeping our "day jobs" to be an ongoing example of meeting the needs of others and of walking with Christ in the midst of life's financial demands. (See Paul's instructions to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:32-35.)
Leadership happens by willing example, initiative, and teaching - not by title, position, or pedigree. Even gifted leaders are equally accountable to everyone else as we all "submit to one another". The difference between a leader (elder/shepherd, if you will) and others members of the family is a difference of degree and gifting - that is, the degree to which they take humble initiative and responsibility through the Spirit's gifting for the care and condition of others, as an example to follow. We have never "appointed" elders/shepherds, but that's not to say that the eldering/shepherding is not occuring. It is a work and lifestyle, rather than an appointment. The only process for appointments that is described in the New Testament is appointment directly by one of the original apostles. Since that isn't possible today, we are always going to be operating "off script" on this question. While some choose to substitute other processes for appointing elders (voting, self-appointments, etc), we have instead let eldering and shepherding be natural and Spirit-led. We do not rule out the possibility that appointments of some kind might be needed in the future, but a process for doing so is not in place at this time.
Corporate ownership of properties or buildings are not desired, and are not needed. We operate by freely sharing what we individually own, including meeting in our homes.
Large group weekly gatherings are not the goal, although inviting the world around us to join the family through faith in Jesus certainly is. As growth comes, we are committed to finding ways to maintain and encourage intimate and overlapping circles of regular fellowship and partnership in life together. An occasional larger group gathering of such an interconnected family would be really cool someday, but the goal is the life together in unity with Jesus and one another, not the big gatherings.
Gatherings are not pre-choreographed by anyone, but some healthy patterns have emerged - patterns that we are all free to interrupt as the Spirit leads. There are usually free-flowing, overlapping times of song, teaching, discussion, sharing and prayer. We have accumulated a song list (several of the songs even written by our own members) that we have found most conducive to singing together with or without simple instruments (versus more complex performance-oriented music). At some gatherings we share a meal, reminding us of Jesus' body and blood. Anyone can teach, pray, ask, share, sing, or lead in song as they are led. Some do so more frequently than others. Some prepare material ahead, but the most important preparation seems to be our walk in unity with Christ - which overflows into our meetings as we interact and respond dynamically to one another. The gifts vary, but everyone is equally necessary - and everyone is responsible for carrying out (in their own ways and giftings) all the "one another" teachings in the Scriptures.
Children and teens are encouraged to participate with the adults as equally important members of Christ's family, and we have discussed being open to addressing needs differently or even separately at times as the shape of groups change. We will likely revisit together frequently the needs of parents, children, and teens. So far, we have tried activities to engage the children on their level, sought input from the teens on issues relevant to them and their families or friends, encouraged youth/children to facilitate scripture discussions by prompting us through some generic questions, held separate teaching times with the teens, and more. Honestly, they often split off and just play when we outlast their attention spans. We are open, learning and adjusting in this area.
There are different theological backgrounds and perspectives within the group, and we are learning from and sharpening one another as we communicate with patience and grace, and as we search Scriptures together. We find this approach to be self-correcting as well as stretching. We often unearth our own baseless assumptions or reasonings that we were always taught, but were never encouraged to question. In a similar group in the past, one member asked what will keep the group from doctrinal error if they didn't adopt a doctrinal statement. Another member wisely answered, "YOU will!" At this time, I can say that everyone seems fully convinced that the writings of the Bible provide a true and accurate account of God's interactions with, and plan for this world. So although relationship with Jesus ("The Word become flesh") is the real source of our life together in Him, it is the writings of the Bible that give us the factual background to even know who Jesus really is, why He came, and what his plan is for his family and for this world. We do recognize, however, that it is possible (maybe even common?) for someone to trust Jesus, and thus be part of the family, *before* they draw any conclusions one way or the other about the accuracy or veracity of all the biblical writings.
All that said, I think I represent the group well by saying that they/we would love to meet you, encourage you, stretch you, and be encouraged and stretched by you! You are welcome any time.