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The power of the gathered and scattered church

Let's build up the gathered church so that the scattered church makes a difference, says Neil Hudson

In a world dominated by ‘or’, there’s power in ‘and’. So does an emphasis on the significance of the scattered church Monday-Saturday mean that the activities of the gathered church don’t matter?

I don’t think I’ve ever been asked this question by people who spend most of their time scattered on different frontlines throughout the week, but it’s one I have regularly been asked by church leaders. Understandably enough.

It’s a question that suggests other concerns: 

  • Should all the ministry of the gathered church be about scattered living?
  • Do we have to stop all our programmes?
  • If we give greater significance to those in frontline settings, do we unintentionally signal that God doesn’t call people out of those settings to gathered church ministry?

The answer to all these questions is a resounding no’. It’s a conversation that cannot be dominated by or’; it has to be about and’. Disciples who live a fruitful life need a vision and must be equipped for their scattered life; but for that to be true, they need a rich gathered life together as a church community. It’s the impact of the church: scattered and gathered.

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When that becomes a lived reality for the 98 per cent of Christians, all those not in paid Christian leadership positions, who spend 95 per cent of their lives as the scattered church, what happens? This is the glorious question that is definitely worth exploring.

The richness of this possibility was the reason I wrote Scattered & Gathered: Equipping disciples for the frontline (IVP: 2019); I’ve seen the difference it does make in so-called ordinary churches with so-called ordinary people.

If we agree that being a disciple is someone who is learning the way of Jesus in their particular context at this particular moment in life, we need to reflect on how our life together as a church community will help that to happen. 

At root, it will involve more than just adding some new activities into the church programme; it will be the focus of all our activities. It will not be a side issue for the keen folk, but the reason for all our activities: sermons, sung worship, small groups and friendship.

But this equipping and support of everyone will need a certain posture on the part of those who are in ordained ministry. A large part of church leadership is helping to create a community out of a group of individuals. But it is not community for its own sake. It’s so that relationships can develop that nurture, support and equip one another as we serve God’s purposes wherever we find ourselves. In truth, this is hard work.

All this has deep consequences for the lives of church leaders. If we are distracted by the latest church trends, envious of other church leaders who seem to be more appreciated, or judgmental of the congregation because change doesn’t seem to be happening fast enough, we will be unable to help anyone. 

In short, we need to learn to love this particular congregation which has called us to minister to them. And we have to act that out in practical ways so that our actions reflect this belief about the church: both gathered and scattered. 

And when this happens, it makes all the difference in the world. It makes a difference in the lives of Christians who are navigating their responsibilities in life aware that God is at work in and around them. It makes a difference in the lives of church leaders who find that the impact of their ministry lies far beyond the boundaries of their church buildings. And it makes a difference for all those people who are living and working alongside disciples of Jesus.

It’s the power of and’: the impact of all that can happen when our scattered lives as church are intrinsically linked to our gathered life as a church community.

Photo by Hannah Busing

About the author

The Rev Dr Neil Hudson leads the church team at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC). Alongside working with LICC, Neil is also an Elim church minister in Salford.

See more from Dr Neil Hudson

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