Sending vs Gathering

By Jill Riley

Over the last 2+ decades I have had the joy of assisting several church plants.  While the passion and nature of church planters has not changed during those years, the models certainly have.  The most significant change I see is the intentionality with which pastors are encouraging their community of faith to engage their geographical communities.  Feeding, clothing, fixing cars, painting houses, planting trees, etc. are all ways in which I hear of planters “loving God/loving others”.  I like it. A lot.

Churches living out these tangible, visible acts of grace parallel the direction, motion and purpose of the beloved Father sending disciples out to share the good news. .  .“As the Father has sent me, even so I am SENDING YOU!”

So, we GO. We LOVE. We SERVE. However, I think we would be lying to ourselves if we didn’t admit there is a little part of us that hopes our actions will eventually result in the numerical growth of our church.  We WANT those we serve and those who observe our “unselfishness” to join us; in body, mind, spirit, and wallet.  I struggle with the awareness that Jesus sent the disciples to love the world and teach the Word without the expectation of ever re-gathering, this side of heaven. The disciples were missionaries not boomerangs!

Can you feel that tension? How can I reconcile my role as a pastor, tasked with growing a sustainable, numerically increasing, growing church, with the call of being a disciple of Christ? Sending vs. gathering. In my heart and theology I know the role of pastor/planter and disciple are not conflicting. Even-so, the war of my intentions is fought frequently on the battlefield of my heart.

I understand the economics of it all. The larger the organization, the more influence it brings.  Simple social understandings tell us more people leads to more money and creates more influence. Isn’t this what the western church hopes for? More influence on the World for the cause of Christ? My query has nothing to do with the ends, just the means by which we get there.

John 20:21
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you…receive the Holy Spirit.”

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  3 comments for “Sending vs Gathering

  1. jengillan
    September 18, 2014 at 11:01 am

    I feel your tension, Jill, especially, I would imagine, in a church-planting context. I know that even in established churches, pastors (including myself) struggle with the tension of “church growth,” and it’s connection with the numbers of persons filling the church space. On some level we know that a healthy, fruitful church is not completely reflective of those numbers, but in one’s heart or inner world, there is a battle to believe that. I also appreciate how you named the interplay of gathering and sending and I’d like to think that the two are not in conflict with one another but are in a dynamic, close reciprocal relationship to one another. …but can relate to the wrestling of how their relationship plays out in our specific faith communities.

  2. September 19, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    Jesus calls us first to Come! Come to Christ, Come together, Come to be refreshed. Then, Jesus calls us second to Go! Both calls are part of our weekly rhythm of life. The Church tends to get out of balance, and over emphasize either the Gathering or the Scattering. Ecclesiastes tells there is a time to gather and a time to scatter. Both times are to be found in a weekly life of a follower of Jesus.

  3. Cathy Norman Peterson
    September 28, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Jill, I love the fact that you name this tension–which of course exists in established churches as well as in church plants. We fulfill our mission as Jesus called us, to “go out and do likewise”–yet, we have to recognize that our structures (yes, even the Church) are all-too-human. What do we do with that??

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