Gathered AND Scattered

The recent winter blizzards in the northeast caused huge delays in airline flight schedules, and as a result, thousands of people were stranded in airports all over the nation.  Because of the backlog of canceled flights, many airports looked like pajama parties gone awry, with people gathered everywhere — many sleeping on couches, benches, chairs, tables, and even on the floors.

The scenes reminded of the movie, The Terminal, in which an Eastern European traveler became stranded in the JFK airport because of a military coup in his homeland.  With no money, and a very limited understanding of English, the unfortunate traveler, played by Tom Hanks, was forced to live in the airport.

During the same time of the winter storms, I was reading Hugh Halter and Matt Smay’s new book, AND: The Gathered AND Scattered Church. The driving issue behind the book is the contradiction between the church as a gathered, worshiping congregation, and the church as a scattered people on mission.  The church must be both.  Like an airport terminal, the church gathers people in for the purpose of sending them out.  When it only gathers them in, and fails to send them out (scatter), the gathering loses its purpose, people are focused inward, and chaos reigns.

Then, it hit me. As nice and modern as most airports are, when they fail to fulfill the purpose they were designed for, the result is chaos.  When churches do not fulfill the purpose they were designed for, chaos also ensues. Even though some airports are known for their unique themes, live music, and great atmosphere, they are not designed as vacation resorts.  They are not destinations! They have one basic function – provide a place where people can gather, make connections, and move (scatter) toward their destinations. Isn’t that what our churches are also supposed to be?

Hugh Halter said, “… what brings meaning to your gathering is how well you scatter.” The very purpose for our gathering is that we might be a “scattered people.”  He adds, “If we want people to find meaning in our church gatherings, we must help them to gather for the purposes and people outside the gatherings.” Just as airports are gathering and sending places, so the church must define and clarify its role in both of these areas. We have to learn how to gather and how to scatter. If our church gatherings become destinations rather than launching pads, we will cease to be relevant in our mission and purpose as the Body of Christ. Sadly, many churches today have already become irrelevant for this very reason.

We understand gathering, and we do okay gathering. But, why don’t we do a better job of scattering? Why do we stay hidden under the eaves of the church when we should be out in the community sharing the Gospel? When you think about it, most of Jesus’ ministry didn’t happen in the synagogue. It happened out in the community where those who needed Him most lived. Jesus scattered. The disciples scattered. Paul scattered. How can we do less?

If you want your church to become an effective gatherer and an effective scatterer, I urge you to get this book!  It is a powerful treatment of the missional nature of the local church. When I look at so many of our churches, it is sad.  They can’t seem to find their way out of the terminal.  And, worse, we tend to design our services and our programs in a way that seems to say, “stay” rather than “go.”

Get the book!   I can assure you, it will make you re-think how you ‘do’ church and how you see the purpose for our gatherings as the people of God.

Larry

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About Larry Doyle

Larry is the Director of Missions for the Piedmont Baptist Association. He has served overseas with the International Mission Board (SBC), in Charlotte NC as the Director of International Ministries, and as a pastor in North Carolina and Kentucky. He is married to Rebekah Hill, a native of Greensboro NC, and has two children and three grandchildren.
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