How Local is the Local Assembly?
Don Roberts, Cardiff
"And they lodged round about the house of God, because the charge was upon them", 1 Chron. 9. 27.
It was a strong point at one time that the local assembly, was to be a local witness in every sense of the word. Thus in Mark 5. 19, the commission to the man of Gadara was, "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee", and in Acts 2. 46-47, the believers "breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people".
Thus we have the requisite for the local witness; but many things are changing in some of the big cities of our country. The residential areas, the council estates, are being pushed further and further away from the centres of the cities, and the older halls that have been established for about 100 years are suffering badly, with the numbers of those attending often dwindling. Many still loyally support their own meetings (although they live out of town) by the use of their cars, but the witness becomes less and less local.
All agree that such meetings must remain open, and yet it is often true that brethren and sisters that support such meetings are often passing the halls of several other meetings which are also in great need. Thus we still have the problem of the local witness and the questions of being in the right meeting, being where we are needed most, and being where we can exercise the gifts that God has given.
This leads to another important question, how large should an assembly be ? Can it be too large, so that many are unable to develop and to exercise their gifts? One thing is certain, it can be too small; and such small assemblies are often repeating the Macedonian call of Acts 16. 9, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us".
To understand the problems of a local witness, it would be a good exercise to purchase a street map of one's city and first of all mark on it every centre of assembly witness. Then draw a circle around each site, using the site as centre, at a radius of three eighths of a mile according to the scale. Such an area surrounding a local witness is approximately half a square mile, and in a densely populated area, such as the older part of a city, this represents approximately 8,000 homes, quite an area to cover by door-to-door visitation! Having finished this exercise, make a note of the areas that are liable to be missed and therefore not covered by this local witness.
There is more than ever a great need for the revival of the pioneering spirit that once we knew many years ago. The map will probably show that the witness-areas overlap in the older parts of some cities, but that there are gaps in the newer parts of most cities. It is true that newer estates are more spread out, and this in itself, imposing a bigger load on such assembly witness, calls for a greater exercise of heart and greater responsibility.
In the great miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, the bread had to be divided before it could be multiplied, before it could satisfy the hunger of the people, before it could add to their joy and satisfaction.
Those that are taken from a particular assembly by the leading of the Spirit to start a new work, always find that God adds and multiplies.
How local is the local assembly? Am I the right person in the right place, doing the right work?