I’ve been taking some flack lately for not having joined a new church yet. For those of you unfamiliar with my situation, I’ll provide you with the reader’s digest version of things. Close to three years ago now (I still can’t believe it’s been that long), I bounced from my old church. I was growing increasingly doubtful about the sincerity of the “shepherd” while simultaneously being frustrated with the ‘routine’ of church (small C). Truth be told, I had a burning desire to leave years before that…but because of my status there, the ties I had to friends and family, my role as a musician and the fact I grew up there, I was pretty apprehensive in making any dramatic moves. But I finally did and it’s been quite a journey since.
Fast forward to the present. The grilling ensues. As I get grilled about my status as a non-church member, people are quick to point out what church is and why I should not miss out. This post, however, is an attempt to make sense of what the church should REALLY be. But to get to heart of that idea, I’ll talk about what the church is not.
Church is NOT…
…a weekly routine. I won’t pretend to know how religious ceremonies are practiced around the world or across faiths, but in our culture, church is generally perceived as a weekly occurrence. We get prepared for church. We pick out outfits for church, we get in our vehicles and drive to church, we “have” church, and then we leave church. But more often than not, folks leave it all there and start up the same routine the following week. But that was never God’s intention for the church. He expects for US to be the Church. Being the Church is accomplished just as much through the interactions with have with people on Monday as it is the activities we do on Sunday.
…a shelter from the problems of the world. I was raised to believe that the church was a safehouse from the world; hence the term “sanctuary” applied to our place of worship. It’s the one place where we can feel safe amongst fellow believers in a world full of evilness ready to run rampant in our lives. It’s the one place where we can separate ourselves from the world and carry out John 17:14-15 to the fullest, right? Well, maybe. But Jesus made it a point NOT to keep himself separated from the outside world of sinners. What He DID managed to do is maintain his standards…which is what we should all seek. But using the church as a shield is dangerous to the ministry.
…a exclusive social group. This is a lesson that I and many other people had to learn the hard way. Admittedly, the church finds a certain empowerment from the relationships and sense of community sustained from within. But it is usually those very same relationships that create unscalable walls of rejection if a person is left out of that group. When cliques are formed and paraded in and out of church, those on the outside are left with a strong feeling of rejection. Friends are important: no doubt. But if you are all so tightly knit that other people can’t weave their way into that circle, you and your friends may miss out on an opportunity to serve your brothers and sisters.
…a building. In my writings I deliberated refer to church with a lowercase “C” or an uppercase “C.” The lowercase C denotes the physical infrastructure that some people call the church. Meanwhile the uppercase C denotes those who serve God; those with a deep and developed focus on God, a willingness to serve him, and an accepted calling to serve others in the Word. While I’m sure most believers understand the difference between the two, it helps to point that out once in a while. Infrastructure may be germane to aiding us in carrying out services, but it’s no more sacred as a car, a room in your house, a bookstore, or even the local bar (that is, of course, if your devotion doesn’t entail starting bar room brawls, but I digress).
…a cornered market of rightness. With so many different belief systems out there (we can even consider atheism a belief, if you think about it), each group tends to make their way of thinking the “correct” way. And that makes sense. After all, a person would not subscribe to a set of beliefs if they did not think it was the right way to go. That’s fine. The problem is: we feel that what we believe is the ONLY correct belief. As such, we attempt to stuff our version of “right” down the throats of other people, threatening eternal damnation for folks who don’t believe along our lines (which I suppose could be worse…early religious folks would try to impose their beliefs with the edge of a sword). I don’t think the Church was intended to function that way.
…a blind and strict adherence to a traditional practices. The Church acknowledges and reveres the teachings of the Law, but is designed to serve in the spirit of Christ. For me, that means that we are not necessarily Christians based on how well we do stuff, but rather where our hearts and minds are as we carry out those activities. For instance, in the story of the widow with the two coins (Matthew 12: 41-44), Jesus virtually ignored all the proud and boisterous folks who passed by dropping large offerings. Instead, His attention was fixed on the widow who (probably shamefully) gave all she had, even if it was only two coins. Intention and spirit will trump activity every single time.
A while ago, a friend of mine grilled me for not having a church home, citing the fact that even Jesus went to the temple to pray. My response was simple: Jesus was demonstrating his humility to God and an obedience to God’s command. It went much deeper than simply going to a building. My point is: whether you decide to have communion with wafers and grape juice, Oreos and milk, or peanuts and beers, if you stay fixed on Jesus, He’ll stay fixed on you.
…a place of comfort. A few weeks ago, I went to hear my boy preach for the first time. I tell you: it was one of the best sermons I’ve heard in a while. It convicted me. It made me uncomfortable. That’s the true measure of a message.
I have to admit: one of my biggest pet peeves is when we get so caught up in feeling good at church (small C), we forget to BE THE CHURCH. Out of tradition, we arrive at the church house, sing a few songs, pray a few prayers, give a little money, listen to a sermon, shake a few hands, and leave. We then use that as some sort of fill to last until the next week when do it all over again. But I don’t think Jesus ever intended for our walk to be that comfortable. Fortunately, God’s grace will still sustain us even if we take the easy route (grace is just dope like that!). But if we want to truly be the Church, it needs to go beyond being catered to.
That’s my take on the church vs. the Church. But what do YOU think the church is or is not?