A year before I left my church staff position there was a lot of conversations surrounding the new ideas of church. The Post Modern approach was leading some to believe that the new Church was No Church. No building. No program. No regular meeting times or places. Invite people to play Texas Hold ‘em and drink beer rather than a Sunday morning service. The idea was that the church being the people, not the building, could have far more impact on the world by getting out of the building and being the church at large, among the rest of society. “Be the church at work”. Demonstrate the love of Christ by the way you serve others in the community. Abandon the buildings; Church buildings have long outlived their usefulness.
One of our key church leaders dropped out of church altogether and joined a cycling club instead. His assertion was that he can best do the work of furthering the Gospel by being with and building community with non-believers; rather than spending that same amount of time hanging out in church.
Of course he’s right… to a point.
Meet Bob. Bob has long been a professed agnostic. Translation: “I don’t know if there really is a God, but more importantly, I just don’t care”. Bob’s life and relationships have always prospered without the help of God and he’s been quite satisfied to take all the credit for his own successes.
Before they moved out of state, Bob’s friend, Bill, had invited him to church many times throughout the years. Christmas celebrations, kids’ musicals, pancake breakfasts…. Bob always politely declined. Secretly, Bob had judged Bill to be a weak, namby pamby kind of “church” guy. Figuring that Bill’s wife has pressured him into the whole church thing, Bob feels a slight sense of pride that he’s never been manipulated into such a boring lifestyle. Bill’s a nice guy and all, but no one was going to pressure Bob into anything he didn’t want to do on a Sunday morning.
One day, after leaving a party where he’d had one too many drinks, Bob lost control of his car and ran into a tree. His wife is in a coma with extensive injuries and may not survive. His guilt is palpable, his regret beyond measure.
Bill and his wife get on a plane and come to the hospital to be by his side in the intensive care unit. Rather than blame and judge, Bill overwhelms Bob with compassion. Though he felt he deserved none, Bill brought comfort and shared grace. That night, for the first time, when Bill prayed, Bob listened. That night, for the first time, Bob not only opened his mind to God, he allowed his heart to cry out in anguish to a God he wanted to be there for he and his wife on a personal level. Not to some ethereal Idea; not some theoretical god – but to The One and only God who saves. And forgives. And heals.
Once Bill and his wife had returned to their home in a different state, Bob feels more alone and insecure than he’s ever remembered feeling in his entire life. He wants to connect with the God who showed up in the ICU.
Where is he supposed to turn????
The local church can still be God’s arm extended to reach those people who are seeking Him. The local church is still a place where older seasoned believers can care for and invest in the new believer. The local church can be a wonderful place for believers to find respite from a world that weighs heavy on their hearts and minds. It can be a place where teens can come together and rest in the company of other teens who share their faith and don’t barrage them with invitations to do things counter to their values. It can be a place where Discipleship can be modeled, taught and celebrated.
Most of all, it can be a place where we can come together and celebrate our lives with God through music, corporate worship and community.
It just isn’t the only way. So I respect the Para-church. I delight in the home church. I celebrate the coffee house church.
And I still love the church with a sign out front that invites Sunday morning worshippers and welcomes new guests. However, I have come to believe that just might be time for the Church to file Chapter 13 and do some serious reorganization.
There is work to be done. I hope to find churches that have already begun the process that can light the way for others. On a personal level, I hope to find churches that will give me the evidence I need to believe there are better days ahead for God’s church.
While we’re on the subject, let’s have the argument about the biblical principles for a church building at all, shall we? In the Old Testament, God gave very specific instructions for building a temple where His people would gather for worship. Every detail of the construction was carefully revealed right down to what kind of wood to use and precise dimensions for the altar. It mattered very much to God. I don’t think God really valued the gold and the bronze used to construct the temple... But He knew we would. Perhaps God’s plan, in some part, was that of all the things we built for ourselves, we ought to go even further for the things we built for Him. Time and money spent to build something that honored Him. Time and money that might otherwise be spent to spoil ourselves as though God deserved no portion or credit for the abundance He provided.
God loves His church but even more than that; God loves you. It’s His very real desire that His church would be His hand extended to you. I hope you have a great church. If you do, please tell me what makes it great! We so want to hear from all of you. The good, the bad and the ugly. All your comments are welcome so long as they are meant to be helpful. The Bible says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. So please check the posture of your heart before you criticize a church.