“We are The People formerly known as The Congregation. We have not stopped loving the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nor do we avoid “the assembling of the saints.” We just don’t assemble under your supposed leadership. We meet in coffee shops, around dinner tables, in the parks and on the streets. We connect virtually across space and time – engaged in generative conversations – teaching and being taught.”
Do I have to be part of a traditional church structure to be part of the church? What I mean is, do I have to attend a church where there is a building to be part of the church? It’s provocative because I have been told several times in my life that the answer is “yes”. And the person telling me this was a well meaning person known as “the pastor”. But the comment reveals something about the assumption each of these pastors is making. Church happens inside the church building. And I don’t really fault them for this. It doesn’t take much to see that this is a historical thought process at work.
For abut 1700 years it has been the norm to meet in a “church building”. Buildings sometimes make a lot of sense to me. They provide great space for large assemblies. And looking through Scripture, Jesus consistently went to the synagogue to teach. This is an obvious fact.
Luke 4:44 – “And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.”
Luke 6:6 – “On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled.”
Luke 13:10 – “On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues.”
But to assume that this was the only way ignores so much of his ministry. He also lived his life out amongst the people. And he also taught outside. To assume that a location was THE place that Jesus did church completely misunderstands his ministry. It assumes and supports the idea that our spiritual life happens within a building, and that out there is not as valid. When we go to church, we get turned on. When we leave church, we get turned off. Ticket punched. Sadly, this has become almost the norm. Facetiously, if this were true, we’d essentially live there. But seriously, it has the potential, and I would argue has supported the idea of a missionless community. Why go out into the world if church only exists in the building?
And this idea leads to a lot of questions. How much can I miss before I’m not actually, truly, completely doing church? And how long does that “missing too much” period last. Is it subjective, meaning, if I serve as an usher do I get more misses than someone who doesn’t? And what happens if my sister’s dog gets hit by a car and she needs me on Sunday morning and that one time puts me over the limit. Am I always out? And then what do I have to do to get back in? Attend every service for the next month and Wednesday nights too?
To me, it seems like we’ve gotten the form mixed up with the function. The function, which is the redemption of all creation, has been replaced by “doing church”, which often looks more like movie-watching than anything. A bunch of people come in and sit passively, all looking in the same direction, hoping to be amused. So many people just waiting to be given something to do besides serving as an usher, or kid duty. We’re longing for something bigger than that. We want something that looks like God, not like us. Because our best forms are always pale reflections of our own brokenness and attempts at self-validation.
Why is it so hard to consider “the assembling of the saint” also as a gathering over a meal or coffee, as Bill contends. Some of my best ministry and growth has occurred at Peets. In fact, how cool would it be to have the whole church meet at a coffee shop one morning. Imagine that scene. I do know that the owner would be happy (as long as people were buying coffee, which is a whole other conversation). I have friends who are developing a house church and this is something they seriously wrestle with. Some who are attending ask when they are moving out of the house, into a “real” building, as though then they will be legitimate.
Is it possible that Missio Dei is larger than our current paradigms of church? Is it possible to see the world as He sees it, His glorious creation that He longs to redeem. And when we go out into the world, we are meeting up with people who are already His beloved creation and worth it. They just may not now it yet. And when we also gather in the places outside of the church, we have the potential to bring a little Shalom to the world around us. Church becomes something we are, not a place we go.
Your thoughts are appreciated.