had lunch with a friend of mine who doesn’t ‘go to church’ any more…

i know, i know, i should have been spending the whole meal challenging him about how important it is and how pathetically self-focused he is being and something something about the body of Christ and all that… but i was too busy finding the encounter so refreshing.

you see, Bill [let’s call him that – i know how friendly you okes can be to people who ‘don’t go to church’] is a guy who i have never even met before – when i was in a tax crisis a few years ago he volunteered his services and basically swooped in and saved the day and really helped me out – somehow we had become Facebook friends somewhere along the line and when he saw a need, he responded. i am so grateful he did.

one thing Bill told me is that he is tired of the nonsense of religiosity – he has been struggling with how church has been done and christianity lived out [or not lived out to be more precise] for years and is at the point of i want to be either fully in or fully out – i either believe completely or i walk away from this thing… but i can’t walk away cos i completely know in myself that this stuff is true.

having chatted to some mates of his they started meeting regularly [i think it’s on a sunday so they’re probably okay, even though the original ‘sunday’ wasn’t even a sunday, right?] and they eat together and pray together and share and do life and grow and are challenged and it sounds pretty churchlike to me [although they might need to work a little on their ‘church politics’ cos i’m not sure they’re fighting enough about that]

also he discovered this book that he has been reading [to the exclusion of all other books right now] which he has said has completely revolutionised his faith and helped him to really start believing again – the book’s name? the bible. no surprises there. but Bill has started hungrily devouring that book and his eyes have been opened in so many ways and you can just hear and see the life in him as he really seems to be grasping [or on the way to grasping] what this following Jesus thing is all about, largely for the first time – man, it was an exciting lunch for me…

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE DON?

this past week, Donald Miller [author of ‘Blue Like Jazz’ and other books and part of the Storyling blog which is helping people tell their stories well] confessed via Twitter and his blog, that he doesn’t often go to church in a post titled, ‘I don’t worship God by singing, I connect with Him elsewhere’ – it did not go down so well.

in fact, his follow up tweet read like this: Blogged about not going to church today. More shame and guilt @replies than I’ve ever received on twitter. I feel immense forgiveness.

in his follow-up blog titled, ‘Why I don’t go to church very often, a follow up blog’, he responded to a lot of the comments and feedback he received [a lot of which had missed his original point].

what i did not hear Don say was that he doesn’t want to be part of a community that gathers together and strengthen each other in the living out of the bible – what i believe he was reacting against was the idea that church is this particular meeting that takes place on that particular day at that particular place.

and i agree with him – for too long i have felt that the traditional description of what church is, is way too small. Church is a lot of the things that a lot of people see church as being. But i believe it is also a lot more.

this paragraph from Don Miller’s blog i found particularly interesting [and so largely true]

Neither am I arguing the current model should change. Millions are fed weekly through these kinds of programs. What I’m arguing is that nobody should be faulted for creating something different. Those who would argue “we shouldn’t simply create the church in our own image” forget it already has been created in our own image. First the image of the royal government then the image of the university or school and then big business and now moving toward the entertainment industry. The church has always been recreated in the image of the dominant institution in society. For the early church, that was the family. For our culture, it’s business and education and entertainment.

CHURCH IS AS CHURCH DOES

am i suggesting we should stop traditional church? absolutely not. what i am saying is that maybe it is not the best thing for everyone. and for us to look at other models of church and decide they are not biblical when our one may not be particularly biblical either feels just a little bit rich. and unhelpful. and maybe not all that true.

what is and has and may continue to be the problem for so long is that so much focus is put by so many people on the sunday meeting when i’m pretty sure that is NOT what it is meant to be about – it is meant to be about loving God and loving people and making disciples and looking after the least of these [starting with the church but really paying good attention to widows and orphans as well in there] and spreading forgiveness and pointing people towards Jesus [and the majority of those people will not easily step into a sunday church meeting building  – and why would they? weird stuff happens there – but they might step into a lounge, or stand around a braai, or hang out on the beach]

church is God’s people doing God’s stuff in the world. that really feels like a better definition to me than ‘that meeting at that place on that day.’

i’m pretty sure that Jesus did not die so that we could meet on a week to week basis in a building [ESPECIALLY if our lives outside of that building are not going to reflect it at all or enough]

and this conversation needs to be a much l0nger one because there are so many different angles to it [and i believe Don raised some good ones] – community is important as is accountability as is teaching and learning and serving and discipleship and communion sharing [but i love that my wife tbV gravitates so much more strongly to the idea of an actual meal for this than a quick sip and a dip although i think both can be valid and beautiful] and mission [both near and far] and so much more…

# when we say church is this meeting that happens in that place on that day, then we say anything else cannot be church [i don’t buy that!]

# when we call organisations who are made up of God’s people doing God’s stuff ‘para-church’ organisations as in ‘outside of church’ or ‘not church’ then i don’t buy that – if church is defined as either the body or the bride of Christ then para-church organisations that are doing kingdom things fit into that.

# when the majority of the money that is given to the church is spent on buildings and things and the people who work in the church and so little of it is given out to the work and mission of the church outside of those who already believe, then i’m not quite convinced we have found the best way of doing it yet.

and more. this whole thing feels so much bigger than a lot of what we’ve made it and if we continue to hold on so tightly and rigidly to the current model we have then we may miss out, not so much on ‘the new thing God is wanting to do’ but more directly i think on the old thing He was always calling us to be.

so Bill, keep on my friend – you were an inspiration to me today and i look forward to connecting more and wrestling over this church thing together and i think so much of what you were saying and are feeling is completely on track – it’s not going to be easy and so many people are just not going to understand… but as long as you are looking to the Bible as your guide book and surrounding yourself with other Jesus-following people and calling out to Him and continuing to live a life that shines light and is salt and leaves behind the fragrance of Christ… well, all i can say is you are gunning for the right audient, keep on.

Be encouraged by Hebrews 12:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

[To read why ‘You should stop going to church,’ click here]

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