so there has been a lot of discussion since Don Miller posted his two blogs suggesting that the traditional sunday church vibe is not for him and i responded with my piece titled ‘Why you should stop going to church’ which was not actually at all about encouraging people to stop going to church, but more trying to enlarge our definition of what church is about… you are the church so you don’t go to church – you go to a meeting at a place at a specific time, but church is something you should be every day and everywhere.
and then my buddy Rob Lloyd shared the best and kindest response to Don Miller in this blog post by a guy called Carey Nieuwhof titled ’10 thoughts on exiting the local church – a response to Donald Miller’ and i agreed with a lot of what he said and his spirit and tone was just incredible [why do christians generally seem to struggle to respond well to people who think differently to them?]
but i still do have some thoughts on this topic of my own…
WOULD YOU RATHER…
on sunday morning at the church i work part-time at [yes, that’s right, i am someone who is part of a local congregation and so maybe my thoughts on that not necessarily being the be all and end all carry the tiniest little bit of weight? i’m not someone who has left who is saying everyone should leave!] i played a game with my youth where i gave them two options and made them choose a favouite between the two.
started with easy ones like Dogs vs Cats, Coffee vs Tea, Television vs Music and then progressed to some slightly tricker ones like ‘Justin Bieber vs Miley Cyrus’ [Bieber won hands down!], ‘Death by Unicorn vs Death by T-Rex’ [guys chose T-Rex cos of logic – quick, painless death – girls all chose unicorn cos “ooh magical!”] and then finished off with some real stinkers like ‘Growing an extra finger out of your forehead vs Growing an extra ear on your elbow’ [ear, cos easier to hide!] and ‘You kiss a skunk but nobody knows vs You don’t kiss a skunk but everybody in the world thinks you did’ and ‘You get $1 000 000 but you lose both your thumbs vs You work ten hours a day every day for the rest of your life and only ever make enough money to just get by’ [amazingly everyone except me chose to say goodbye to their thumbs!]
so really became a kind of ‘Would you rather…’ game and while i was thinking about that and the pillow fight lesson that i had planned for them about whether you are in the middle of the action or on the side watching or recording it.
and it made me think of church and this whole discussion slash rant that has come up based on whether or not everyone needs to ‘go to church.’
LOOK LIKE OR BE?
it feels to me like some people [yes, not all of you], in fact many of the people in this conversation would choose [if they had to] people looking like church rather than being church [and yes, the clever ones among you are saying, ‘But Brett, surely it can be both?’]
so people have been loudly saying that people need to go to church on a Sunday. some of those people might concede that the Sunday part is actually not all that important and so allow you to do church on another day. others might concede that it doesn’t need to be in a church building but just needs to be the same group of people meeting together regularly. i imagine we might even be able to get as far as some people conceding that singing isn’t absolutely necessary [although this would be a tougher one because we all know singing = worship] and so might allow us to use bible reading, liturgy, silence, lyric reading and other forms of worship.
my good friend and tag team buddy Sean brought it down to these four things: worship, fellowship, edification, and encounter
none of which have to happen on a Sunday to take place.
none of which have to happen in a specific building to take place.
all of which could happen in a lounge or coffee shop or besides a park bench.
which is always the point i was trying to make [and to some extent Don Miller i think, although he might take it even further than me]
i know of a bunch of churches that meet on a sunday in a specific building at a specific time where a huge percentage of the people there can get caught up so much more in the way things look and happen from a religious or traditional point of view [you can’t worship with that kind of music, you can’t do communion this way, you have to dress like this to go to church etc] than on whether anyone is actually following Jesus or not [so people holding on to unforgiveness, people gossiping profusely, people judging those outside the church etc]
i also know of some people who don’t meet in traditional sunday church who still create space for worship, fellowship, edification, and encounter in their lives although not necessarily in ways that other people would be happy with… and who are living out the kingdom of God so brilliantly and obviously without question.
and i imagine – quite strongly – that if we played the pillow game and put one of those things on either side, that a lot of church leaders and those commenting would actually honestly choose people who pitch up on a Sunday over people living out the kingdom who are not part of a Sunday gathering.
Looking like church vs Being Church.
and that for me seems rather sad.
because if i take a moment to try and imagine which of the two scenarios Jesus would be more happy with, i don’t feel like there is a question at all.
i also am reminded of His response to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were the ones who looked like church [but hardly acted like it] of His day [He had some really harsh words for some of them!]
SUMMING IT UP
# i am saying that for a lot of people regular Sunday church works and that is great and they should continue and always be examining their hearts and the way the church does things to make sure that they are aligned with Jesus way.
# i am saying that i think there is a bigger definition of what church is which comes out of the idea and understanding and description of church as either the bride or the body of Christ, both of which are more unified sounding than most of what we see today – that the people of God collectively are ‘The Church’ and that we must always seek for ways to bring us closer together rather than trying to find things that bring us apart.
# i am saying that i think Sean’s four pillars of church are very helpful to keep in mind and pursue – worship, fellowship, edification, and encounter – but that they will not always look exactly the same depending on who is involved and the context of the meeting.
# i am saying that any decision made about how effective church is or isn’t based on how it feels like it is being effective or working FOR ME is unhelpful and unhealthy and likely to be fraught with danger and brokenness – there always needs to be a measure of serving others, or connecting with people that don’t only look like, sound like or think like you so that your faith can be grown and challenged.
# i am suggesting that for many people the idea of a certain place on a certain day at a certain time short-circuits their brains and has them thinking that church doesn’t need to be happening any other time, place or day when we have been called to be salt and light and the fragrance of Christ among those who are perishing, all of which require us to be a little bit closer to darkness and stench and badness of taste.
# i am suggesting that being church far outweighs looking like church and if i ever had to choose between the two [and maybe i don’t] then i will choose being church every day of the week.