Tag Archive: what is church

So i think i have a different understanding and idea of church than a number of people i know.

And my picture of what church is feels a lot bigger, rather than smaller, than some other peoples. i am not saying that the Sunday church local congregation vibe is not church, but i am suggesting that maybe it is more than that.

One example for me has always been so-called ‘para-church’ organisations like Scripture Union and Youth With a Mission. Kingdom-focused people doing kingdom-focused things. How is that not the church? It fits in with both the ‘bride of Christ’ and the ‘body of Christ’ metaphors that Jesus used to describe His church.

Yet, for a whole lot of people, if you are not attending a meeting at that particular place on that particular day [which must be a Sunday, by the way] then you are on some kind of a slippery slope and should be very careful.


Something like that. And while people we know would probably not quite put it in those words, there is a strong sense of ‘Not Alrightness’ when people hear you are not attending a local church.

“We must pray for the Andersons.”

The beautiful Val [tbV] and myself went to visit a church yesterday morning. And on the way home we were chatting and really interested in the idea that ‘This’ [our morning experience] ‘is the thing people are very concerned we become a part of.’

i wrote a piece recently on how we [as christians] have far too often gotten caught up in majoring on the minors, while neglecting or sometimes skipping completely the things God seems to think are majors.


For example, there are literally thousands of verses in the Bible that talk about the poor and our attitude and action towards them, the fact that to Jesus, having some kind of outreach or relationship or investment with the poor seemed to be a big deal.

There are not thousands of verses talking about being part of a local congregation and giving them ten percent of your money.

Yet, which of those two get church-going-people freaked out when they are not happening?

That’s right. We are more than okay with attending a meeting once a week with a majority of people who have absolutely no engagement with the poor at all [beyond the ten percent we throw in the bag, box, tin as it goes past because then job done, conscience cleansed, someone will now be looking after the poor with that money, slash paying the church electricity bill] but panic stations when someone we know who professes to love Jesus, are not in regular attendance.

So first of all, i think it is imperative to figure out what are the things God is wanting us to major on, to prioritise, to make essential in our lives and to make sure we are doing those, and then to fill in whatever gaps may appear around those with everything else.

And secondly, before you get too concerned that tbV and i have ‘not found a church yet’, look at yourself in the mirror and then at those who sit next to you at church and through the lens of giving-to-the-poor see if you should be more concerned about that. Then continue to pray for us.


A lot of this is stuff i have covered in my book which i am furiously working towards self-publishing. So watch this space or something.

The service we visited yesterday was not particularly our style. One of the things we spoke about as we drove home was, ‘Is THAT the thing people are so concerned we are a part of?’

And so this is my genuine question [and i’d love it if you would take a few minutes and leave an answer in the comments section cos i really am interested in how you would answer this question], what exactly is this church you want me to be a part of?

When tbV and i were part of the Simple Way community in Philly, we had morning prayer times [with a group of gathered people]five times a week where each time we read a passage from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, a Psalm, sang a song together, read some liturgy together and had an open time of praying for whatever was on our heart. Our weekly ‘work’ was largely serving those in the community around us [so trying to love our neighbours well].

In fact, when i talk about it to other people, i usually conclude by saying, ‘the only thing we missed in terms of regular congregational church services was corporate worship’ – singing together in a group. Which i am not now even convinced is the way tbV or i would particularly primarily choose to worship God. [There is not a lot of space or patience or understanding in the church for those who don’t particularly like to sing – typically it is met with a suck-it-up-this-is-the-only-way-to-really-worship-God attitude].

So please tell me, before you let me know my views on church are wrong or how important it is that we are part of a local church, what does that mean? What exactly is the thing you are wanting me to be a part of?



tbV and i have visited a few church services since being back [as people have invited us] and i definitely have Common Ground Wynberg on my list for the next free Sunday we have cos that sounds like a great mix of people. But we haven’t been panic’d about it. We are in a period of transition where we don’t even know where we are going to be living yet and so committing to a group of people in an area far off from where we land doesn’t seem like the most sensible of things.

So on the one hand, not desperate in terms of ‘Must. Find. A. Church.’

But on the other had, we chatted about it during the same conversation and both agreed that we are not happy with our current state of non-regular-community as an ongoing thing. We both realise and acknowlege that gathering is good. That breaking bread together feels essential. That journeying with a specific group of people can be really helpful.

i do imagine however, that neither of us would be too concerned if that did not happen on a Sunday. Regular gathering with a group of Jesus-following people on a different day of the week feels like it might be okay to us. [Runs to check bible]

i also imagine that not meeting in a church building would be okay with us. And probably more than okay. I imagine if we were given the choice of church building or home or pub on the corner or coffee shop that church building would probably come in 4th. Jesus spent time in the Temple. Absolutely. But He also spent probably a lot more of His time churching outside of the official building – in boats and on hillsides and at dinner tables and at wells.

i have a deep hunger for the Word of God [the bible] – understanding it better and knowing it more and so whether by myself or with other people, i imagine that will likely always be an important part of what we do. Wrestling with the words and actions of Jesus and the early church and how they often look so different from ours. Engaging with the Scripture as opposed to merely having it spoken at us. [This feels like a definite area the local church would do well to have transformation in, although it would require a LOT of work and would more than likely be EXTREMELY messy, which is perhaps why we stick to man at the front giving the message and no or little space for questions or push-back or engagement].

i want to see people brought into relationship with God. i really don’t feel like i have a gift of evangelism and think actually that i am particularly bad at it [although every now and then God manages to use me anyways] but i believe that it is important and want to see it happen and am not convinced that a Sunday meeting in a church building is the best place for those outside of the church to be brought near [because the stuff we do when we get together is PRETTY WEIRD to those not used to it – think singing and arm-raising and dipping tiny pieces of cracker into pretend wine which we refer to as blood and so on]. But around a dinner table might be, or in a lounge where an intentional conversation has been initiated and so on.

And so on.

Do i think Sunday church gathering in that particular building is church? Absolutely [as long as it is much bigger than just that hour and a half meeting – if that is all your churching is, then you need the prayer] – if the Sunday gathering does not inform or empower the rest of your week experience and your whole life, in fact, then i seriously think you need to rethink that area of your life.

But bigger than that, i see ‘the church’ as a singular entity made up of smaller and larger church congregations and what we call para-church organisations [a horrible name, cos they are not outside of/separate from the church] who are the gathering people of God working together for His kingdom things. Or more simply the people of God doing God stuff together.

i absolutely don’t think it is healthy or even biblical to be a  ‘christian-without-church’ because God definitely calls us to do His stuff together. But i also do understand why so many people have walked away from traditional sunday church services as the expression of the only way church can be.

We are the bride of Christ, not the harem.

We are the body of Christ, not the bodies of Christ.

There really only is one church, although many smaller expressions of how that plays out.

i think, when we truly understand what church is all about, then it will become the question of Monday to Saturday, rather than Sunday, ‘Are you going to church today?’ [where church is a verb, rather than a noun of place]. Are you going to be being the body of Jesus and the bride of Christ to all of those who you encounter this day?

i would absolutely LOVE to hear your thoughts and response on this one… [be gentle]

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…


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.


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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