i’ve been spending the past few months visiting and evaluating churches in my area. before that, i just went to the Sunday services held on campus by one of the ministries there, but this past spring it occurred to me that i really needed to be out looking for a local church home, and not just somewhere to sit and listen to somebody talk for an hour.
this whole process, fraught with unfamiliarity, has started me thinking about what a church is supposed to be.
i visited one at the beginning of the summer with my former roommate tricia and a few of her friends. i don’t even know how to begin describing it to you. the entrance looked like the lobby of a very nice hotel and it was decorated impeccably. i was already slightly nervous because it was new and unfamiliar, and then i got the added nervousness you get when you’re in, say, a museum, and have to keep guard over your every movement lest you unknowingly knock over a vase that was forged by the chinese several thousand years ago and at one point kept prominently displayed by a king of france.*
i can’t worship in a place that looks like it was decorated by martha stewart herself. not because there’s anything wrong with martha stewart. there’s not. and not because there’s anything wrong with tasteful decoration, because there’s not.
but there is something woefully inauthentic – and, frankly, impossible – about raw worship in a place that looks like it could serve as the guarded entrance for a new york city apartment building.
a while ago, a friend on twitter asked what people looked for in a church. and i said i looked for where a church puts their money.
do they put it back in the church? or do they turn green paper portraying dead presidents into a currency of love around the world?
we talk so much about church as a physical location.
but it isn’t.
we’ve oft heard the aphorism urging us to “be the church.” but i don’t think we’re supposed to personify it. i think it goes deeper than that.
i think we’re supposed to take it with us.
there are two scriptures that come to mind as i formulate this idea. the first is where Jesus says that where two or three are gathered together in His name, He is there (matthew 18:20). the second is mark 16:15. several years ago, a student at moody bible institute, home for the summer and teaching the high school girls on sundays, told us that the literal meaning of the words in this verse was not “go and preach the gospel,” but “as you are going, preach the gospel.” in other words, in everything we do and say, we’re to be drawing people – christians or not – a little more toward Christ. we’re supposed to be bringing Him with us.
that’s not to say that people aren’t called to foreign countries, because they are. that’s not to say that others aren’t called to full-time domestic ministry, because they are, too. but many of us are called to discipleship where we are. and where many of us are at are jobs that include white or blue collars or classrooms or a combination of those.
so let’s take church to conference rooms and coffee shops and street corners and car maintenance garages. let’s meet with Jesus in jails and university campuses and stairwells and city buses. let’s disciple at summer camps and winter retreats and panama city beach and relief trips for stricken areas.
and yes, let’s have church at a building on a sunday morning, a cup of steaming coffee at your feet, your bible open, scribbling notes furiously.
* this is just an example. i don’t know if such a relic actually exists.