Who or what defines church and why?
Among American Christianity, though we have many (MANY!) denominations, our churches look very much the same:
*8:30am – First Service (probably traditional)
*9:30am – Sunday School (possibly with a “mixed” service going on simultaneously)
*11:00am – Second Service (contemporary service – youth and seeker friendly)
Order of service should be: Welcome, prayer, 3 songs, sermon, 1-2 songs, announcements, leave. And always be done by noon.
Just keep it normal, right? Sometimes I wonder what we’re worshiping: routine, entertainment, or God? I mean, just try throwing in an extra song or prayer time for a few weeks and see what happens!
The truth is, nowhere in scripture is there a formula for doing church. In the end of Acts 2, Luke writes that they gathered “day by day” for the breaking of bread, the apostles’ teaching, and for prayer.
Whoa! Hold up! I can’t “do church” on a Monday night: (insert favorite TV show) is on!
I have met those who will argue that we HAVE TO start Sunday School at 9:15-9:30, because clearly no other time would be acceptable. (Obviously 9:ooam is too early, but 10:00am is too late if you’re going to get everyone out before noon to get to lunch or football.) And also because that’s how it’s always been done.
And there’s this matter of where we meet. The building has to be inviting and aesthetically pleasing, with a clearly designated and entertaining-looking kids’ ministry area. If you really want to up your holy quotient, you will also have a coffee/breakfast bar and a bookstore and possibly a valet and masseuse! (I mean, if we’re making up requirements here, let’s aim high!) Also, the one thing that is absolutely non-negotiable, you MUST have an amazing worship band, with smoke and strobe lights if possible.
And, you know, what would really top it all off, if amongst all the noise and the theatrics, Jesus actually showed up! God is repeatedly referenced as speaking in a still small voice and a gentle whisper. Are we allowing the quiet space for people to stop and hear from God, or are we just focused on entertainment and keeping people happy?
I once read an article in a Christian publication that stated that non-believers prefer churches with stained-glass windows and beautiful architecture over the more simplistic-looking ones. My thought on that is, I am sure vegetarians prefer beautiful peacocks to unsightly naked mole rats (sorry if you are an NMR lover) but what does it matter if they don’t have any intention of being fed by either? Same is true for the non-believer: they can prefer the look of one church over another but if they have no intention of being fed within it’s doors, then what does it matter?
Here are the 3 things, I believe, can kill genuine church:
- Make it all about you. If you are looking for a church that will feed you, serve you, cater to you, then you, my friend, are looking for a restaurant not a church. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45) and so we should seek to serve also. (Philippians 2:3-5) Find a church that needs your gifts and abilities, and then serve your heart out!
- Center it on programs. In all transparency, programs make my skin crawl. I came from a church built on programs and committees (and committees on committees! Anyone else?) Now I don’t think programs in and of themselves are bad, I’m sure many have been helped because of certain programs. But if you are attracting people to “your” church with your programs instead of your love for both them and Christ, you’re doing it wrong. Period.
- Do church. Church is not something to be done and checked off your weekly schedule. The church is not a building or a Sunday morning activity, it is the global body of Christ. We should be just as Christ-centered and loving on Friday night as we are on Sunday morning. If a church more closely resembles a poorly run business than it does a beautiful, messy family, it maybe time to reconsider somethings.
Church looks different all over the world. Some churches meet in homes under the cover of night for fear of being caught and imprisoned (or worse!). I personally have been to church on a Tuesday night outside a home with no air conditioning (gasp) and our only light being a wire and lightbulb hung from a rake being held by a fellow brother in Christ in a very poor village in Venezuela. Not our American idea of church, but it was certainly no less church.
The local church body that I am blessed to call my home is very much an American anomaly: we meet for our corporate worship gathering on Wednesday nights, not Sundays. We don’t have Sunday school. On Sundays we meet in people’s homes for our small groups for 2 or 3 hours. Oh and our church building is a former police station and jail! We focus strictly on discipleship. And my favorite part: we have ZERO programs. Nothing to commit to but each other and Christ. Are we the perfect church? Not even close. But, I fully believe our empty calendar has provided whitespace for authentic community and discipleship.
Jesus and people: that’s what the church should be about. (And by people, I mean relationships, not just merely warm bodies and tithers.) I propose we throw out the drama, clear our schedules, and just simply be the church: a body of Jesus-and-people- loving, repentant sinners who desire to serve, honor, worship, and glorify our worthy Creator. That’s what eternity is going to look like anyway, so we might as well start now! Amen?
So tell me, how do you define church? And what drew you to the local church you attend?
One more thing: if you’re waiting to find the “perfect church” before you jump in and serve, give up that fantasy. It doesn’t exist. There is no “perfect” this side of eternity – which just causes us to long for Christ’s return even more. See what God did there? 🙂
Oh, and I’m pretty sure there are no programs in Heaven!