I have been on a bit of a journey lately. Well, if you are a Jesus follower you know it is a long journey we are on. It is not a dash to the finish line, but a marathon run in which, I think, we are to become more and more like Jesus as we go.
Now I wrestle with ... I hate to say it ... I feel kind of weird saying it ... after all I am a pastor ... but I struggle with ... church.
There, I said it. Whew! I feel much better.
I guess I need to clarify a bit if David Yonke is going to let me continue to write and if my church family will continue to let me pastor.
Haven’t you ever asked yourself, “What is church?” I have, and I am still asking.
Or, “where is church?” I think if we pursue this much further we realize the question is really, “What is the church?”
Is it a building with steeples, stained-glass windows, or, today’s version, buildings with coffee bars, rock climbing walls, no crosses?
Is it really a building? Or is it what goes on in the building? Sunday School, music, (good and bad), preaching, collecting money, etc., etc.
Is it on Sunday? Maybe Saturday? Does it have a cool name? (You fill in the blank. No need for me to pick on anyone. With a church name like The Vineyard I lose on coolness.)
I think one of the most striking quotes I have read lately was in a book titled, “Jim and Casper Go to Church.” No, not Casper the Friendly Ghost, but a fellow named Matt Casper. He is one of those guys being labeled “a none,” a person with no religious affiliation. He claims to be an atheist and I believe him.
He and author Jim Henderson go on a journey of visiting 10 to 12 churches, many of them megachurches. During a visit to one large church they settle in and watch as the smoke machines begin spewing smoke and the lights begin flashing. Very expensive cameras and boom cameras all over the place are recording everything. The very tight worship team begins playing a song you might hear on secular radio. Really cranking.
Then Matt, the atheist mind you, leans over to Jim and asks. “Is this really what Jesus asked you guys to do, Jim?”
That one haunting question has ruined a lot of things for me. And it has caused me to ask myself on many occasions, “Is this really what Jesus asked you to do, Bill?”
I find it really interesting that, as this discussion goes on about what to do to reach those who are rejecting church, that our solutions are often kind of shallow.
Need cooler music, more relevant talks, serve better coffee, etc.
Well, I have to ask the question: Really?
An atheist looks at our light shows and smoke machines and our hip music and asks, “Is this it?”
Maybe we get them into the building, but then what? We expect them to sit and watch and listen as the performers perform and speakers speak. And then what?
The “nones” seem to be saying that we just do not get it. And maybe they are right.
Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I suspect it is very similar to the way the nones feel. As the Doobie Brothers said so long ago, “Jesus is just all right with me.”
If any of you are offended by my references to buildings, smoke or light machines, I apologize. Not my intention at all. But I would allow Casper to ask you, “Is this really what Jesus asked us to do?”
I guess my point is this: Church is not a building. It is not a meeting we go to. It is not an organization. It is an organism, a body, as Paul wrote, made up of people on a journey to look and to love like Jesus, the head of the church.
It is time for the church to leave the building, to quit building walls to keep the bad guys out and to build bridges to reach out to a culture that says no to religion.
Heck, I say no to religion! As I read the book of Acts I cannot find an organization, I cannot see a building, I don’t even see political correctness.
I see a people so enamored and so taken by what Jesus did and how he lived that they could not help themselves as they went about their daily lives.
One time Peter and John were taken in and questioned about what they were doing and preaching (this all occurred because someone got healed ... novel idea). As the religious experts looked at these two, all they could say was, “They really are not that bright ... but they had been with Jesus” (my paraphrase.)
I hope to be around to see the time when all someone can find to criticize me was, “He had been with Jesus.”
Even better, if they could look at the church -- the people, not the building -- and say, “They may not be the smartest group around ... but they have been with Jesus.” I think being around Jesus makes all the difference in the world.
Let me wrap this up with this: I see the church as a group of people who are so in love with God they cannot help themselves. And we gather, yes, in a building, and we will have good musicians playing for us -- could be a piano, or an organ, or a band -- but it won’t entertain us; it will lead us in worship. And we will worship and encounter God.
We will preach about our God who so loves our world he came for us, and the rest of the world. We will pray for one another and for others.
If a “none” comes to one of our meetings, he or she may encounter God, because God is there. We won’t talk over their heads but we will not be politically correct either, because we do use the Bible and we will talk about God ... and Jesus.
Some will reject -- some always have -- but some will respond, like some of us have. Then we will leave the building, as we should, and we will be ready to pray for our neighbors, take them a meal if they are sick, listen to the person we are in line with at the grocery store and pray right there if the need calls for it.
We will be the church everywhere we go, armed with God’s love and mercy. That is church. At least I think so. And this is my column, and David published it. So go for it church. Leave the building!