It started as a relatively simple email with a simple, common attachment…one of the leaders on the leadership team of our faith community sent an email out to the rest of the team with a summary of our discussion when we met a week ago. Now, you can have “spell check” on your computer…you can have all the technological bells and whistles but sooner or later, a word or two is going to get past even the most sophisticated of technology traps. As you might imagine, one word got by the computer sensors that caused a delightful discussion. Here’s what happened – as our “note-taker” was attempting to summarize a brainstorming session, one of our leaders said we should consider “cell churches”…that being, the firm conviction based upon the words of Jesus that “Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst (Matthew 18). You see, those words define what a church is – like I've been telling the people of our congregation lately, “Peace (or any “Church” for that matter) is a congregation of ‘churches.’” Well, instead of the phrase “cell” churches being articulated in the minutes, it was posted (went through the gambit of technology) as “SELL CHURCHES”. That one small glitch in spell check touched off a very interesting discussion among a few of our leaders who caught it. One of the other leaders in the group emailed us and said,
“I guess we could add “Sell Church” to the list…especially if the Real Estate market goes back up…from a brainstorming perspective I wonder what ministry ideas would come out around a discussion of selling the church…a discussion on that topic could lead to a fantastic idea for ministry…yet be unrelated to actually selling the church”
Selling the church…now, I'm not proposing (at least seriously) that we all just go out today and get rid of our buildings…but think with me…what would we do? What would YOU do? It is an interesting and provocative question, huh? So, for the next few moments, imagine with me, what if we did sell? Here are some considerations that I shared with our "congregation of churches" last Sunday during my little talk…obviously, I am not including every word I shared…but this will give you the gist of what came out of my heart and mouth:
1. We would live our lives as followers of Jesus – we would live out the presence of Jesus as those who are imbedded and indigenous in our relationships…in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces…everywhere we go and live our lives. We wouldn’t be following personalities, historical movements, and we wouldn’t try to summarize our lives by thinking we possessed a membership in a club…we would simply identify ourselves as followers of Jesus, alive in Christ, living and relating to others through the leadership and power of the Spirit.
2. We would find ways to connect with others who follow the same Lord – Ephesians 4 say we share one faith, one Spirit, one Father…in other words, it is in our DNA spiritually to seek out others who follow the same Lord.
3. We would seek out the other gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4) because there is something that we are missing when we don’t have all the gifts/parts of the body. We all know that – if I’m a hand, I know I need more to be complete. YES, I am complete in Christ but I am also a part of HIS Body.
4. We would rely on ourselves for spiritual development – need we even talk about the "Reveal" study from Willow Creek again? If you haven't heard about it, google it and take a look at what many of us have believed for a long time…program-driven methodologies DO NOT accomplish the purposes of God…they don't build disciples that are faithful to the call of Jesus to "make disciples"…they do produce program addictions and underscore the insatiable issue that "churchworld" has with consumerism…but I digress…this too is OBVIOUSLY a bigger issue to discuss…let me suffice to say that each follower of Jesus needs to take personal responsibility for their own growth and spiritual formation within the context of relationships and community. We need to help people "own" their spiritual development (see Philippians 1:6)…
5. We would find ways to worship, grow, and serve in community…that being, in vital relationship with those who serve and follow the same Lord.
6. We would disciple others naturally…we would go and be amongst people we knew and we would share our lives and gifts. All we would be doing is being bold enough to live out our identity as disciples of Jesus.
7. We would be ultimately more dependent upon the Holy Spirit and NOT co-dependent upon the church. That’s a bigger point than you can imagine…but let’s suffice to say that our dependency upon the Spirit would NECESSARILY skyrocket.
You see, in the Transfiguration story that is shown to us in Matthew, Mark and Luke, we see a very important spiritual paradigm. Jesus NEVER INTENDED for us to set up booths or memorialize or attempt to repeat past spiritual experiences. You get stuck with too big of a rear view mirror and you can’t see where you are or where you are going. So many idolize their past (which breaks the 2nd commandment about worshipping other gods)…for many their “god” becomes the past…they can’t follow Jesus now because it isn’t the way that “we’ve always done it”. Don’t mistake me…the past is important in shaping us but our God is a God of the NOW…it is the Spirit of God that is moving in our lives NOW…how are we listening and responding to His leadership in our lives?
8. We would be the church instead of go to church…look at that sentence carefully because it is significant.
9. Lastly, what would happen, and I write this in love, eventually we would build another building and eventually get to the point where another pastor or leader or teacher or prophet would have to ask the same question we began with…
Well, that's about it…I had to end my message time on Sunday by assuring people that we were NOT going to sell the church building. We thank God for what we can all do in the meeting spaces that have been built over the decades…we thank God for the sacrifice and love that has been poured into places of worship, learning, disciple-making and service that countless saints have provided us as a gift of faith…but still, the question alone should be a wake up call. In a way it can snap us back to reality and help us examine what we really believe and how we live out our call from Jesus as His disciples. Followers of Jesus were never meant to be warehoused…the buildings we have are wonderful conveniences but are not necessary for life in Christ…what is necessary is faithfulness, courage, openness, listening and responding to the Spirit and sharing in such a life together in community where people see, celebrate and experience the love of God which is beyond measure.