Many of you know me…I've had a rich experience living in and with the Body of Jesus over a majority of my life. For most of us, that "living Body" is called, "church." Unfortunately, when I read the bible, I don't see much of what I've experienced in organized church over the course of my life. For many, the church has become an infomercial and dispenser of goods and services. It is a promoter of its own internal programs to sustain its existence and it creates "goods and services" to keep people, not connected to Jesus and His mission but connected to the institution. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for spiritual community…we do gather together to worship, learn, encourage, exhort, challenge and grow. We do live together to apply God's Word to our lives and to experience the transformational power of the Spirit through the many "means of grace" that our God provides. But there is so much more to spiritual community. Our hedonistic and narcissistic culture has "inspired" a transformation of belief in seeing God and the gathering of God's people as just one more self-contained, irrelevant to real life "experience." "Church" has become that which primarily provides us with a means to improve private lives, enhance self-esteem, and give US a sense of purpose. In fact, sometimes you wonder if the whole idea of "god" is an add-on and not the primary focus of a local church's ministry. Worship gets reduced to a form of therapy to improve people's emotional state and energize them for the week ahead. "God" has become that which we have formed in "our own image"…wise but soft-spoken, someone to cheer us up when people are sad, and someone who lackadaisically laughs at people's quirks. This type of "God" people choose like they choose a best friend who has an endless supply of time to meet needs no matter how trivial. Is the church supposed to be different? I believe so.
Here are some issues to consider:
Church is a community – "church" exists to participate in God's redemptive work in the world. The Gospel is not just a message to be proclaimed; it is the form of our participation in which God is doing in and for the world. Remember that there is a an active dichotomy between proclaim and immersion. Followers of Jesus are NOT passive bystanders to what the mission of God accomplishes for the redemption of the world. God calls us to be immersed in His passions and His mission with each other.
Church is a place where the story of God is experienced. The bible is the story of God (i.e. HIS-story) narrated and incarnated in the lives of people/community that reaches its zenith in the work of Jesus for the salvation of the world.
Church is a place one of the many places where the work of the Holy Spirit is tangible. The Holy Spirit is that which energizes and illumines the path of the contemporary community of God to extend the work of redemption and reconciliation to the world. If the Spirit is doing just that which makes us as individuals feel good about ourselves, we are missing the boat. The Spirit's goal in our gatherings is to connect us to Jesus and to energize us and our gifts to His purposes.
Church is a place where the Gospel is dynamic in ways that not only bring us personal assurance but give us "marching orders." The Gospel has less to do with the alleged benefits that might come with believing in God and more with what God plans to do with those who answer Jesus' call to give up all and follow him. It is more than a belief system and more like a lifestyle.
Church breaks the molds into which the culture attempts to squeeze us. Culture is commodity based and steeped in all pervasive consumerism. Most of us no longer consumer to live; we live to consume. This is not just a belief or observation…there is no other way of living…there is no alternative to a vast majority of people. The gathering of God's people needs to orient us to a new way of living. We don't find meaning in taking but in giving. In fact, we experience more of the reality of the living Jesus as we understand and imitate the fact, "God so loved as He gave…" that is not only a bible passage but a life that we are called to live.
Church is one place where we grow to understand that we are to look for God's Kingdom active in our lives. We pray regularly, "thy Kingdom come, thy will be done." Our task is to hook up with the mission of God and join His work in bringing witness to the all-encompassing reign of God. The Kingdom is not just waiting for us…it is here, now! We are living it. The gatherings of God's people should not only be a "taste" of the Kingdom but that which ignites an appetite for more and more of God's Kingdom in more and more moments of our lives.
Here's one more thing to consider –
"According to the early Christians, the church doesn't exist in order to provide a place where people can pursue their private spiritual agendas and develop their own spiritual potential. Nor does it exist in order to provide a safe haven in which people can hide from the wicked world and ensure that they themselves arrive safely at an otherworldly destination. Private spiritual growth and ultimate salvation come rather as the byproducts of the main, central, overarching purpose for which God has called and is calling us. The purpose is clearly stated in various places in the New Testament: that through the church God will announce to the wider world that he is indeed its wise, loving, and just creator: that through Jesus he has defeated the powers that corrupt and enslave it; and that by his Spirit he is at work to heal and renew it." NT Wright
May we be bold enough to join what God is doing and look to each other and our "church" to not coddle but release us to do God's mission and be the Jesus followers and lovers God created us to be!