reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 46 : May we repent of emphasizing “church” in such a way that “church” becomes a relic.

imageRELIC. An object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical or sentimental interest.

That people in any culture could even think of “church” as a relic is an indictment upon those who consider themselves “churched” as well as an indication that we the church are not functioning as Jesus intended.

I have not met a leader among those who consider themselves “churched” who would ever teach “church” as a place or event. Everyone one of them I have spoken with agrees that “church” is people, a family of Christ-followers on mission with Jesus. Everyone of them would agree that “church” is a “who,” not a “what.”

However, I know too many leaders who may think of “church” that way and from time to time may even teach “church” that way, but still emphasize “church” as a place or an event. In other words, what they emphasize of “church” does not match what they would teach of “church” nor what the New Testament teaches about “church.” Even though the New Testament never does, too many leaders emphasize “church” by speaking of “church” only as something to come TO or to go FROM or to be AT or to sit IN.

Those same leaders would never think of growing a “church” or building a “church” as a bad thing. But too often they lead and emphasize “church” as something they can grow or something they can build. “Church” thought of in this way and emphasized in this way is a gross misunderstanding of the way the New Testament refers to “church.”

“Church” emphasized as a place to build or an event to grow will become a relic.

God never intended His church to function as a place or event. And God certainly never intended His church to become a relic. Yet, “relic” is a word that European and Canadian and much of American culture might use to describe what they know of “church.”

As strange as it sounds, it is like we have forgotten that God “builds” and “grows” His church.

And Jesus responded, “Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.
(Matthew 16:17-18 HCSB)

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
(1 Corinthians 3:5-7 HCSB)

People comment, “The church is in decline!” That is a relic statement. If God builds and grows His church, as He intended, and we join Him as He does, then His church that He builds and grows CANNOT decline nor become a relic!

If we try to build and grow the “church” as some place or event that needs to recover from decline, then we are already perpetuating decline before we ever attempt to do something about what we perceive is declining.

The crisis of the modern church is NOT “how will the church recover from and survive decline?” The crisis of the modern church is the same as the crisis of the early church – will we unite in Christ’s love to join Jesus as He seeks to make the lost found?

If the lost become found in our communities through disciple-making the way Jesus did and does it, then our local expressions of His church would not be declining or struggling to survive!

The church Jesus intended is sent as He was sent (John 20:21). The sent church doesn’t just ask how to build or grow a church. They ask how to send the church to help others discover that Jesus also wants them as His bride.

If “church” as you know it is threatening to become a “relic,” then “church” as you know it is not functioning as Jesus intended.

His church cannot and will not become a relic.

May we repent of emphasizing “church” in such a way that those who consider themselves “church” as well as those from the surrounding culture could ever, ever think of “church” as a relic.

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reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 35 : Quit using these four prepositions with the word “church.”

imageI wrote this in 2007. It is amazing that even with all of the “Missional” buzz talk of the last 5 years, we still speak of “church” as a what rather than a who. 

To. In. At. From. Four prepositions the Bible never uses with the word “church.” And yet it is the most common way the “churched” speak of “church.”

I have an email inbox for more than just gathering emails. It certainly does that. But it actually exists to communicate fully–from and to. It isn’t worth much if I don’t send emails back, if I don’t respond. What I fear has happened in church culture for too long is that we have emphasized writing emails but never sending them. Like when I write a draft to an email and save it for review. What if I never sent it? It would just be “saved” sitting in the draft box. Saved but not sent. Sounds eerily like much of church culture today.

Is it a fair statement to say that for some time now, people in general have defined “church” as a place you go to on Sunday morning to worship? Whether we think that is the definition of “church,” it certainly is a fair description of how we tend to talk about and act about church.

I have personally never met a “preacher” who disagrees with me on the following statement:

The church is not a place or an event. She is a who. The church is people.

I have heard preachers teach that very statement on more than one occasion within their specific context. However, the bridge from philosophy to pragmatism can be a gapped one. What I mean is that they teach it, but then they turn right around and let these messages be communicated within their group in some form (signage, websites, handouts, etc.):

  • Such-and-Such Church…a place where you belong.
  • Invite a friend to church!!!
  • See you at church Wednesday night!
  • Who’s missing from CH_ _ CH? U R!
  • GOAL – 900 in Sunday School. 1200 in church.

In addition, with regard to scheduling, the tendency is to put something on the calendar for people to be a part of on the “church” campus many days and nights of the week. Now granted, in some cases, there is not an expectation that you be there for everything. But in other cases, there is this unwritten expectation that you are there for everything, and if you are not, people think you might not really be committed.

Like I said, the bridge from philosophy (thinking a certain way about something) and pragmatism (what actually is the practical thing to do) can be a gapped one.

Church is NOT a place or an event? Did you know that the New Testament refers to “church” in some form more than 140 times. I can’t find one single occasion where the reference is to a place or an event. While it is certainly true that it often is referring to “people who gathered together,” it is still referring to people. The early church gathered in many ways, with one another and within their community, and did life together daily, not just weekly. So, “church” is not a place.

Next, “church” also isn’t some event we “go to on Sunday morning.” The fact is that the early church gathered in many ways together. In Acts chapter 2, the early church is described as praying together, breaking bread together, listening to the Apostles teachings together, fellowshipping together, and sharing all they had with anyone who had need. They deeply loved each other, all week, and deeply loved their families and neighbors and people in the marketplace all week. They didn’t GO TO CHURCH. They WERE THE CHURCH. And we, too, are to BE THE CHURCH everyday.

Furthermore, the suggested statement of how church has been defined implies that we go to church on Sundays to WORSHIP, as if that is the only time during the week that we worship. Now, you may not think this is a big deal, but people often miss the multiple opportunities during their daily lives to worship because “worship” has been emphasized (though not necessarily taught that way) as singing together on Sunday morning.

Throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, you see people worship in multiple ways, encountering God and responding to Him through song, through prayer, through connection with people, through difficulty, through victory, through tragedy, through shame, and much more. And all of these were not at a gathering on Sunday morning. They happened in ordinary, everyday life.

Could it be that people have emphasized “place” so much for “church” that gathering at a central campus at a specific weekly time has become the main way we think of it, and that this way of thinking is actually hindering us from BEING THE CHURCH and living with the daily purpose Jesus intended His church to have?

This is not only important for those who already follow Jesus or those who might be connected to a local church family doing life together. It is also important for those who don’t yet follow Jesus but are searching for real and abundant life. Like the woman at the well in John 4.

Jesus met her in her way of thinking about “worship” and “church” (even though she would not have called it “church”). She asked him about “place”–Jerusalem or Gerazim. Jesus told her that place was not the point. Worshipping connected through the Spirit and in the fullness of truth–what God intended her to be–was what mattered. She had stumbled around location and division among the Jewish religious emphases and the Samaritan religious emphases for some time. That, along with some personal shame, hindered her from encountering God for real.

So God came to her. Jesus left the “place” and met her where she was. He challenged her own thinking about the proper “place” and how she thought of “worship,” and He transformed her into a “worshipper.”

So, if all we ever do is speak of church as this thing we go to or this place down the road or this building with a steeple or this worship event, how will our culture ever understand that following Jesus is the only essential for life-giving spirituality everyday? The only no-condemnation, abundant-life spiritual option? What God wants for us, even? That’s a BIG DEAL!!!

It is important to think of and talk of church as a WHO instead of a WHAT, because Jesus did. And, if we really do, it will affect not only our language. It will begin to affect how we are BEING THE CHURCH DAILY.

It might actually help reFUNCTION us to be the church Jesus intended.