Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Do you go to a church?  Where do you go to church?  What's happening at the church this week?  Were you "in church" last week?  We've all heard these odd questions expressed.  Odd?  Why are they odd?  Because, it illuminates a dangerous misconception of what the word 'church' actually means.

The preceding questions are always asked in the context of a 'church' being a physical building, which is a very human viewpoint. But, biblically, a church is a group of Christians who come together to learn, grow, play, serve, share the Word, and support each other through thick and thin.

Jesus proved that church, His body; can be anywhere, anytime.  In fact, He went out of His way NOT to use a building to house His ministry.  In fact, in Matthew He said He would destroy the existing stone temple and replace it with Himself (the body of Christ).  He had no home to call His own, no place to lay His head at night, no temple, no synagogue and no office.  That would have been too constraining for His ministry. His goal was never to coax people to any particular place for worship, teaching or to just hang out.  Maybe He thought that would be too inhibiting for all involved.  Who knows ~ after all, God's ways are not our ways.

Instead He chose to move around, and meet people where they lived, ate, worked and played.  He built relationships with them, on their terms, on their turf, in their homes and along the sandy roadways; which was often enemy territory.  Jesus lived and taught in the trenches.

I'm not saying we don't need worship centers.  What I am saying is words matter.  What we say and how we say it matters, and in the long run the words we use influence what we believe. Our culture has been lured into depersonalizing "the church" and turning it into a building.  The result is that people often abdicate their responsibility for "being the church" and dump it in the lap of the church building's pastor, staff or upper administrators who embrace having that power and authority.  We must guard against this insidious mindset.

The body of Christ, the church, is called upon to equip its' members for every good work and then to go out in the world ~ and be the church, not just stay in a building and do church.  The church is not a place anymore than a flock of birds is a nest.  The church is a people, the people of God, Christians who gather together as the Spirit leads, and where the Spirit leads. The church is a living, breathing, inspired body of believers, a living organism that comes together to worship, learn, grow, play, serve and share grace with the world wherever they are.  Anywhere, anytime Christians come together in His name for any reason... that IS church!

"... Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house." 1 Corinthians 16:19 (NIV)


  1. What a challenging and beautiful way to put it. It will absolutely cause me to re-think those questions and re-think how I use the term church. I really never thought about how it perpetuates the wrong conception.

  2. Words indeed do matter. And the word that I believe most aptly describes the shift in the western practice of Christianity away from the model provided by our Lord of living and teaching in the trenches is gentrification. This word is used to indicate a shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values, sometimes at the expense of the poorer residents of the community. When applied to the institutional church it indicates an exclusive empowered enclave of the community members choosing to be set apart from serving the "least of these" in their midst. Their focus is one of their own perceived needs and comforts instead. Of course, this is in direct conflict with our Lord's teachings and what He modeled in His ministry. So, how did this radical shift in Christianity occur?

    As the continental U.S. was being settled by pioneers, circuit-riding preachers followed the western expansion to new lands as frontier evangelists. As the new lands became settled and towns were established these frontier lands Christians sought more than just a shade tree or brush arbor to worship in and churches began to spring up. In larger cities the edifices became more elaborate and ornate. Soon the circuit riding preacher disappeared from the landscape entirely only to be replaced by the "stationed" pastor.

    Simultaneously with the taming of the frontier, worship services became more dignified and orderly in these church structures. No longer did one encounter the raw displays of new-found spirituality commonly encountered at a camp meeting in rural surroundings. Within this new civilized worship style of the structured church the signs and wonders found to be so prevalent in our Lord's ministry were no longer sought or desired in one's spiritual encounter.

    Over time, as the march of increased civilization made inroads to what was once frontier a new, dominant Christian culture emerged resulting in a greater distancing of authentic spirituality and was replaced by the practice of edifice worship. No longer was the exclusive focus on "who" but rather "where" one worshipped. This misdirected attention from the only One worthy of our worship has brought about the decline of the western institutional church - and rightly so. The structured church has in many instances become a fortress for those who enjoy membership privileges at the exclusion of others who do not fit their median social-economic profile. Hence, Sunday is often referred to as the most segregated day of the week in America.

    The good news is that while America and its institutional church continue to distance itself from authentic worship of God, His Kingdom continues to come nearer to us. Today, third-world countries now send their missionaries to America to reap a harvest in a land originally founded for the pursuit of religious freedom. House churches are now springing up throughout the land, just like they were depicted in the Book of Acts. Western Christianity is emerging into new season where authentic worship of the only One worthy is being exclusively sought, with no thought given to the edifice. Ultimately, it is only His will that will be accomplished. Blessed are those who earnestly seek Him and do His will.