Before you panic let me clear something up. I do still attend a weekly service with fellow believers. And it is my own choice to go not merely a sense of duty or responsibility.
With that out of the way let’s talk about church…
What Church Is Not
Church is not the building where we gather, it is not the denomination or the fellowship where we attend. Church is not the local evangelistic expression. The goal of church is not the Gospel. It is not the focus of our efforts or attention. Church is not what we trot out to explain to others who we are or what we are about.
It is not the place where we go to be Christian. It is not a hospital or an outreach center. It is not a beacon for the lost. It is not the place we drag our unbelieving friends and family members with a desperate hope they will believe.
Then What Is Church?
The Greek word translated to church in the New Testament is, Ekklesia, which means called out, gathering or assembly. When we talk about church we are referring to an assembly of people, a gathering of those called out from where they were and drawn to a common place.
Church is not a where it is a who. It is not a place it is a people. I don’t go to church because it is not a building. I gather with the church because it is a gathering of believers.
What Then Is The Difference?
Yes I gather with other believers in a building. And together we worship God. Together we share in a moment of sabbath, a moment of rest. Together we study the scripture and develop our understanding of who and what God is, and how to let Him be expressed in our lives.
When we only see church as a place, only a building, and not the people gathered in the building it becomes unhealthy. We wait for the “church” to offer up sermons and programs to save people. We bring our unbelieving friends and family so the preacher or the sermon can save them.
All the while we sit back in our comfortable chairs, drink our free coffee and then complain the worship music isn’t to our liking. It isn’t the style of music we like, or the singer has too many tattoos (or not enough tattoos), or the guitars were too loud. We complain the pastor is too hip, or not hip enough. Or he wasn’t friendly, he didn’t come over and say hi to us. Or … or … or …
Then we walk out in all our offense and walk right by a world full of hungry, desperate people and turn up our noses. We can’t find the time to invest in their life because they don’t fit our social scene or tending to them means disrupting our plans for the day.
Then we wonder why no one wants to join our church and be like us.
What Does This Mean For Me?
If we look to the book of Acts, to the birth of the church, it talks about how after they proclaimed the Word of God and the people believed, then they were listed as added to the church. It does not say they went out proclaiming the benefits of coming to or joining the church.
The church, the gathering, the flock, the assembly, is a home where a family lives. It is a living organism made up of believers who are doing life together. The purpose of the gathering is to disciple and train existing believers, so they can in turn go out and make new disciples. This does not mean unbelievers are not welcome in our gathering, and does not mean they won’t find salvation. It just means unbelievers are not the goal of the church. It is not designed for the lost.
One reason people may refuse Christianity is because we have made it about the church and not the Gospel. The church does require a cleansing before it can be embraced, the Gospel does not.
What Then Do I Do?
We’ve seen church is not for the lost, but for the believer. Yet even then it should not be a place where we go hide from the world. It needs to be a place we go to prepare then go out to reach a lost and dying world.
The answer then lies in a change of heart, a change of perspective, a personal change. We will not touch this world until we are willing to let God wreck our lives. It means life is going to get messy and dirty.
This will look different for everyone. All are not called to the same effort. It might mean changing how we live. Maybe reducing how much it costs us to live so we can give more. And not just give to the assembly, but give to broken, hurting, lost, hungry, desperate people. It might mean getting dirty giving to the homeless or touching the sick so we can lay hands on and pray for them, but also tend to their needs, wash their wounds, minister to their physical needs.
The truth is no pastor, deacon, elder, evangelist, sermon, worship set, or song will have the kind of access to the people in your life circles you do. The pastor of your church likely won’t get the same mechanic or waitress or next door neighbor you will.
The Gospel becomes more tangible when people can experience it over time through a true believer, someone they can talk to and ask questions. When we treat people with compassion and live a life of integrity the Gospel earns the right to be heard.
We don’t need to invite them to a church where they will be wowed and dazzled. We need to invite them into our life, where they are free to be them self.
When we begin to live our true lives within the community of unbelievers around us it is going to get messy. But the issue is not their sin, the issue is the Gospel. We don’t need to clean them up. We just live the truth before them.
And when we gather in our church we strive to create a place for people to belong. Yes, the church is made for the believer, but it is a gathering of family, not a meeting of random people. Then it becomes a place to belong, to live, to dwell. And when we go out into the world proclaiming the Good News it comes with a promise of love, not condemnation.