I was driving through the beautiful countryside of central VA this afternoon with my wife behind the wheel and our college student daughter in the back seat. We were on a familiar road, as we were again delivering our daughter back to where she’s currently residing while in school. Classes start on Monday and she’s been anxious to get back. She lovingly calls where she’s living “home” which I must admit…stings a little bit.
My wife had driven the same road a few days ago when she went to pick up our daughter and apparently had found a couple of buildings she wanted to point out to me: the first was an empty, aged, faded-paint building that was screaming to be revived into an adorable shop of some type. And down the road, within eyeshot of that building was a small–and I mean small–church building. Both as picturesque as could be in this rinky-dink, blink-it-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of town. She shared her daydream that she could run that small shop and I could pastor that small church. Nice thought, huh?
I didn’t honestly stay with that daydream of hers for very long. After all, it was HER daydream and I was happy to leave it that way. Instead, I began to think thoughts triggered by that adorable, pocket-sized church building.
You see, I’m a pastor on staff at a rather non-pocket-sized church. With attendance ranging from 1200 to 1400 on average, its quite the situation. I love ministering there, I love the people, I’m grateful for the support of countless parents, and I absolutely am crazy about each and every student that calls Southside home. I’ve been there for 11 years serving as Student Discipleship Pastor and I’m fairly certain I’d be fine with 11 more.
But when I passed that country church building today, I began to think thoughts I haven’t explored nearly deeply enough. Today in 2015, there is a resurgence of the “house church” movement in America. House churches are precisely what they sound like: groups of Christians and those at least interested in Christ gathering together in homes for activities we could commonly connect with “church”. Worship, fellowship, teaching, and even eating. One of the reasons I think the house church movement is growing is because of the perceived misdirection of many established, brick-and-mortar churches.
The word “church” is the biblical Greek word “ekklesia” and it is not now nor ever meant to be attached to a geographic location. The word refers instead to the “called out ones” as the definition states. However, over time we have morphed this word “church” to be precisely that: a location (“Let’s go to church.”) or an event (“Please come to our church service.”).
So, a great clarifying question for those in ministry (and those not) to ask is this: How would we do this without a location, schedule, resources, or a program? In other words, let’s say that the “church” you attend (as in the meeting place/building) burned to the ground. What then? The purists might knee-jerk respond with “we’d just meet in an open field.” and to that I’d say, “Good for you.” but if our American church culture is any indication, it wouldn’t be too long before that got old and rumblings of a “building campaign” began to ripple through the crowd.
Now let’s get something straight. I’m not against buildings. I live in one. I worship in one. I work in one. I like them. Buildings are good. But has the church mistakenly equated ministry with a location, a schedule, resources, or a program? What if we erased those 4 words from our ministry vocabulary and didn’t have any of them? How then would we “make disciples” as is the Commission given to us by our King? Are we leaning far too heavily on what we have and far too lightly on who and what we are?
I challenged our students last year with this thought: What if more of our church’s ministry happened outside the walls than inside? What if we were known more by who we are than where we meet?
Some might say for a church to have any building at all is a sinful waste. To them I’d respectfully say read your Bible. Having a building, land, or resources isn’t wrong, or bad, or sinful. But putting our hope and trust and faith in those things rather than being the Called Out Ones (who love everyone everywhere with the lavish love of Jesus) is. If you are a part of a church that has a building to meet in, by all means be grateful and leverage all resources for the Kingdom work. To do any less would be wasteful.
What do you think about this? Have we turned “church” into a place and schedule rather than a people and a passion? When you hear the word “church”, what comes to your mind? What is YOUR opinion of “church” in America? What would it take for the negative connotations to be turned around?