Is church just a place to go on Sundays? As Francis Chan would say, did Jesus come and die so that Christians would go somewhere once a week for a service? Thinking about the true meaning of church and getting creative about what it can look like is something we find ourselves doing from time to time. I thought it was worth sharing the following excerpts of a letter written by my (Michelle’s) former pastor at New Community Church in Spokane, who is now the president of a church-planting organization, Christian Associates International:
I see many churches being planted at this time, but many of them are really simply starting worship services. The reality is, we don’t need more worship services. Most churches in most cities have plenty of seats available – right? Read what veteran missionary and theologian Howard Snyder says about this dilemma:
“The church gets in trouble whenever it thinks it is in the church business rather than the kingdom business. In the church business, people are concerned with church activities, religious behavior in spiritual things. In the kingdom business, people are concerned with kingdom activities, all human behavior and everything God has made, visible and invisible. Kingdom people see human affairs as saturated with scriptural meaning and kingdom significance. Kingdom people seek first the kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy and truth. Church people think about how to get people into the church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world… If the church has one great need, it is this: to be set free for the kingdom of God, to be liberated from itself as it has become in order to be itself as God intends.”
For many years, the church to me was the place where I should go if I wanted to be a “good person” and fulfill my weekly duty of giving some time to God. Since then, I’ve witnessed churches like New Community and Christians like Shane Claiborne who view the church not as a location but as a group of people. Specifically, the church is the Body of Christ in the modern world because it is a diverse “body” of people who are actively carrying out the work of Jesus. This work includes restoring justice, bringing about reconciliation, and transforming lives on personal, community, and international levels– in other words: being Good News to the world, bringing the Kingdom to Earth (as it is in Heaven), and being Christ’s hands and feet.
Over many years, I’ve come to realize that Church isn’t just what happens on Sundays and showing up at service doesn’t actually qualify me to call myself a follower of Christ. There’s a lot more I could say about what Church is, including all the ideas Jedd and I have discussed about creatively meeting the world’s needs, but I’m overwhelmed trying to put all my thoughts into words at this time. Much of what I’ve learned about all this comes from seeing love in action through others but also from reading some really great books. So I’ll take this time to encourage everyone to take a look at my new recommended book list (there’s also a link on the right side of our blog page) which are primarily about being the active Body of Christ in today’s world, a.k.a. the Church. Please pass on any book recommendations you have for me as well and share your own thoughts about Church below.