What if we didn't have the modern church? Seriously, what if there were no brick and mortar churches, no cathedrals, no multi purpose school rooms converted to sanctuaries on Sundays? What if we just had people who read His word, fed the hungry, clothed the poor, did good works in their communities in the name of their savior, and told others how Jesus changed their lives?
My thoughts are:
A. That is what Jesus would have wanted.
B. That is what Jesus would have wanted. (and lastly)
C: That is what Jesus would have wanted.
No matter how we arrived here, A, B, or C is not the model of the church in America. Don't get me wrong, I am not against corporate worship. I have felt the moving power of an assembled gathering of Christ's followers engaged in worship and prayer. It is palpable. I just think our modern model of "church" has evolved into something unrecognizable to anything in I can find in scripture. I understand that times and cultures change, but there is a sameness found in most places of worship on most Sundays.
I can't find anything in the Gospels where Jesus says, "I want everyone to come together in a certain building one morning each week, (unless your football team is playing the early game, then you are excused) serve some delicious snacks and Starbucks coffee, have someone play and sing contemporary worship songs on an acoustic guitar, and a keyboard if you have one, and listen to a guy tell you all how cool it is that I came down here to visit you one day long ago, and died for your sin. Oh, and take an offering so you can pay for that building, pay all the staff salaries, insurance, and for the glossy handouts."
The church is people folks, not a place. Not a building; but people. You are the church, I am the church. Together, we are the church. Maybe that is where we have to start; changing the way we think about about church.
It's easy for me to poke fun at the church because I'm just a guy who sits in the chair on Sunday and takes it all in. I am not criticizing any particular churches or denominations here, it is just a general observation. So don't think just because your church sings out of a Hymnal written in the 1800's, played on an organ and you would never serve anything other than good ol' Maxwell House coffee to your congregation, you are off the hook.
My son plays guitar in a church most Sundays. He plays at many different churches with a lot of different worship teams. I have been going with him since he was too young to drive. We try to have breakfast very early on those Sundays, it's kind of our tradition. That said, I have been to a lot of churches and listened to many a church service. The funny thing is how similar all of them are. No matter the denomination, no matter if your congregation is young hipsters with ironic facial hair or well dressed older ladies and men with ties, no matter if you're in the city or out in the country, most church services go a little something like this.
You're greeted at the door by some of the more outgoing members of the church and given a glossy handout, along with the church bulletin and sermon notes. You stand around the coffee and snacks for a few minutes talking to the people you know, maybe saying hello to a new face, probably not, and finally move to your seat when the worship leader announces that church has started.
You take the same seat where you usually sit and ignore the worship pastor at the end of the first song when he asks everyone to move to the center to make room for more people. You stand for another song, maybe two, before the announcements. A staff person, or maybe the pastor usually asks for more help with the children's ministry, and reminds you to bring some can foods for a food drive and lets you know this group or that group is meeting Wednesday night at 7:00. One last song, usually a more reflective song to get the congregation in the mood for the sermon, prayer, and welcome the senior pastor to the stage.
The senior pastor begins with a light hearted comment or joke to get started, asks you to pull out your sermon notes and fill in the blanks on the paper. The sermon is usually nothing too challenging. There are always new people in church, checking out all this Jesus stuff their sister has been telling them about or some disenchanted believers from another church looking for a new home, and you don't want to come off all 'fire and brimstone' on them. Just the good ol' vanilla Jesus, He loves you and He want's you to go to heaven. If you are really good, you use an acrostic in your sermon notes, using the letters of one word to make sentences so your message easier to remember. Even if it was really hard to find the right word to make the acrostic work with your message, at all came together. Slick stuff right there, the mark of a real pro.
The offering might be during the announcements, or at the end of the service while the band plays a soft instrumental. Maybe a alter call, probably not, but hopefully an invitation to accept Christ as your savior. Anyone raising their hand gets a new Bible and an invitation to come to a new believers class next month.
One last song as everyone exits, it's usually just one verse and chorus of the last song they played. A few more hand shakes of people you know, dodging the kids who are back from Sunday School and cleaning up the last of the snacks. The pastor makes his way to the door to say goodbye to his flock. Pick up, clean up and pack up, if you are in a mobile church, and get ready to do it all again next Sunday.
There is a reason when you fly into, or drive into, any good size city in America you will see a Home Depot right next to the Appleby's, the Target and the Office Depot, or the Walmart right next to the McDonalds and a Best Buy. The outskirts of every city look just like the outskirts of every other city with all the same shopping and dinning choices. Except for the whole Carls Jr - Hardees thing. But again, it's all in name recognition, same restaurant, different names depending on what part of the country you are in. There is a reason for all this sameness.
Americans are the most conditioned and highly trained consumers in the world. There could be a small mom and pop Mexican food place that serves the best meal you could ever have right in front of you, but you drive past and pull into the Chevys Fresh Mex that you saw from the freeway. They have fresh chips and salsa don't you know.
I guess my point is, if I even have one, is it would be refreshing to see us break out of the way we think of and do church. Even if it's only a few Sundays a year.
Hey, its going to be beautiful next Sunday, so lets meet in the park, or down by the river. Bring your own chair or a blanket to sit on. No P.A. system, so everyone will have sit close together, one or two, or ten songs whenever we are moved to sing them. But next Sunday, let's talk about God. Who He is, what he means to us. The changes He has made in my life, and the changes He can make in yours. How His presence can help you through this rough time in your life, because in any church of any size, there are quietly hurting people who need to know Jesus is the answer to whatever they are going through. No snacks or coffee unless you bring your own, or better yet, get the whole family together and have breakfast before you come to church.
Wouldn't that be refreshing? Would anyone come? Would you do more for the kingdom of Christ if you had a third of your normal turn out, but those who came were moved to action, moved to a decision to seriously follow Christ?
Look, I know there are realities to deal with; budgets, payrolls, a monthly nut to crack and a leadership team or group of elders to deal with, but I think as church leaders, or pastors, we should start asking ourselves, why are we doing it this way?
I may be all wet on this one. Maybe this is how church in America is going to grow. A successful church will plant new churches that grow up just like the parent church. I just hope we are not turning church into a commodity, into a franchise where all the churches look, act, sing, and preach like all the other ones. I don't want to attend the Appleby's of churches, or the Morton's Steakhouse for that matter. A church should have its very own, distinct, personality. Stiched together, blended from a people who serve shoulder to shoulder, brought together by the Spirit of the living god. That is what church should be.
To borrow a line from Abraham;(Lincoln that is) A church of the people, by the people and for the people.