This summer has provided some much needed reflection and perspective, especially on things I’ve never really considered or questioned. Recently, that’s included the idea of church.
I’ve gone to church my whole life. I was never allowed to open my Easter basket before the sunrise service, and any money I made my senior year of highschool was basically spent on gas, driving to and from the church or the local Starbucks with church people. If there was ever a model church girl, I am pretty much it. I’ve been a part of churches that run the denominational spectrum. I’ve volunteered in every childcare room for every church we’ve ever been a part of. I’ve run lights and sound and slides and small groups. I went to every youth event, even ones where it was just me, my sister, and a leader. I’ve been on mission trips and service days, serving food, cleaning homes, painting walls, or playing with kids. Dinners, sleepovers, discipleship dates, and small groups. . .and the kicker is I don’t resent a single bit of it. None of my church attendance was forced. My parents never coerced me into service and I never begrudgingly followed friends to an event. I was happy to do it; all of it. I have always been a happy church girl. And I keep doing it. I’d do it all over. None of my questions ever convince me to stop, that this “church” is anything but worthy of my time and energy.
“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.“ A. W. Tozer
So it’s not from a lack of love that I’ve been questioning what the church is and does; it’s actually from a place of deep care and affection. I truly love “the church,” because I love Jesus and His body with 100% of my being. I feel like there’s a lot of people talking about “the church” as the body of Christ recently, rather than the building everyone migrates to on Sunday mornings, Saturday nights, and Wednesday evenings. I’m so grateful that truth has resurfaced; we don’t go to church, we are the church.
But I wonder, do we actually get that? Does what we do really reflect that truth?
In the David Platt sermon I was listening too while driving to my grandparents house, he said something along the lines of: “We shouldn’t be inviting people to church. Stop asking people to come to church, because you are the church. The church should be going out to the world.” When I read through Acts and 1 Corinthians, I see the radical, communal, selfless, everyday life nature of the body of Christ. And when I look back at the programs and drama and punch-my-Sunday-morning-ticket or I-come-just-to-receive mentality, I wonder how we expect them to align?
To be painfully honest, I’m struggling with it, this idea of church. And nothing is exempt from my struggle. I’m struggling in the services with the loud, emotional music and dynamic teaching. I know the people and their hearts and I don’t doubt the genuine nature of the experience, but I’m struggling with the idea that people are searching for an individualistic, emotional, satisfying experience, rather than self-denying service and relationships and the powerful (and yes, emotional) Holy Spirit that’s in everyday life. I’m also struggling with the quiet, reserved traditions and routines of church. Was a sparkling chalice and soft wafers, held by a stranger, really what Jesus had in mind when He said “eat my body, drink my blood, and do this in remembrance of me?” I love the diversity of the body and worship. I love how modern technology enables things like podcasts and Christian music and conferences. I don’t doubt the good in them because I’ve been a participant and recipient of that my whole life. I just have to wonder. . .is that really what Jesus wanted to be the head of in Colossians 1:18?
“I lack the fervency, vitality, life, in prayer which I long for. I know that many consider it fanaticism when they hear anything which does not conform to the conventional, sleep-inducing eulogies so often rising from Laodicean lips; but I know too that these same people can acquiescently tolerate sin in their lives and in the church without so much as tilting one hair of their eyebrows.” Jim Eliot
Don’t misunderstand: this isn’t a rant about the church. The last thing I want to do is discourage the good work the church is doing, especially the wonderful specific churches I’ve visited and been blessed to be a part of. I love the church because Jesus loves the church, which, as everyone is saying, is really just the body of believers. And I get it – this is the way things have been done for centuries. I can’t even write this post without using “church talk.” The physical structure of church is necessitated by the numbers and the brokenness and the need for organized systems. This isn’t 1st century Jerusalem; we don’t have to meet in communal, underground house churches anymore. So how do we “devote ourselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and prayer” (Acts 2:42)? How do we “have all things in common and give to anyone who has need” (Acts 2:44)? How are we supposed to “meet together everyday. . .breaking bread in our homes and eating together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God” (Acts 2:45)? I don’t have all the answers, I don’t even have some of the answers.
I have to wonder if I’m wrong for wanting more simple Sunday’s, filled with worship and people and life. I can’t help but wonder if we’ve got it backwards. One of my favorite quotes is this one by CT Studd:
“Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.” CT Studd
It’s one of my all-time favorites because it’s one of the most stirring and convicting statements I’ve ever read. I want nothing more than to proclaim it boldly with my whole heart. It stirs me because I know it should be the burning desire of my heart, if my heart truly believes the truth of Scripture and the goodness of the Gospel. It convicts me because it causes me to examine how I truly live. Am I more comfortable being in church than I am actually being the church? Do I know what it means to be with and love “church” people, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ . . . so I wonder, why does it usually center around the busy, stressed, cranky, rushed, forced, awkward, limited encounters I seem to have inside the physical church walls?
The perfect church service,would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God. C.S. Lewis
I don’t know how a New Testament church is supposed to look in 21st century America. Greater than me have written much more in depth and theologically accurate books on that. I don’t know how a service like C.S. Lewis is talking about could work inside a church building. I’m not advocating for anything specific because I’m still fuzzy on the specifics of what I’m thinking and feeling. I just know that I feel like something’s off. That tears have come to my eyes in a brightly colored stained glass, organ echoing church and a dimly lit, drum pounding church. Standing next to people I don’t know, or people I do know with needs and wounds. People who find something inside these buildings but struggle in their daily life. Where are their hearts? Where is the community, the for-better-or-worse-you’re-stuck-with-us family? Where is the Father, and Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit?
I just don’t want us to miss the real Jesus. I don’t want us to miss each other. I don’t want to get to heaven and see how we just didn’t get what it meant to really be the church. And I may not know at 19 what it means to “get it;” I don’t know if I’ll ever fully “get it,” but I know that I can’t stop questioning just because I’m afraid of how the questions may shake the cultural notions I have of what “going to” and “being” the church means.
Just thoughts, just questions. When you let a pensive, happy church girl word vomit on her blog. . .