For definitions sake. Read “church” as the people of God. The followers of Jesus. Not building or any certain shape of church.
For ten years I have had a passionate zeal, an arrogant know-it-all-ism that looked for the opportunity to answer the question “What is Church?”
I knew it.
I knew the answer. Every single time, i would have something to say. I had read the books, i had met and been apart of congregations in most denominations, except most of the cults.
I had had discussions with hindus, muslims, buddhists and catholics (because apparently in some countries there’s no difference) in countries all over the globe.
I’ve heard, read and seen the creation story of many cultures, I’ve been in different shapes of community. Bands, sports, theatre, construction, work crews and role playing games. I have lived in different types of house communities. I’ve lead worship in small groups and larger congregations. I’ve been in meetings of christians that were communicating in more then four different languages at the same time.
I knew what church is. I knew what church could be, and i dreamed about what church SHOULD be. I was the man.
But in the last year I’ve been less hasty to answer or even talk about church. Church has become an embarrassment to a lot of my loved ones. Church has been left in droves by a lot of my intimate community all around my home country. It is being attacked all over, and not defended well by many.
But i still knew what church COULD and SHOULD be… until this Sunday. I was walking along the coast of South Africa and i was asked the now infamous question… what is church?
And i cheekily answered to laughter “It sucks” Church sucks. Church is boring and weak and confused and infiltrated and unseen. Church was the building, and thats why we originally hated it. But now church isn’t even the building, its irrelevant.
Now, I’m not saying its not a lovely social club. I’m not even saying that those who regularly attend church aren’t having wonderful moments with Jesus, aren’t encouraged, aren’t living lives in praise of their creator. I’m not saying that church isn’t great.
But when you think about what could be church…. its much larger, its much more influential, it changes, it grows, it improves, its dirty and hard, but ultimately worth all the hard work.
I sometimes visit churches that are still saying the same sermons, singing the same 100 year old songs, and having exactly the same conversations that they were having 20 years ago when I was 8. And, in the last twenty years our world has change dramatically.
Just think about communication. Back when I was eight, my father didn’t have a mobile phone. But if he did, it would have been a huge brick. The internet didn’t really exist for the lay man and so my pen pals were literally that… friends I wrote to in pen.
Now, I can listen to some of the greatest preachers in history whenever i want. I can have the 100 greatest pieces of theological literature in my pocket. I do most of my communication through text or photo-sharing and many of my contemporaries and younger are losing the art of conversation.
Church has to change, or at least enter the conversation of modern times. And yes, some of our congregations now do our announcements with fancy videos. But in an age of information constantly assailing us and being fully available day or night, does the church really need to insert even more generic, unchanging information into its congregants?
There are stats and studies out there about if you don’t do anything with information in the first good block of hours after you hear it, its just as helpful as if you had never heard it.
Are churches good at tangible life change? Or are we good at fancy oratory and back pats? Do churches know where their authority lies? Or are we passing that buck to the assistant lead pastors personal assistant? Do we even know what God made the church for? Or did we get that blue print from some old blokes back in the day and it sounded pretty?
And it does sound pretty good, and it is pretty good. But pretty good isn’t going to illuminate strong families to societies that are fully convinced that designer-children and uncommitted “me” focused relationships are what we really want and need.
Pretty good isn’t going to see our economies breed trust and empowerment in all of our communities, to bring wealth and well-being to EVERYONE.
Pretty good won’t do much.
What pretty good will do is, continue breeding apathetic men and women content to amass a mini fortune and die finally after science can’t keep their decrepit bodies animated any longer.
And its this large apathetic pack of sheep-like communities that could completely and holistically change the entire face of planet earth. Rich people, whilst apparently the hardest to get into heaven, could also use their economic powers to gain information through the internet and the holy spirit to see how to finance, empower and redevelop everything for the good of everyone.
And you know one of the big things that holds us back from doing just that?
Control. and Safety.
We are convinced that life on planet earth needs to be safe and controlled so we don’t have to feel pain. Not thinking about all those around us that are feeling pain, or the obvious proofs that control and safety usually don’t inoculate ourselves from pain at all. We do everything we can to surround ourselves with same-ness, baby proofing and occasionally social numbing. And it still fails us. We still feel pain.
And yet we label ourselves Christians, after a man who left his home, felt pain and suffering as a man, hung on a tree and took on all of mans pain, suffering and damnation. He wasn’t safe, he didn’t control anything, and we take on his name, not to follow him into his plans, but to do the complete opposite.
So what is church? We suck.
What is church? A lie.
And what could church be? A redemptive, life changing force of authority and justice and mercy that includes everyone and anyone at the drop of a hat because our namesake did so for us.
And at the rate and movement it is currently going, will the next few decades turn Asia and Africa into missions sending nations to Europe and North America? Or, can the entire population of believers (2 billion) learn Gods thinking, understand Christs heart and hear the holy spirits direction?
But will we?