Over the last few years my world has been turned upside down when it comes to church and what we mean when we say church.
After all we can ‘go to church‘, we can be ‘church goers‘, we ‘visit churches‘, we raise money for ‘church buildings‘ we can feel bored whilst we are ‘at church’, we can feel better after ‘we have been to church’, and we can insist on a certain standard of behaviour whilst we are ‘in church’. Of course we can add to this list the special clothes we might wear, or the particular words we say, and what about the music, the songs, the hierarchy, the order of service, the money, our favourite seats and the funny way the preacher says God?
The big question is what did Jesus mean when He said “church”, and what does the New Testament say about the things mentioned above?
A word of warning. If we are not prepared to be ruthlessly honest with both ourselves and the Scripture then there isn’t really any point in going further. However, if we are prepared to lay aside our assumptions and embrace the freedom that grace brings we can embark on a thrilling, risky, miraculous and life changing journey with Jesus at the helm.
What is a church? I would say a local church is a group of Jesus followers who share the following:
These are not written in any order because they are all essential and interdependent; remove any one of them and the best you have is a weak church, at worst you are left with a special interest club.
The reason I deliberately broke a successful contemporary church is because we didn’t meet any of the above list. The one that was obvious to me was the lack of discipleship; certainly we had great music, I thought the preaching was brilliant , the numbers were good, there was some money and on occasion we were witness to the power of God. But were we disciples, did our worship extend beyond the style of music, were we a loving community with a missional heart…? Not really, the way I had led the church didn’t really allow for any of these things even though we looked like a successful contemporary, Spirit filled church.
I am now convinced that what we were led to believe was church wasn’t what Jesus had in mind. And whilst God in His mercy has used us whenever we were willing, our top down, hierarchical, clergy and laity bound institutions hinder discipleship, limit worship, stifle community and dampen mission.
Today I work with small groups of believers who are starting to discover what it means to follow Jesus rather go to church, they are overcoming prejudice and laziness in order to discover community, the first shoots of mission are showing as the Gospel is reaching people who would never attend church and all of this with a growing chorus of worship in our hearts as we discover more of His amazing grace.
Please let’s stop trying to get people to go to church. Instead, can we introduce them to Jesus through the simplicity and power of the Gospel?