The Church Made Simple

This is an older article from my time between ministries. Just transferred it over here.

Church should be simple, not this complex machine of committees and programs that it has become. I am pretty "lazy" when it comes to doing traditional church as I do not go to our church's Sunday evening or Wednesday evening services; I only spend four to five hours there every Sunday morning in a leadership meeting, teaching a Sunday School class, attending the "service," and sharing in a fellowship meal. I have friends who keep busy going to the church every time the doors are open.

Church wears them out. Keeping busy going to church takes away time that they could be visiting a neighbor or helping another person by taking up at least one morning and two evenings every week.

There are some in my church, and possibly yours, who think if you are not there when the doors are open, then you are not being faithful to Christ. It is presented as if attendance at another educational function is essential to being faithful disciples. If you catch some of these people who do not miss a service when they are in the right mood, they will actually tell you that. I have been present for some of these unity-building moments.

Church is not something that should keep us busy through education and worship; church is the relationships between people living out the call to be disciples of Christ. Instead of becoming a tool to help us follow Christ in our homes, neighborhoods, and places of employment, church has developed into a mammoth assortment of programs that keep us busy from actually loving those around us that are not part of the church. Church has moved from being the relationship between the people of God to being an institution that must be maintained.

For many who desire church to be different, they change the word "church" to words like "fellowship" or "community" and label their buildings as "Christian Centers" or some other name. If changing our vocabulary helps us to be the church, then our vocabulary should be quick to go. But if we change only the vocabulary and leave the practices in place that have actually took the church on a scenic detour from where we need to be, then we are only playing word games. I can hear the argument that we need to call things by their biblical names. We need to note that "church" is just a translated word from the Greek "ekklesia." If "church" has morphed into meaning something in our culture that is not really what the "ekklesia" of the Bible is, then a vocabulary change would be useful. It does nobody any good to keep calling a biblical idea a word that has lost the biblical meaning.

"Church" has become associated in people's minds with singing, sermons, lessons, Sunday morning, programs, and all other various activities. Maybe a vocabulary change is needed because it should be associated with prayer, apostle's teaching, relationships, eating together, loving, and sharing. The essentials of church have been replaced by ancillaries. We can stop singing, having sermons, meeting on Sunday mornings, and creating programs and still be healthy churches.

Nor is it necessary to be a large group to be the church. "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 19:20). That section of Scripture is in the midst of a section on the power of believers when they gather together. Being a disciple is not to be done alone but along with others on the journey together, but it does not have to be done with fifty, a thousand, or ten thousand people. The problem is that we have so narrowly defined what that communal journey is to look like that we have made it corporate. A corporate journey is one in which the leaders discover the path through prayer and conversation with one another. The leaders follow that up by passing the direction down from the top. A communal vision is one discovered by the people through conversation and prayer with one another and then shared. This is then lived out in fellowship with one another.

One of the major problems of corporate church is that it financially and time-wise costs much more. Is it possible to have all of the assets, which require maintenance, and the regular expenses of an institutional church, not become distracted by them, and remain focused on the mission of Christ in our community and around the world? It might be possible, but the default seems to be distraction. Most churches spend the majority of their money on the maintenance of the institution of church, on their leaders and on the building they meet in. The institution becomes the goal rather than being disciples. It is a very rare church that spends over 50% of their money helping people rather than on the maintaining the institution. I know some will say that the maintenance of the institution is helping others, especially when it comes to paid ministers. I might have to concede that, but the goal needs to be something other than the maintenance of the institution. What I have found is that megachurches and house churches use a smaller percentage of their budget on the maintenance of the church compared to all of the churches in between.

Jesus said that the world will know his disciples by their love for one another. We somehow have lost the desire to emphasize love. Proper doctrine that does not lead us to be more loving is a waste of a teachable moment. A building that does not cause us to be more loving is a total misuse of God's resources. We have lost site of the goal in the midst of church. Bells, whistles, and all other sorts of distractions are meaningless if they are not tools to equip us to be more loving. We lose focus in maintaining the institution and it becomes a mean in itself rather than the tool it should be. A lot of time with have a lot of time and money invested in tools that have lost their effectiveness.

Let the institution fall. Let the saints rise up and begin to love one another and all who they encounter.