Like most people in church leadership, I’ve been thinking a lot about the conditions for reopening church when the government gives the go-ahead. As I’ve been thinking about this I think it’s valuable for us to again stop and consider what church is, as well as what it is not. I think it’s an important question because as the UK starts to “open up” again, we see shops, for example, being given the go-ahead to reopen but churches have not yet had the nod to do likewise. It’s easy to look at Government and accuse them of overlooking places of worship, deeming them unimportant. But, I think the fact that at the time I’m writing churches have not yet been allowed to resume normal services is an acknowledgement that churches are fundamentally different from shops.
The church is different.
There’s a type of Christianity that I’ve been warning about for years, something called “Consumer Church”. It’s not the church. It’s an imposter.
“Consumer Church” is the mindset that churches are basically a place where a transaction occurs. You pay an agreed (it’s even a suggested) amount and in return, you receive an item, service or experience. If what you get isn’t to your satisfaction, you can usually get your money back – or get what you need somewhere else.
Let’s be honest … who hasn’t walked away from a church service feeling less than satisfied by the worship, preaching or quality of experience? (It’s not always the case that this is evidence of this mindset … sometimes preachers don’t perform … oops, there it is!)
It’s important to think about how transactional church thinking has crept into our thinking in light of the current COVID-19 crisis. This will then help us to decide when and how we are to reopen church buildings.
Church is Open
When the word “church” comes up in conversation, the first thing we think of is a building. We have this mindset that church is a place we go to on Sundays. As we get our family dressed, fight through traffic and get a good seat, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we aren’t just going to church; we are the church. Here’s the first thing I want to communicate: the church has NEVER been shut. Buildings have been closed but the church is very much “open for business”. The Church was never about brick and mortar.
In the Bible, the church is always a reference to people, not a place. The church is a body of believers that live out the truth that the Gospel changes lives.
So the church is very much open. We’re not closed. The church has a nature that moves forward even against the most fierce opposition (Matthew 16:17-19).
Church is not for the Spectator
I love the fact that our gatherings are structured so that everyone and anyone can come along. You can sit in the back and watch. We’re ok with that. However, being part of Calvary means that you are church. There are expectations on you. Expectations to love, serve, contribute, grow and help others do the same. We don’t sit back and wait to be ministered to. We are the ones doing the ministering.
If we don’t like something, we don’t discount it on the basis of our preference.
If we like something, we don’t accept it on the basis of our preference,.
Each person has a different role to play. For some that means that they are more visible than others but not more important.
We are measured on our faithfulness to what we have been called to do in the Kingdom.
Church is Supernatural
Gathering is important
Jesus gave us the principle that when two or three gather together in the name of Jesus, the presence of Jesus is there.
When Jesus wrote to the 7 churches, recorded in Revelation, He described Himself as one who walks with and amongst the people.
This is God’s way – to dwell among His people (Ex 29:45-46) – not in some kind of omnipresent way, but in a very real tangible way.
There is something supernatural and spiritual that takes place when God’s people gather. We should not devalue this important Biblical teaching.
Historically, throughout the centuries, “church” has been understood as taking place when the Bible is taught, the sacraments are administered, and church discipline (formal and informal) takes place. So, for example, three Christians meeting for coffee, talking about sport is not “church” even though they are Christians meeting. “In Jesus’ Name” means that His authority is brought to bear in our lives.
So gathering is important.
We Gather to Disperse
We don’t gather for gathering’s sake. We gather to be equipped and encouraged so that we can disperse. Jesus called us to “Go into all the world”. We gather so that we can live lives in honour to God, whether that be in a work place, education or home. We are called to take the message of good news to this world. Church helps us do that.
So I hope you can see that church doesn’t need a building. Maybe God is calling us to be church?