When you hear talk about “the church”, what comes to mind? Is it a building with a steeple with a cross on top? Do you think of a place for weddings or funerals? Does a picture of intolerance come to mind? Or, do you think of a group of people who make up the body of Christ?
Most of the times when I hear “the church” discussed, it’s a synonym for “organized religion.” Over and over, it has been said “I can worship God on my own. I don’t need organized religion telling me what to do.” “The church” is seen as another entity that will try to control the way they think, or dress or behave. And, in all honesty, that fear comes based on some history.
At various times, “the church” has been identified as judgmental and negative. Having grown up in the Baptist church, there always seemed to be “nos” that we had to remember. As a teen, it seemed that if it was fun, we weren’t allowed to participate. Many of the rules that were laid out were not Biblically based. When we would question why we couldn’t dance, the answers were vague and very unconvincing. Alcohol was another hazy area. We were definitely told “NO!” but all through the Bible, we saw examples of drinking wine. As a young teen, I was told by a church teacher that the wine mentioned in the Bible “didn’t have alcohol added yet. ” this worked for a little while with me, but eventually I figured out that this was false. I don’t believe that my Sunday School teacher lied to me. She just stated what she believed to be true. I wonder how many people were dissuaded from following Christ because of the numerous rules and regulations that were enforced by “the church”? Now, please don’t misunderstand, I believe that there are sins that need to be corrected. And, I believe that we need to stand up for what we believe. However, when the message becomes “you have to do it this way to be accepted”, then, we lose the message that God loves and transforms people, and we have a problem.
Too often, we spend out time trying to correct the unchurched and fix their issues. when, in reality, it’s the people within the walls of the “church” that need to be corrected. We need to lose our “holier than thou” attitudes. Once again, I have a confession: I LOVE big churches and chapels. I enjoy organ music and old hymns. I was taught to respect the inner sanctum of the sanctuary: no running, no jumping, no food, no drinks, etc. As an adult, I’ve come to understand that God doesn’t stay in the sanctuary. I’ve learned to worship in a school, a strip center, a movie theater or a gym. It’s not the place that needs to be revered, but God Himself.
I currently attend church in a movie theater. Today, was the 4 year anniversary of meeting there. The first Sunday, there were 85 people. Today, we fill the theater for 2 services and that doesn’t count the theaters used for the children. God meets us there. He doesn’t mind the drinks and food (yes, sometimes popcorn) in the theater during worship. He doesn’t mind hearing the sound track from the neighboring movie theater in the background of our service. He works in spite of it all. This has been a big change for me. I’m used to regular services, in a permanent building with Sunday School classes at 9:45. We have 2 services and Life Groups that meet during the week. And, we are growing. We have no plans to build. And, I’m glad.
I’ve witnessed time and time again when churches lose sight of their calling after they become a building. The time during the funding and building phase is a time of goal setting and dreams. Everyone is excited about what God is doing. Miracles often are seen during this time of faith and growth. Then the building is dedicated. And, the excitement wanes. There are arguments about the use and colors. The struggle to pay the bills and the upkeep becomes primary. The differing views on what is sacred and what is not causes issues. And, I think, worst of all it becomes comfortable. There’s no longer the push to grow and stretch and stand on faith.
The Houston area has had a hard week. Hurricane Harvey has destroyed much in it’s path. This week has been at time to see that “the church” is not building. The Church is a body of believers that work together to spread the love and forgiveness of God. We’ve seen examples of this from all over the city. We’ve seen churches opened for people to come in and take shelter. We’ve had the opportunity to be a living, breathing example to others in our community, both inside and outside of the church. We are still being given the opportunity to be more than a building.
The Church is more than a building. It’s more than a denomination. We are challenged to prove to the people around us that our God is relevant, that we are more than an organized religion. Let’s take the challenge!