We live in interesting times! Pandemics. National Emergencies. Bear Markets. Many might quickly surmise these interesting times are also evil times. Maybe that is so, but as far as the church is concerned, I fully believe God is taking these interesting/evil times and bringing about great opportunities to glorify Himself and even bring good to us.
I believe it is also a prime time to re-evaluate and even re-set the way we do church. After all, what is the purpose of the church?
Are we measured by our “bricks and mortar?”
Should we be measured by how many bottoms we have seated in our pews each week?
Or would now be an opportune time to adopt a biblical view where each follower of Christ is the church, both individually and corporately? Is it time to seize the opportunity to be the Church?
I am reading Exodus in my devotions during the first half of 2020. In this gospel-centered book, I am struck by how much the enslaved Israelites’ lives were consumed with building. Even when Pharaoh took away their materials, still they were tasked with building. There was never enough for that guy.
Yet, to say the theme of Exodus is about building physical things would be a gross misrepresentation of this vital gospel-centered book where we see the themes of God’s power and victory. However, I bet if you cornered an Israelite slave and asked him, “What is your mission in life?” the answer would be, “To build these cursed buildings.”
We are called to live lives of mission. This mission is formed in our time with God. We can often confuse our work unto the Lord as primarily a work of brick and mortar. There is nothing evil about building a structure or even calling the gathering in that structure the “church.”
But make no mistake! The church is not a building. It never has been! It may gather occasionally in a building, but the church is a Spirit-transformed group of two or more Christ-followers. All the way from Matthew 16:18, that thought is re-enforced even in the midst of our “busy-hands” culture:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
God builds the church. We may hang a shingle to keep the church (you and me) out of the weather, but that’s that. Whether we gather in a home or a mega-structure, the church is a beautiful blend of flesh and blood (you, me and the billion + Christ-followers who have lived on planet earth), soul and spirit (the inner selves of those billion + souls being renewed each day by God’s Word, Spirit, way and will), and the Holy Spirit of God (who inhabits the praises of His people and guides us into all truth).
Could our focus on building things be as distracting to our spiritual lives now as it must have been to the Israelites who were whipped and driven into more and more production, all while losing hope in the One on whom they waited? Could the current pandemic (as horrible as it is) have a positive by-product whereby the church re-mobilizes into the neighborhood?
Up until this Sunday, I have helped lead a church which meets in a building. Yesterday was our first day of de-centralization in more than five years, as we once had been a group of house churches. It is no sin to use a space and even to identify the space as a place of gathering for the church, so please don’t hear me casting stones at folks who gather or lead in a church with a physical location.
I enjoy gathering with the body of Christ in steepled facilities where the people use hymn books and in houses where we offer Danishes and all points in between. Wherever we gather, living on mission has at its core the truth that we are a “sent people,” so anything we do to try and define ourselves otherwise—such as where we sit—is a trap. It’s a trap that leads us off the missional course of obedience and into the slow slide to sitting, soaking, and then, ultimately, souring.
What if we took this opportunity to learn to invest into the Kingdom of Jesus that isn’t bound by walls? As Paul taught us in 1 Corinthians 12:27:
You are the body of Christ (the church) and individually members of it.
I spend most of my energies providing leadership to church planters in the Mountain West. It is a joy. Each of them meets in unique places and even at unique times. Each of them did something different yesterday than they normally would.
What if rather than reacting to the pandemic, we were actually reacting to God blowing the wind of His Holy Spirit into the sails of His Kingdom work in the world?
Today, live on mission with this simple truth—you are the church. You are the gathered and sent people of God on assignment to bring hope to the world. Embrace it. Own it. Seek ways to be the body of Christ to the lost around you.