Sunday, 25 July 2010

Church - If Only...

Catherine's daughter Becky went to a playgroup in an Anglican church the other day. Stained glass windows and everything. She told me it wasn't a proper church because unlike ours it didn't have an upstairs. Strange how quickly we fall into preconceptions. When we have tours of school children in our building, they don't think we are a proper church, conversely because we don't have the stained glass windows...

We're reviewing our web-site and as part of that a friend has produced some extraordinary images describing the preconceived ideas many people have of church. In the midst of that he used a phrase that cut to the heart: 'Is church a broken promise?' Another friend who leads one of YWAM's bases and who I know is passionate about local church, said a couple of days ago: 'I understand why people wonder how church ever got to be this inadequate if God really is who he says he is!'

Then there's all your helpful suggestions from Facebook about how church could be better - I especially liked those that involved chocolate!

With all that in mind, have a look at the video and then read on....

So, what's this deal about church? Surely the secret is at the heart of the song isn't it? Collectively we represent the love of God to a world that is in desperate need of it.We're a group of people; two's, three's, a community - who love one another in extraordinary ways. And as a community, love those not yet part of the family, as if they were. We're serving one another, those who are outcast, those who are vulnerable, those who are lost.

Of course we should be caring for those already in the family, of course we should be equipping and training one another. Of course we should worship together, celebrate together. But none of these are the purpose of church, they are the means by which the community that is church is is formed. But the point of church, the only point of church, is to make God visible.

Let's think this through. Other than when we 'go to church' (aaagggghhhhh), when do we stand up with other people and sing a whole series of songs? When do we voluntarily sit and listen to someone tell you stuff for upwards of 40 minutes? How alien would it be for someone who has never 'been to church' to enter such an environment? How hard do we have to work in order to persuade someone to do such a bizarre thing? How much easier to invite them to the familiar - our home, our bbq, our life...

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of what we do on Sunday - I just don't believe it is church. I don't believe it is the starting point of a conversation about faith. If we think church is about what we do when we meet together on a Sunday, and that evangelism is about persuading people to come into that in order to hear 'the good news', then I suspect we have lost the plot. Of course we're going to be welcoming of everyone if they do come along. Of course we should explicitly encourage those who are there to a faith commitment. But if our strategy for loving the outcast, the vulnerable, the lost is to invite them to what we do on a Sunday then we have truly lost our marbles.

Invite them to your home. Invite them into your life. Invite them to be your friends. Love them. Don't hook them like some poor fish to be dropped into the 'keep net' of 'church'. Don't invite them to a 'service' where the 'professionals' can persuade them of God's love. Be God's love. Let's all do it. As a family, as a small-group, as a community of faith.

Church is not an introvert process. It isn't a place where we get healed behind closed doors, come out when we're shiny and perfect in order to witness to the world, then go back for repairs when we get a bit tarnished. Church is where God's people engage with a hurting world. Church is where people who have been messed up by sin (theirs and others), who are in the process of being healed and saved, enagage in battle; spiritually, practically, daily, on behalf of those who are messed up by sin but who are not yet being healed or saved.

So that's it. I've decided. I'm never going to 'go to church' again. I'm never going to invite someone 'to go to church' either. I hope I can be a good friend to those who are hurting, to those who are outcast. I hope that with others who love God I can practically demonstrate His love to those the world ignores.

I look forward to celebrating and learning with others on a Sunday or whenever. It's fun, it's enriching, it's inspiring, it's great.

Then afterwards, we can go and be church.


  1. David, Stimulating as always, but for me this take on church risks detaching (and elevating?) God's immanence from and above His transcendence. Sometimes I need a sense of God's immensity, awesomeness, power, glory, etc. Actually today was one of those days. I'm with Peter -- "show me your glory". (Good quote today by our pastor of Packer about how we replace awe with excitement at our peril.) So, yes, all what you describe, but I want and need more -- I'll be inspired to "go and be church" by regular glimpses, along with my community of faith, of what I now see through a glass darkly but long for face-to-face. Otherwise, I risk losing hope and then can easily end up feeling like a tired do-gooder rather than a child and servant of the holy, loving God.

  2. David, that's it.....I totally agree with all of your comments, it is so true, a bit like being a 'Sunday Christian'
    Thank you for setting up this blog......more please

  3. loving the comments but I really don't understand a lot of the words used in church brian, could you explain your comment a bit on immanence and transcendence. Are you around luton and coming to the discussion?

  4. David - hi it's Vanessa (Melanie Henderson's sister) -she kindly forwarded this to me in California, so I can follow your blog - I agree 1000%-just got back from 3 weeks in Haiti-the most amazing experience- I went to show God's love for the people of Haiti and have left richly blessed by their love for me and for Jesus - I look forward to more - not quite sure what Brian was trying to share about needing more -what more could I need than to strive to have a heart for servitude - God Bless you and take care -Vanessa

  5. Catherine -- will try and get there. Should be able to. The immanence of God refers to His presence in time and space. The transcendence refers to his big, mysterious, awesome side that is bigger than our mind or comprehension. I'm not advocating "either-or", (actually I advocate exactly the opposite). But I do find churches tend to gravitate to one or the other, rather than bask in the fullness of God (as I understand Him, anyway). I suspect Martha really "got" immanence, and Mary gravitated to transcendence. I would suggest that having a grasp on God's transcendence is essential for us to love and serve well over the long haul. As a leader/influencer, I have power -- all leaders are dangerous in that sense. Those leaders who go off the rails, I'd suggest, often, or maybe always, do so because the confuse themselves with God (pride and self-idolatry take over). Grasping His immensity, His power, His glory, both motivates and guards me as I serve. And, by the way, makes His love far more meaningful and wondrous. The God of the Transfiguration, the one whose glory and awesomeness "terrified" (Mt 17:6) the disciples at that moment, loves me (and loves His son, as He said at the time)! Now that's an amazing love that nobody can match. We have to be honest, lots of pagans love and serve as well as or better than we do in many situations (Sir Bob, Medicins San Frontieres, etc.) What sets us apart? For me, it is "God Sans Frontieres" -- way grander than my service or heart -- who has a Kingdom of infinite size, magnificence and grandeur that reflects His nature. He invites us to be part of it and gives us the privilege of extending it -- making the reality of His transcendent love immanent. OK, I'll stop now.

  6. For some reason keep having terrible trouble trying to reply... jsut lost my 3rd major ramblings. Perhaps a good thing. So, will now summarise VERY briefly.... we need to be doing both I think David. Reaching out, outside, and bringing people in to experience worship. We were born to worship God. The experience of Sunday for me, for example, was moving, uplifting, confronting me with the glory of God and reminding me of the need to regularly come in repentance to our holy God. Such experiences aren't reserved for those the beleive and belong. 'Outsiders' can have that experience too - and countless others beside - and I feel that as much as we need to be outside serving and connecting in Jesus name and in his way - we also need to proactively allow and encourage them to experience worship. Go further than welcoming those that come along. Invite them like its nothing abnormal. If we act like our Sunday time is abnormal behaviour - then of course everyone else will agree with us. Let's create a day of worship that is 'normal' not just for 'insiders' but also for the rest of the human race. We're all born to worship!

  7. Great debate, keep it coming! I've already had a say, but for clarity - I am, as I said in the blog, a fan of the 'together' worship, celebration, inspiration - for many of the reasons others have listed. I hope it's clear then that I am a 'both and' guy!

    For me the risk is not that we will easily abandon that 'together' dimension, but that we see it as the only real dimension. That we make occasional forays 'outside' - in order to bring people 'in'. I want to get rid of the notion out & in. I want to take the transcendence with us into the everyday - that way more people get to see it. Moses came down from the mountain with the transcendence - brought it to where the people were. I guess we all want that too!

  8. I have read this several times - agree with some points; still reflecting on others. Interesting though!

  9. David -- 100% with you on this latest comment, particularly on the "foray" aspect of mission and taking the transcendence into everyday.

  10. Been thinking about the point of church a lot. Been quite inspired by a book by Wayne Jacobsen "So you don't want to go to church any more" which unpacks many of the comments above - an excellent read. I recommend it.

    For me, the important thing to hunger after and pursue with everything we have, is the experience of God's LOVE. God doesn't actually want servants, he wants lovers and partners. He wants us to be a part of who he is. Really - it's in the Bible, from beginning to end! God wants us to receive and enjoy that LOVE, and he wants us to live it out practically.

    Once we have really tasted that LOVE, meeting together in what we call "church" becomes really meaningful. Together we express our love for HIM in song, in prayer. We encourage one another to keep pursuing that LOVE, we give testimony to the reality of that love in our lives. Significantly, we also help one another work out how practically how to take that LOVE out into a broken world.

    Meeting together, in whatever form, becomes a way of connecting. That might be in "church", that might be in our homes, that might be in a coffee shop or pub. The crux is the sharing of and the encouraging one another to experience God's LOVE.

    Church for me then is about learning to live loved! (not about service)

  11. Ok Brian, I reckon I get what your kind of saying,( but please tell me if not) I used to see God as this awesome, powerful, all knowing being( Transcendence?), but struggled to relate to him, because I didn’t get that he could love me or care for me, because I felt that he hadn’t loved me in the past. then he showed his love in a profound way, showed me that I could talk to him, freed me from silence, and spoke to me that I was pure and loved (immanence?) as well as showing me that things in my past broke his heart too. So relationship has both these aspects in it with God. Not sure how thats different to what David was saying?

  12. Hi David, I'm Stephanie's husband Tim. I recently finished reading a book called "Breakout" about how St Andrew's Chorleywood restructed their church and experienced amazing revival. The attached link is to a review that I placed on Thinking Allowed