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.