Feb’09 NOTE: I’m cleaning up a personal web site where I had the following story posted from April, 2003. I wanted to keep it as a reminder for myself, so I’m re-posting here. This was from the earlier years of our journey in rethinking what it means to simply, truly, follow Jesus, and I apologize up front for sounding a little “know it all” – ha! It’s kinda like the 17-yr-old who thinks he knows so much (naw, I didn’t do that! 🙂 ), and then he gets into his 20’s and realizes he’s not so smart. This post runs along similar themes as others, but I’m coming to believe the encouragement to “just gather” is worthy:
Christine and I are rediscovering the beauty, challenge, and adventure of being part of God’s church. We gather with friends in homes. We worship God, pray to him with others, and see his power change us. The words of the bible are read with fresh simplicity. We are finding ourselves walking through this life with newfound intimacy and dependency on God, ever growing, week after month after year. And we are learning the patient art of building loving, trusting relationships with others.
If you find yourself longing for these things, I encourage you to begin gathering with people and doing them. I have come to believe that if we are not experiencing the allusive sense of “community” with others, it may be that we have only ourselves to blame. All too often we willingly sign up to spend countless hours, energy and resources on activities that are not taking us where our hearts have been leading us. And many times as believers in Jesus we give incredibly to building church businesses, only to find that the really important things (above) are missing from our lives. I spent about 20 years doing it myself (starting ministries, churches, small groups, etc.) before finally stepping off the merry-go-round long enough to seek answers to the deeper longings in my heart. God is doing many great and wonderful things through church businesses, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is his endorsement of that model for gathering with other believers. He’ll use us imperfect humans any and every way he can, and there is no mandated model for gathering with believers in the New Testament. When you start taking an objective look at the popular church business approach, you’ll find it quite difficult to support much of any of it from scripture. And worse, many parts of the generic design are working against the essence of what God’s church is all about.
For the last several years my wife and I have been seeking God’s direction in this, and seeking out others with the same passion. We discovered something that we weren’t prepared for: God is quite free with encouragement on the topic, and the people are everywhere! We gather locally several times a month with them, and we even “gather” periodically with remote friends through planned phone calls who are also on this incredible journey of rediscovering the meaning of being the church as opposed to going to church. It didn’t happen over night, and in fact has taken several years to get to this point.
If you are at all inclined, I hope you begin such a journey. Or maybe you just need to get back to it. Either way, I’m convinced you’ll never be the same – for good! If you’ve spent a lot of years involved in the common church businesses of today, and you have many friends there, be prepared for a bit of a wild ride for the first few years. It can be downright frightening to seriously re-evaluate something you’ve held dear for so long, especially when it comes to the things of God. Our fellow believers will not always be kind, so you’ll have lots of opportunities to practice forgiveness. But press through till you get back to the core basics of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and part of the family of God. And you’ll see what I’m talking about – that God is putting this on the hearts of many. I won’t say it’s for everyone. In fact, if you have no inclination for this, and you feel God has put you in the midst of the life and times of a particular church business, then may you continue to prosper there in all that God has for you. But for the others, join us in going back to our bibles and taking a fresh look at the life experienced by the New Testament church – and seek it with all your heart! The rewards are deep and lasting – like coming home.
At first it can be tough to find resources on this, but they are there. We’re interested to know how others are finding success in this journey, such as:
- how church gatherings and structure are becoming simpler and more true to the message of the gospel
- how the emphasis on good relationships is being lived out
- how leadership hierarchies are being stripped away to reflect a truer image of the church as Jesus and the first church modeled it
- how the trappings of church businesses (buildings, equipment, payrolls, formalities, traditions, by-laws and non-profit requirements, fund raisers, over-busy evenings and weekends – all the stuff that has everything to do with growing a business, but nothing to do with being the church) are being avoided
- how believers are experiencing worship, prayer, bible study, the power and gifts of his Spirit – in “new” models of simple structure with freedom (new to many of us, but not new under the sun)
- how believers are getting freed up from a so-called Christian sub-culture and integrating more in the lives of those outside the church
In the grand scheme of things, we’re on the early stages of our understanding, but are very encouraged to press on as God keeps disclosing more. And when God brings you new life in some aspect of this journey (expect it often) – share it with us!
Blessings on you,