I like God, not necessarily the church

[This started off as a status line on my Facebook page and started a discussion there that I would like to bring here and continue here (where we have a little bit more room and can invite more people to join)]

My original status line:

Been hanging out talking about how to reach those that want to know God but can’t stand the church.

Comments afterwards (names have been changed since this is a public place vs Facebook – not as public anyways):

MA: Who are you meeting with and what is your response to them? I am running into that with many folks myself.

My reply: Its the initial talks with several missionaries that live in the area and some house church advocates. To bottom line it, the reality is that you don’t do church, we are the church. Church is a life style not something you do on Sunday morning and that doesn’t mean having to talk about God every moment of the day but it means that you live life, pouring your life into others and having them pour their lives into yours. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit will seep into your conversations as life continues. Remove the institution that is church to reveal those who have Christ as the church and people will understand it. Its a hard concept for many in the West to understand as we have church as an institution made up of programs and schedules which makes our walk with God compartmentalized and therefore to an outsider – our lives are compartmentalized and that makes our relationship with God only a part of our lives (and therefore hypocrites).

Ooops. I think I stepped on a soap box.

OH: Thanks for that Courtney. Well said!

MA: No this is very good Courtney. I thought that’s where you were going with this, but wanted to clarify… This is more appropriate than you know brother. Two weeks ago my family stepped out of the institutional “expression” of church, but we could never step out of the church because we are the church. This is a whole new journey for us, and what we are convinced Jesus has called us into. There is far more than I can go into here typing on my phone – but the Father has given me encouragement every day since we left the institution, and little did I know it would come today from missionaries we support. Thank you brother – and please pray for us as we walk into this journey with Jesus and a few others who are coming alongside us and loving us… There is SO much rest in this brother.

My reply: Hey MA, be sure to catch the blog of a guy named Tall Skinny Kiwi (Andrew Jones) as he is a good advocate for what you are being called into. I’ve been reading his blog for a while now and he brings in some good resources for you to look at. http://tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com/

KB: This is encouraging to me as well. I’ve been a Christian since the age of four … yet, 18 months ago, I began really, seriously questioning the “institution” of church.

One Sunday morning, I was sitting on the front row of the church I’d been attending for a year-and-a-half … and suddenly, I found myself looking at everything as if I were brand-new to the concept of “church”. And I didn’t like what I saw.

So I started visiting other churches … with much the same result. By the middle of last year, I was so fed up with the “institution” of church that I said to someone, “If my relationship with God were dependent on the church … I would quit.”

However, my relationship with God has actually deepened since I began questioning what “church” is … or should be. I’m not following what any human being thinks I should do; I’m seeking God’s will in every area of my life and letting Him transform me into who He wants me to be. It’s an amazing journey so far!

JM: If you haven’t seen this already–this website is all about this topic: http://simplechurch.com.ua/content/view/177/71/lang,en/
There are a lot of very thought-provoking articles here.  Courtney, you will notice it’s based in Ukraine.

Honestly, when I posted my status line I really didn’t realize the interest people would have in it.  Yesterday, I spent the day in meetings that were centered the concept of planting house churches.  Now I’m still new to these ideas but let me share some things from yesterdays meetings and I would love your feedback on them:

“Church is not something you do, its something you are” – Wolfgang Simpson

“Lower the bar of what it means to be church but raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple” – (somebody said it but I don’t know who)

“OOCC – Out of Church Christians – people who have to leave the church to keep their faith”

“Church happens where life happens whether its McDonald’s, coffee shop, bowling alley, bar, etc “ – (ok this one is a thought I had during the meeting)

I’d love to hear from ya’ll about what you think church is, how that looks and plays out and how people can come to know God intimately through that concept!  Please comment below!


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8 Comments

  1. I like Wolfgang’s and comments and your thoughts Courtney.

    I think we have to be careful in saying that we are leaving the church because that is not really possible. As followers and believers in Christ, we are the church. The problem is that for so long we have associated church with the place we go. “I go to All Saints Church”, I am a member of “Church on the Corner.” We associate the church with a place we go.

    I have sensed Jesus leading me away from an institutional expression of church for many years, but to be honest, I did not know how to express it, thought I was being heretical, and just accepted that my disillusionment could be explained away as “….well the church is made up of imperfect people.” That never really resonated with me but I accepted it anyway. The other thing I struggled with was not really knowing what Jesus had to say about the church He was building, or what the Scriptures had to say about church, so I never made a move.

    Only recently have I begun to surrender to what I felt the Father was calling me and my family into, and so we stepped out of the “institutional expression” of church. I have to be honest, when I finally reached the point of not being critical of the institution, but rather surrendered to the fact that God was calling us into a new journey, I felt peace and released from our leadership and attendance in the institution we were attending.

    I really do not know where this is all headed, but I think it is much bigger than I can even imagine. I am very excited and sense a tremendous amount of freedom. I have fallen madly in love with Jesus, and He was revealed himself as LIFE to me and such a deep level, and I am excited about all He has for our family.

    We are only two weeks into this journey and the Father continues to bring us encouragement along the way – literally almost daily from conversations with others who are sensing God’s leading in this way.

    Here are some of the resources that God is using in our life on this journey

    1. Lifestream.org
    2. Frank Viola’s three books The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, Pagan Christianity, and Reimagining Church)
    3. http://www.simplechurchjournal.com/
    4. Friends and family

    I look forward to continuing the conversation with others….

  2. When I posted my comment on Facebook, there wasn’t space for me to detail how I came to that moment in church of suddenly looking around as if I were a complete newcomer.

    I did a lot of acting in church productions between the ages of 8 and 16, but I gave it up in high school to focus on my studies; I came back to it in 2002, but in community theatre, rather than church productions. That put me in contact with a lot of unchurched people — most of whom had been turned off from the church and Christianity by what I call “Bible beaters”: people who seem to use the Bible as a weapon to try beat other people into submission. (Whatever happened to “loving them into the kingdom”?)

    Some of these unchurched people were better friends to me than most “Christians” I’d known. That didn’t make me doubt my own faith — but it certainly made me start to question church. First of all, what did it say about “Christians” if I met with more acceptance outside church than in it? And second, if I wanted to bring one of my unchurched friends to church … what kind of church would that have to be?

    The pastor of the church I was attending at the time often condemned specific sins in his sermons. I’m not arguing that particular things aren’t sins — but how could I possibly bring certain of my friends to church if that condemnation is what they’d be met with?

    So I found another church that proclaimed itself to be a church for the unchurched; the pastor even used the “Island of Misfit Toys” as an example in one of his December sermons.

    But after a while, I began to feel like a misfit among misfits. There seemed to be certain types of people who were embraced and encouraged … and the rest of us were left to fend for ourselves. When my mother was in the hospital for three days — and I rarely left her side except to go home and catch a few hours of sleep — two or three people from her church visited, and they sent her a poinsettia (since her surgery was close to Christmas). No one from my church ever bothered to visit … and I certainly could have used the encouragement and support, as being suddenly thrust into the role of caretaker was very stressful, sometimes bewildering, and even overwhelming for me.

    It was about that time that, while sitting in the service one Sunday morning, a still, small voice whispered to me, “Look around. Look at church as if you’ve never been in one before. What do you see?”

    I blinked; it was as if someone had suddenly lifted sunglasses away from my eyes, and I was seeing clearly for the first time. I saw a lot of people going through the motions, clapping dutifully along to the music; I saw others with drawn faces, hands jammed in their pockets, shoulders slumped, eyes downcast. I listened to a sermon that suddenly sounded formulaic and simplistic. “Just depend on God.” Yeah, but what about our responsibility to each other, to “bear one another’s burdens”? To “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn”?

    I wrote a long letter to the lead pastor, who invited me to sit down with him, as he dealt better with ideas in person than in writing. But before I could get very far in our meeting, he cut off all opportunity for communication by telling me that I was looking for the church to meet my needs, instead of seeking how I could serve the church.

    I left that church and tried another one for a while, but it didn’t feel like “home,” either. I eventually went back to the one I had just left … simply for the sake of having someplace to go on Sundays and Wednesdays. And God still used the sermons on occasion to speak confirmation to me of the path He wanted me to take and the decisions He was asking me to make.

    But I continued to see the same things I had seen before: People going through the motions. Certain people getting attention and others being left out. Formulaic sermons focused on the individual relationship with God, rather than how we can and need to support each other. I finally reached the point where I couldn’t take it anymore; I started looking for another church home.

    But I’m not sure if I’ll ever go through the “membership” process again with a church. For me, “church” is no longer about which roof I worship under. (To be honest, I feel closer to God outdoors than I do in any building.) It’s about “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together” and finding a place of support and encouragement. The calling that God has placed on my life (that’s a whole other long story) is not an easy one, and though I love it and embrace it with all my heart, I need people around me to help me keep believing when the doubts and fears become fire-breathing dragons at my back.

    God has sent such people into my life — but they’re not all members of the same church; they’re not even all in the same country! But they are, in many ways, a better representation of “the church” than just about any formalized church I’ve ever been in.

  3. Jaye Soss directed me to this conversation because it overlapped with a similar conversations that a group of us have been having. The conversation is basically encapsulated in the answer to this question: Is participation the local church optional for the follower of Jesus? I do not believe that it is optional but many voices today are advocating that it is. I have an article that articulates the historic or classical protestant perspective that I would like to share. It pushes back very hard against the idea that we don’t need the local (often pejoratively called institutional) church. I will try to e-mail it to you Courtney and you can decide if you want to post it or not. I would give the URL but there is no way to look at it without registering at the site and I don’t want to make people do that.

  4. Hey Mark,

    I appreciate your comments and haven’t looked at the article yet (on the road right now). I do want to say that I’m not advocating one way or the other yet. Still trying to get my grips around it. But I do have have one question:

    What is the church?

    You speak about a “local” church but your references are to an institution when Biblically the church is people. (The Paul’s epistles didn’t have addresses on the front of where to send them to except for a city name) So to say that people are not a part of the church because they don’t attend a local, physical address is what I have a problem with. For the people opting not to attend a local institution doesn’t mean that they are not being a part of the local church as they ARE the church. The key question is are they having regular interaction with other believers and fulfilling what the 1st century church did?

    Honestly, its hard for those of us who come from life inside an instituationalized church background to understand that most of what we do in a “church” is actually recent traditions and not necessarily being the church. Its not saying what we do in “church” is wrong but that it might not be the only way of being church.

  5. Ok … my two cents here. I agree that every believer is “the church” and part of “the church” regardless of denomination or attendance. What I’m not hearing in some of the discussions about this subject is what are some Christ followers replacing the “institution” with? I do believe that God desires us to be in regular, intentional Christian fellowship. Whether that means a groups of 3 families in a basement in China or a group of 5 families that meet biweekly in a living room in Germany or 200 that meet Wednesdays and Sundays. The point is that we are intentionally pursuing God, being taught His Word and accountable to others. Would two neighbors occasionally over the fence qualify? I don’t think so. Can a small group be “the church” and not be “a church”? Sure! Why not.

    Sacraments….? Personally, I have no issue with a father serving communion to his family. Baptism…? Mostly I sit in the believers baptism camp – so there would have to be some witnesses to be testifying to :). What I don’t want is the “I don’t go to church… I am the church” position to be a excuse for extra sleep on Sunday mornings, keep my tithe in my own pocket and an excuse to have nobody in my business…. which I fear is what it would become to most post moderns.

    I think it bears repeating that Courtney and I aren’t trying to push an agenda here… and haven’t thought through all the ramifications of either position… we just like the conversation. (It’s very German to choose an opposing point of view, just to make the discussion more interesting.)

  6. Hi guys! Thought I would chime in here also and ditto Krista’s comment .
    “What are they replacing it with” That is what really concerns me. Mark Denning and I are pretty embroiled in a similar e-conversation at LFC.

    I fully subscribe to the concept of intentional communities (Shane Claiborne et al) – to me they represent the Acts 2 church. Total interdependence, pooling all resources, focused on serving the community they are located in, intentional in worship and spiritual development. How this might expand to a large church model is something I can’t seem to envision – but perhaps staying small helps it stay “real”…but like Krista, I have concern that accountability goes out the window when individuals are not connected to some larger body of faith.

    Interesting that Mike Andress mentioned Frank Viola in his post – I literally just purchased “From Eternity to Here” today. It is getting pretty good press. I heard of it on this blog by Greg Boyd: http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/from-eternity-to-here/

  7. A friend of mine posted a link to this on Facebook; I think it’s worth adding to this discussion: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/columns/church-today/17220-your-god-sucks

    And by the way, Krista, I agree with you; the Bible does say not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25). During the years when I was searching for a church home, were there mornings when I was tempted to sleep in? Yes. But I got up every Sunday and went somewhere … even though I didn’t really relish being the new face in church after church (and some Sundays, I went back to the church I wasn’t happy with, just for the sake of “going to church”). Fortunately, I finally found a place that felt like home. I also continued to tithe, even when I didn’t have a church home — I gave money to a Christian theatre company and to an international ministry.

    However, when my mother asked me if I was planning to join the church I’ve been attending for the last month or so, I said, “I don’t know if I’ll ever ‘join’ a church again.” For me, church is no longer about “membership” — it’s about things that are a lot more important than that.

  8. Sorry that I’ve not gotten back to you sooner. I forgot to subscribe to the comments.
    I hear you guys “aren’t trying to push an agenda here”. It’s a dialog. I like (the Germans) have been choosing the opposing point of view in my other discussion to challenge people who are saying things like “I can do church at starbucks with two other people”. The article I sent you reflects this in that it is on what some would consider the extreme opposite end from the “we don’t need the institution idea”. I choose this opposing point of view because I believe that it’s been normative for Christian practice since NT times and because this other view is rising in popularity. Those friends (LFC people who I love and respect) have been saying much of what Courtney articulates above about the church not being an institution with an overemphasis on “being” the church. In this view the concept of local church gathering on the Lord’s day is consider optional at best and unnecessary at worst. Ultimately, I believe it is a false dichotomy. We are the church and the church gathers on Sunday mornings and has since very early times. We are church and we do church (gathering of the called out ones). Of course everyone will assume that because I’m a seminary student and church staff member that I’m biased towards the “institution”.

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