Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Rut of Church

I have been thinking about BAM (Business as Missions) for a while now as I have been doing this here in The Location. Over the past three years I have thought about how BAM might work as a ministry model in the States. As I have stated before, being a missionary in a different country with a completely different culture has helped me to think about how some of these same principles might work back home.

I love the fact that here in The Location there aren't as many "ruts" as there are in America when it comes to Christianity and how we "do church." It is more of a clean slate here, but there are already some ruts in the national congregation. But back home we tend to think about ministry in the same terms that we've always thought about it. Usually, the only challenges are to do things better and to make things more culturally relevant. That's not bad, but we often improve things as we travel along those same ruts.

One of the ruts is "church." Now when asked, virtually every Christian will tell you that the church is the people not the building. We know that. We've been taught that. But in our everyday lives and in our subconscious thinking (where ruts live) we still refer to the church as two things it is not: One, a building or location. Two, a service.

We "do church" by putting on a service. When we think of what our church is like, we think about how the service is conducted. In a service, you have people who contribute and people who consume (view, take-in, receive, etc.). The contributors spend a lot of time each week getting ready to put on a show, er..., service for all the people they hope will gather to watch, er..., attend. But no matter how well we do our Sunday services (music, speaking, visuals, ambiance, etc.) we can't get around the rut of a starting time and an ending time. It is a service.

I'm not against services or meetings with set times. I just think that the Bible describes something so much better than simple services when it talks about the church.

I used to spend a lot of time talking trying to help people understand what the "church" is really supposed to be like. And I thought that if we understood what the church is and what the church isn't, then we can really become what the church is supposed to be. But I found that no matter how hard I tried to redefine "church" in people's minds, the old connotations would inevitably come right back and the subconscious assumptions would hold on as strong as ever.

So, you know what I want to do now? Stop using the word "church." Blasphemy? Well, I don't think so. No matter how much I tried to help people understand the real meaning of the Biblical word "church" they would always conform right back to our general society's connotative understanding of the word church. So, perhaps real blasphemy comes from re(mis)defining this word to mean something else. But I don't want to go down this path...

Actually, I'm not talking about replacing the word church with other, sexier terms like "assembly" or "faith community." Because, if we still do the same model of putting on Sunday services this is the typical conversation that would ensue: "What are you doing on Sunday?" "Oh, I'm going to North Pointe Faith Community." "Really? What is that?" "It's a church. I'm going to the 11 am contemporary service." Back to Square One.

So, I would like to do a real church by not only NOT calling it a church, but by doing a different model than the typical Sunday morning service.

People will then say, "Oh, that's not a church!" And that will be fine with me! If they mean to somehow illegitmize it as "not a real church" because it doesn't meet on Sunday or do the typical traditional Sunday morning service things... then those people will probably be just fine at their traditional Sunday morning places of worship. If they mean it is not a church according to people's connotative understanding of what "church" is--Great! That is what we're going for.

I feel the term "church" in the Bible is more descriptive than proscriptive. I think that if we are doing what God wants us to be doing as his followers and in fellowship with other believers, then we are the church--it doesn't matter if we're called "church" or not.

As an undergraduate student at the state university I was very involved in a Christian campus ministry. We had fellowship together throughout the week, had Bible studies, did weekly service projects, did on-campus evangelism, had weekend events and during school breaks went on mission trips together. Never once did we meet on Sunday mornings during the regular course of the semester (well, maybe at a retreat), but different people attended different "churches" on the weekends.

When I would go to "church" I hardly knew anyone sitting in the pews around me as we viewed the same service together on Sunday morning and as we passed by each other on the way out the door shaking the minister's hand. But during the week, I regularly prayed together, had fellowship, studied the Bible and served together with many people in the campus ministry. But no one would dare call it a church, even though it was a community of Christians who were in fellowship with one another as we sought God, grew in our faith and served the community around us.

There is a whole other can of worms to be opened when discussing the "first day of the week" deal that has had Christians meeting together on Sundays since the Bible times. There is a lot to say on this topic. I am one, however, who believes that biblical precedent isn't binding as is biblical commandment. And even if precedent were binding then we might as well take the precedent of Acts 2 where the early Christians met together every day in public and in their homes.

So if I were to start something in the States, what would this new model look like? My ideas are not yet complete, but I will share some in coming posts... For now, do you have any ideas? Please share.


  1. I do... but I'm going to wait to see what you say in your coming posts. I can't wait...

  2. Everytime I go down one train of thought - RUT! You're right. It is really difficult. I'd like to think we're doing things differently, and in some ways we are. But still...

    Wow. Much to think about Koffijah! When you figure it out, you REALLY need to write a book. Just don't go all "Hollywood" when you do!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Oh let me guess, you graduated from the same HS in Springfield, MO or Your parents attend James River Assembly like his?

    Anyways, I feel very strongly that the basic model for church in America is broken. People tend to believe that the minister is suppose to do the work of the church but the Bible is very clear that the ministers operating in the 5 fold ministry gifts of the church are given to train the church to do the good works that God has prepared.

    I feel like the model of church in America tends to be about reaching into the church and the model that Christ showed is about reaching out of the church.

  5. Nope and nope, Nick. Good try.

    Yes, yes, you are right about how people view the church and the work of the minister(s). I think our own models help to perpetuate this misunderstanding (in my opinion) and think a new model might better address this problem. But any "model" will have its weaknesses, I'm sure.