We’ve Forgotten What Church Really Is
We left an abusive church in May of this year, and spent most of the summer visiting other churches. Not pleasant. All the pain and all the wandering prompted me to ask “What IS church, anyway?” in this post, originally published on June 11, 2012.
Another Sunday morning, another room full of chairs all facing the same direction, another band up front leading us in singing, another moment when I realize how few people really are singing along. We’re two more faces in a crowd of passive spectators. We could walk in and walk out and no-one would know we’d even been there, but for the mandatory “turn and greet your neighbor” 30-second break between songs. It’s barely enough time to stand up, look around, catch someone’s eye, and extend my hand.
Once again, I find myself wondering what on earth we are doing. How can this be what the body of Christ looks like? Am I the only one who thinks that worship should be active, participatory, and relational?
I am more and more convinced that we’re doing it wrong. Very wrong.
I have a hundred very basic questions about what God intends for church to be.
- What should the church look like? How should we identify people for the work that needs to be done? How should we organize?
- What does it mean to worship God?
- Why do we have sermons?
- Why is it normal for everyone in church to be “walking wounded,” carrying scars from pain inflicted by a church or members of a church or completely depleted by the strain of ministry? Why is this acceptable? How can we stop wounding and destroying our own people?
- Why do Christians have such a terrible reputation? Where have we derailed? What can we do to change that?
- How do authoritarian abusive men end up in leadership positions in the church when Jesus very specifically calls his people to servant-leadership?
- How should people be identified and placed into ministry roles?
Jesus founded the church and all throughout the Bible we see God teaching us that we need each other. We are the Body of Christ, His church. One of the defining characteristics of that Body is people living and working together like one body. We are called by Jesus to live together, suffer together, rejoice together. While God holds each of us individually accountable for our choices, God also designed us to live life together. We simply cannot form those kinds of connections in one hour on Sunday morning. We are not merely data processors, docking at the theology port on Sunday morning for our weekly download of lyrics, doctrine, and announcements.
Being among followers of Jesus should feel like home away from home. Sure, it won’t be perfect until God comes and restores all things. And home life isn’t perfect — people leave their dirty clothes on the floor, stink up the bathroom, and ants find the unwashed dishes on the ottoman. People get cranky and sick and don’t sleep well and take it out on each other. But home is safe — it’s supposed to be the one place where we can love one another unconditionally, even with all our flaws, oddities, and flatulence. It’s a place for both kids and adults to mature, to learn by making mistakes, and to practice things like patience, kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness. The body of Christ should be our spiritual home, a safe place to learn and grow.
Truly becoming the body of Christ takes time, intention, purpose, sacrifice, and risk. We need to build relationships, trusting ones in which it is safe to be vulnerable, share our weaknesses, and ask for help, as well as to offer help to others. Some of those relationships will hurt, because we will screw up and hurt each other. Hopefully we’ll reconcile and learn and grow through it, but it’s risky.
I’m looking for a church that has this kind of vision and is striving to be a living, active, organism. One that recognizes and values each person as a vital part of the body, bringing both strengths and weaknesses to it, even when those strengths and weaknesses defy stereotyping and expectations. (Yes, I’m talking about women here.)
Maybe this happens in a small group. Maybe it happens in a small church. Maybe it happens on an individual level as we seek out like-minded Jesus-followers and connect in this way. I don’t know where, but I know I must find it. I don’t have time to waste being a spectator at a weekly show.
How would you answer the question “What is church, anyway?”