What is "The Church"?
More than a building
Clarity instead of confusion
There are a lot of misconceptions about 'the church'. These misunderstandings can keep a person from corporate worship and the benefits that come from it. Some people just don't want to go to church and any excuse will do. People find ways to do what they want, and it's easy to get out of doing something you really don't want to do. That's their choice and they have the right to choose. Some people have had bad experiences in churches and they don't want to risk a repeat of that. But some people are limiting themselves, and limiting their experience of God through misunderstanding. The true "church" has a much broader definition than people give it. Here, I want to address some of the issues I am talking about.
1. The building
We teach the children at our church a little poem, which says:
The church is not the doors or walls
The church is not the steeple
The church is not a place at all
The church is the people
There are "churches" that meet in people's living rooms, in garages, in hotel meeting rooms, in storefronts. There are churches that meet outdoors. The real church is not confined to a building. You don't even have to go to a brick and mortar structure to go to church. There are tent meetings and backyard Bible studies. The universal church is flexible enough to reach everyone that wants to be reached.
2. The day and time
There are people who work on Sunday and think they cannot go to church services. But there are churches that meet on Saturday, on Friday night, on Tuesday night, on Wednesday night. My own church has services at 6pm on Sunday nights. If you think the only time you can go to church is 9 or 10 or 11 AM on Sunday, you are painfully uninformed. If the only church you think you can go to is "your church" or "the family church" you need to loosen up your thinking.
3. The denomination
There is really only one church, but it shows itself in many different ways. Catholics are quiet. Pentecostals are not. Presbyterians are more intellectual. Baptists are more emotive. Evangelicals sit and say, "Amen". Charismatics wave hands, speak in tongues and fall on the floor. One group might look at another and say, "What in the world are they doing?" But they are all part of Jesus. In Christ there is freedom. If the church you attend is too noisy, move to one that is quieter. If they are too quiet, move to where they are noisier. In Christian circles, we talk about the "church home". This is the place where you feel at home. This is the place where you feel you belong. The other places aren't bad, they just aren't right for you. You might have to search to find the right place. But if you seek you shall find.
4. The Biblical charge
The New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 24 and 25 (aka 10:24-25) says:
"...let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another..."
The purpose of going to church is to learn about and worship God and to help one another. There may be times when you go to church and leave thinking, "I didn't get much out of that." I get that sometimes, too. But I go right back the next week. I go to be obedient to God. I go to be faithful to the Lord, who is faithful to me. I know sometimes Jesus doesn't get that much out of me, but He keeps showing up in my life. So I show up in church. And you don't always go for what you get out of it. Sometimes God wants you there not to get, but to give. Maybe someone needs your smile. Maybe someone needs your words of encouragement. Maybe someone needs your hand to hold. If you're not there, both of you lose.
5. The music
I love, love, love, love, LOVE music. I will never be mistaken for some great singer, but I make up for it in enthusiasm. I love to sing in church. It does something to my insides that is so wonderful. But do you know, there are churches where there is no singing at all? Yes. I don't think I would go there, but people do go there and they like it. And the church world has gone radical in the diversity of music that is played today. There are rock bands in church. There are jazz bands in church. There are rappers. There are classical singers. There are bell ringers and drummers. And we still have the piano and the organ and the tambourines. Some churches have traditional music and others have contemporary and some have it all mixed together. Some people get excited and they have to jump around to the music, so now there are dancers and mime artists, too. Some people aren't really dancers, they just like to jump around to the music (Um...ok I'm guilty)
6. The money
There is always someone who has an issue with this. They don't want to pay tithes or offerings in church. How do you think the light bill gets paid? How does the church help the needy? How do the choir robes get cleaned? Or the carpet? Or the bathrooms? How does the youth group go to the convention on a bus? All these things take money. Without getting too technical or theological, let me say that paying money to support the church is a good investment. I may never need the services the minstry provides, and I hope I never do, but it's good to know they are there. I use the building and I don't mind helping take care of it.
7. The people
As the little poem says above, the church is the people. And what a motley crew they are! Like five of the seven dwarfs, some are happy, some are dopey, some are grumpy, some are sleepy, and some are bashful. Then you have the crazy, the creepy, the critical and the criminal. You come in looking for spiritual fruit and instead you find mixed nuts. But what were you expecting? A legion of angels? Come on. We are all messed up in some way and it's only the grace of God and the love of Jesus that holds the whole ball of wax together. We are supposed to gather together so that the more mature can set an example for the less mature to follow. We are supposed to bump up against one another so some of the good qualities from one can affect the not so good qualities of another. In this process, over time, God sticks His hand in and tweaks everybody and we all get a little better. We all have different roles to play and we all have different gifts but we all have something to offer to the group as a whole.
If you absolutely can't stand the idea of going to church and associating with those people at Main Street United Methodist, or First Baptist, or St. Mary's or Victory Deliverance Holy Tabernacle, then you can still do church. Get together with some of your friends, at a time and place of your choosing, and figure out a good way to honor God. The Book says assemble together. It doesn't specify where or how. The first churches were held in people's homes, not in church buildings and not at a specific time. All the rules and regs came along later. So assemble together in a way that makes you feel satisfied and makes God look good. Then, whether you call it such or not, you will be in church.