A friend of mine who preaches in a church in Austin Texas posted a tweet observing that, “many see the church as unnecessary, not just irrelevant.”
This sends my mind into a whirlwind of thoughts. As I read or observe my current social context, I see a small percentage of church-goers really engaging in the life of the church. When I say “the life of the church” I mean getting deeply involved in the mission of biblical-community in a consistent and ongoing relational way. In other words, this is much more than attending a church service or two. It seems that the majority of folks are quick to go to bible studies or praise and worship gatherings, especially if they are “good” (that’s how some churches even market themselves). But many are slow to get involved in a small-group or simply hang out with other Christ-followers at a random event on a random Friday night. Many are even slower about getting in the trenches of biblical community and take food to those who are homeless, volunteer to serve or teach children, or step up and help plan ways the church can further engage one another and/or our hurting world.
Here is where it gets messy on a daily and individual level. I listen to many Christ-followers express deep frustrations as they struggle to live the life of faith they desperately want to experience. Some are knee deep in making poor choices on both a personal and social level. Many are hanging on for dear life as they ride the roller coaster of emotions and inconsistent spiritual experiences. I have discovered that the common piece missing in each one of their lives is consistent biblical community beyond a church service or weekly bible study. Some are quick to ask why this matters and why “going to church” isn’t enough. So I ask them to think about Who GOD is.
The bible says that the GOD of heaven and earth eternally exists in three persons: GOD the Father, GOD the Son and GOD the Spirit and is co-eternal in being, co-eternal in nature, co-equal in power and glory. Because He is intimately and unalterably unified in divine purpose and plan, He is One GOD. Admittedly this has and always will be a difficult thing to wrap our minds around. Any analogies humans offer will inevitably fall short and never fully explain the beautiful complexity of this truth. It’s like trying to play Beethoven on a harmonica. You can squeak out a note or two but you will never do justice to the musical masterpiece. The GOD of the bible (both Testaments) has and always will be one GOD who exists in perfect, harmonious-oneness in community. Community is a part of His nature. Should it surprise us that community is a part of ours and should be a part of our existence?
From the garden scene of creation when GOD declared that it was not good for man to be alone, to the creation of the church, consistent biblical community is supposed to be a part of our lives. In the Gospels (the bible books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), Jesus met with His disciples daily. They did life together. Could you imagine how ineffective the disciple’s ministries would have been if they had only met with Jesus a couple of times a week? When you look at the bible book of Acts or read any of the New Testament, you will find that being with other Christ-followers on a consistent basis is essential (in Acts it seems like an almost daily occurrence, despite the fact they all worked and had daily responsibilities). If you go back to the bible book of Deuteronomy, GOD’s people were to be a nation of people created to do life together. The New Testament says we are supposed to be a nation of GOD’s people who serve and deal-out hope to a hurting world (1 Peter 2, just to name one place).
Perhaps the problem for some Christ-followers is that being the church and doing life in biblical community has become negotiable. For some it has become unnecessary. I get that there are many reasons people come to this conclusion.* But for many the reasons are unawareness, misplaced priorities, lack of concern or unwillingness to make the time and relational investment.
The hard reality is that the Scriptures teach and show us that spiritual maturity (growing deeper and fuller in experiencing faith) is directly associated with following Jesus in the context of consistent biblical community. This is much more than simply doing church or “going to” church. So why do so many of us settle for just a weekly gathering and expect to cultivate a deeper faith? You don’t have to. Get involved in biblical community and live in it.
(Part 2 will be posted mid-week)
* If you’ve been burned by Christ-followers, I am deeply sorry. Please read the second part to this post as I would like to offer some thoughts you might find interesting.