Many people who have grown up in the church have questioned the need and relevance for the formal gathered “institutional” church. People wonder whether all the organization and jargon just further distances people from God. Church attendance inaccurately pretends to visually allow people to measure one another’s level of faithfulness to God and that is disconcerting. We often do not agree with the message being spoken, and are bored or uninterested in church services. Or even worse, we realize that we come to be entertained but have no real relationships with the fellow people in the pews. Churches seem stuck in their ways and in many ways embody oppression in ways that are quite embarrassing.
I’ve attended numerous different denominations, both high and low, liberal and conversavative. I’ve had the opportunity to visit churches around the world and pray with others in many different languages.
I’ll be upfront: I’m a proponent of “church” but am pretty loose in what that means.
Jesus says where two or three are gathered in his name, there Jesus is with us (Matthew 18:20). We do not need a large crowd, a specific structure, but a gathering of those who believe to be with Jesus.
Similarly Paul encourages the believers not to stop meeting with each other (Hebrews 10:24-25). This indicates to me that it is important to regularly and consistently gather one another in order to spur one another to live obedient lives and love each other and those around us.
Culturally, the temple life played a significant role in providing meaning and religious teaching in the lives of Jews in Jesus’ time. We know that Peter and Paul (and Jesus) likely still continued to go to temple as there are numerous stories where healings take place in such contexts.
In our culture too, the people will continue to look to the visible church when they are searching and wondering about Jesus. Having different expressions of the church, but being visibly gathered says something to the culture around us, hopefully something good if we are truly living out the gospel in love.
Right now, I write this post as my little church is dwindling small and I am beginning to feel discouraged. We don’t have amazing musicians and well-known preachers. I have to remember why we gather together.
My answer is to be a witness to Jesus by loving each other. My little church is made up of outcasts and sinners. On any given Sunday I count 50% of the people who attend have a mental illness or addiction. This is not glamorous, but it does mean that we are welcoming those to the table that will not invite us back to dinner themselves (Luke 14). This takes lots of practice in loving and a commitment to people, week after week. That is church to me.