So it’s Sunday morning, and I had that same old familiar struggle. Do I go to church or not? I’m frustrated by what we call “church”! Assembling a group of people in some adorned building at a particular time every week and singing a couple of songs and hearing a speech IS NOT CHURCH! Herein lies the rub. We call it church, and I have to fight not to feel guilty that I’m not there, but it’s not the church. In all actuality, it has very few similarities with the Biblical model at all.
Praise, teaching and gathering together were components of the early church, but honestly, not the important parts. They don’t contain the hook, the draw or the motive to keep coming back. We’ve all heard those who don’t go to church talk about how I can praise God in the woods in a deer stand, which is true. With technology today, we can sit at home and watch numerous teachings all over the internet or download them to an ipod and listen while going for a run. Obviously, those two components don’t make up the church in and of themselves. So what is left?
Gathering together is mentioned repeatedly in the verses in Acts pertaining to the early church. They did it in the temple courts, on the temple porch, in people’s homes, and eventually started satellite gatherings all over once persecution spread the church out. So there you have a representation of all different church models, traditional church (whatever that means – sounds dull!), house church, mega-church and the satellite model. The one thing you don’t have, is the model we have today.
The power and authenticity of the early church is long-lost in the midst of billboard and TV ads, smoke machines, light shows and videos. It more resembles a really bad variety show in Vegas than it does the Acts 2 model, which is why I just can’t seem to get myself there early on a Sunday. It’s like going to a really bad movie and quite frankly, I don’t wanna waste the gas!!!
I feel bad that I feel this way, and sometimes I even go despite how I feel. Same result – emptiness! I should go, I tell myself, not for me, to encourage someone else, but even those lame ramblings, don’t move me anymore. If I want to encourage someone, I could send them a card or take them out for coffee and honestly, I feel more like I’m having church when I do that than when I’m in most services.
The missing components are what drew people in and kept them there. They were the core of the experience. Imagine how many churches would die instantly if they didn’t have modern advertising, special effects and big buildings. I think, in many cases, the “mainstream” church would be entirely nonexistent. This should tell us something!!!
If the model for church that we have in America today is not sustainable overseas, then guess what, it’s not sustainable here. It’s broken, it doesn’t work and it’s ineffective. Sorry if that offends your Christian sensibilities of what you thought you had, but it’s about time somebody did! I love God, and I love Jesus and I am passionate about seeing all nations discipled, but you know what? We can’t do it like this!
Money – “They had everything in common and gave to everyone as they had need.” A church where people go to get THEIR financial needs met?!?! What the heck is THAT like? They had a COMPLETELY different financial model then we do today. The entire experience of the disciples was based on God’s supernatural provision for them; from the calling of Peter with the fish in the nets 1 miracle, to the fish in the nets 2 at the end of the book of John. They consistently saw Jesus rely on the Father and supernaturally meet the needs of the people around Him. The model we see today is Pastors waiting on God to supernaturally meet the needs of the church; completely opposite!
Power – Jesus Himself gathered crowds by doing miracles. Masses followed Him from town to town, not because of His speaking ability, but because He had something none of them had – the power of God! The disciples had the same power. People were miraculously healed in the early church and people were filled with awe because of it.
Love. The tangible presence of God lived out through a group of people dedicated to sharing it with the world. The sense of real, authentic community that you have when you are part of a family that loves you no matter what, accepts you just the way you are and believes in and cares for you. Safe and empowering; a love that can only be a part of a grace that doesn’t care where you’ve been or what you’ve done but welcomes you home and enables you to be your best. This is what people need, it’s what they look for in bad relationships, gangs, cults and even terrorist groups.
It was these three things that added the power, the magnetic attraction to the teaching, praise and gathering that made the church what it was. In combination, they brought the people, created the hunger for more and stimulated the explosive growth talked about in Acts where “…the Lord added to their number daily, those who were being saved…” These 3 missing elements appear in some places individually, often spread out and sparse in the church in America. But these are the elements you can’t fake. The part your can’t substitute and the pieces that only God can bring to the table.
This is what I long for. It’s what I have a NEED to be a part of. It’s a group of people, with or without a building, being the church not going to church! It’s what the world is looking for, it’s what people are lost without, it’s the light in the darkness, the city on the hill, the salt, the flavor, the hope! It is the transformational power of God lived out practically through people. It’s what we’ve lost, what we need and the only thing that can carry the history-altering, life-changing love, grace and power of the Almighty God to a dying world. Sign me up for THAT!
Are YOU in?