The Services of the Church

The Services of the Church September 14, 2022
Photo by cottonbro:

(excerpt from our book, Out into the Desert

Imagine you are in the 1930’s, or maybe even the 1950’s. During those decades there were a lot of smaller towns and more small-town churches where people came together as a community. There was usually a guy that had some religious training who came and addressed the congregation. At that time, it was probably much needed instruction and encouragement.

As they say, “things change.” Jesus told us as much when he told the woman that people would eventually worship in “spirit and truth.”[1]  We know the temple building was not what God had in mind. His idea was that His temple was to be inside of us. I’m not questioning the presence of the church in this age; I’m just questioning the location and method. How much money could we put to better use?

I resist the urge to go back to the first century model. I assume there are lessons to learn in examining how they did it. There are often great lessons to learn in orthodoxy and orthopraxy, but we shouldn’t get too tangled up in either one. God is still the same, but the times we live in are extremely different. For one thing, I can access a vast majority of the information on the planet without leaving my easy chair. We must start by admitting that this changes a lot of how we do things just like the printing press changed a lot of things five hundred years ago. I can drive the distance that Mary and Joseph walked to Bethlehem in just over an hour simply to have a meal or pick up something at our favorite grocery store.

I remember watching Star Trek and marveling at the communicators that didn’t have a cord and thinking that would be so cool, but it will never happen. That “flip phone” type of communicator is what I make fun of the guy at work for carrying because it’s “ancient” now. Phasers were considered other-worldly, but we now just call them lasers—pretty basic and about as common as a medical scanner, which they also had on Star Trek. There is often some value to “going back” and rediscovering the past, but often we get stuck there and don’t embrace the possibilities for the future.

What if we could do everything the organizational church does for no additional tax (tithe)? What if we could check just as many boxes and even find something a little deeper without professional clergy and an organization looking over our shoulder? What if we could redirect all of those resources into effective ministry instead of spending 70% of all that money on salaries and buildings?

I think we can!

Maybe we couldn’t do that 100 years ago. Maybe we couldn’t even have done it 30 years ago. But I think we can now! The people that have the most to lose (livelihood) are the ones that have to consider this, otherwise we will just start shaming and blaming and talking about things that really aren’t the issue.

When our only option was the horse and buggy, it didn’t make sense to move off the family farm, so very few people did. When air travel and reliable automobiles became an option, it was more realistic to travel all over the world. In a comparable way, when people worked 16 hours a day and had no other options for the things we get from “church,” it made sense to go to a specific place at a specific time to get those things. But now we have better options.

I don’t know if I’ll ever attend a church in a building again. If I do, it will be less centralized and more personal. I really can’t imagine going to a building or paying a person to supervise my spiritual life ever again. I want my practices to be more contemplative and way more practical. I already left traditional ministry because thinking like this makes it hard to fit into a traditional model, even if it is progressive. I pray for my other pastor friends that are making courageous moves to live more authentic lives. I also admire the ones that must stay where they are for now.

I don’t want to go back to the 1950’s or the first century. I want to live in the decade I find myself  with as much wisdom and sensibility as I can muster. Just like Jesus challenged the status quo of his time, I want to speak up against things that aren’t working. Let us at least consider what change could look like even if it means we must change dramatically.

In the book, we examine all the specific services we assume we have to go to church for like: worship, fellowship, discipleship and communion.  See links below to pick up a copy!

Be where you are,

Be who you are,

Karl Forehand


[1] John 4:24

Being: A Journey Toward Presence and Authenticity

Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and The Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multipl

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