We say we want community, but are unwilling to make the sacrifices for it to happen. It's too inconvenient and messy. We want the benefit of church without her demands. Something has to change.
Why not start with you? What if you started having people join you for meals, Christians and non-Christians. What if you started having family meals together? What if you began to serve your neighborhood in some way and invited some church friends to join you? What if you began to put others' needs before your own? I wonder what would happen. Fewer acrobats and more brothers? Church would slowly become more of a family than an event.
Church is not an event, a place, or a plant. It is a family of brothers and sisters united in the Spirit and the Son. The church is a community, people in relationships under grace. So the church is supposed to be a family, but we act more like acquaintances.
Instead of sharing life and truth, joy and pain, meals and mission, we share one, maybe two events a week. Church has been reduced to a spiritual event that happens for an hour or two on weekends, and if you are spiritual, occurs another couple of hours during the week in a small group meeting. We spend just enough time "at church" to be religious, but nowhere near enough time to be family.
The dominant metaphor of the church in the New Testament is the metaphor of family. Every one of Paul's letters opens by addressing the church in familial terms -- sisters, brothers, son, and our Father. The use of "brother" is, by far, the most frequent. This sibling emphasis reflects the familial nature of the church. What would happen if we started acting like family?
I am happy to say that the landscape of church in America is changing. I can point to numerous churches in our city that are not fortresses, shopping malls, or cemeteries. Instead, they are communities of imperfect people clinging to a perfect Christ, who accept one another as they are accepted, in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In my church, we are seeing signs of this family-style community. People are sharing meals, opening their homes, helping each other move. (Who doesn't love a good move?) People are helping one another find jobs, babysitting, offering comfort, and providing meaning. It's increasingly a steady state of community -- shared laughs, truths, meals, sorrows, and mission. We support one another. We share a steady state of social, gospel, recreational, and missional connections.
One family recently invited all their neighbors over for a pizza party. Two of the neighbors had lived there five years and never met. Two other neighbors had a long-standing disagreement that was resolved that night. That same family then invited all the staff of a local coffee shop over for another pizza party. They came and continue to hang out. Why? Because they have encountered the church -- not a church, the church -- a community of brothers and sisters in the gospel for the good of the city.
Recently a group of men met in their Fight Club to help one another beat up sin and believe the gospel. One of the men had recently been through some difficult financial times. Because of the financial crisis, this husband and father had been laid off from his job, losing not only his income, but the company car. He shared this with the guys in his Fight Club. One of them had a pretty good job, and a pretty nice SUV. He decided to give the vehicle to his friend, to the brother who had lost his job and his car.
Sometimes the church looks like a pizza party, and sometimes it looks like a sports utility vehicle. These kinds of churches will have momentum and communion, mission and community that attract others: not to an event, but to a family. Christians and non-Christians are joining the family. Why? Because they have found a believable church, one with community and one with mission.
Don't give up on the church. Instead, start giving things away, sharing your life, and see what happens. Stop going to church, and start being the church. You'll be glad you did.
Jonathan Dodson is the pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas, and blogs at Creation Project. He holds an M.Div. and Th.M. and has published articles in various journals and webzines such as The Journal of Biblical Counseling and Boundless.