We have all heard it again and again, following Jesus is a relationship and not a religion – To this I say a hearty “amen”. The thing is how does this pan out in our daily living, do we ‘follow Jesus in the way’ or ‘visit Him on a Sunday’? Ironically, the very thing that advertises as being a help can actually be very detrimental to following after the Lord Jesus; I am of course talking about church.
I love the church
Those of you who are familiar with my blog know that I love the church; it is after all the people that Jesus died for and translated into His Kingdom. I do however have a problem with institutionalised church when it becomes more than it should be. Let me briefly explain…
A few years or so ago I was leading a regular modern church, music, preaching etc; but then I was arrested by the Lord to set off in a different direction which didn’t include the standard ‘church services’ that most of us are familiar with.
After a few weeks of not having the regular meetings and responsibilities of standard church life things went a little weird, I don’t mean spooky weird but my relationship with God started to change. Perhaps a more accurate description is that I noticed an enormous hole in our relationship, in fact there wasn’t really much there at all. I didn’t stop believing, or doubt His reality and presence, but the thing that had so filled my life was suddenly missing; I am of course talking about church.
Be nice to me…
This is where it gets both difficult to explain and easy to offend others; please be merciful as you decide for yourself if this makes sense. I had been in ministry for so long I had all but forgotten how to relate to God simply as He is; I didn’t have a sermon to prepare, a meeting to lead, a counselling session to attend or an unhappy church member to appease. What was there for us to talk about?
There are a myriad of things that brought me to that unhappy place but I think it probably boils down to misunderstanding the nature of church and unrealistic expectations. As a way of reminder at this point we need to remember that the Bible didn’t save us, the church didn’t save us and our spirituality didn’t save us; Jesus did! When we disengage from this truth things can go awry.
What does the church look like?
The common picture of church today is a gathering where people celebrate Jesus, learn more about him and then spend time together before returning home. The thing is, that isn’t church, no seriously, that is not church. It is a meeting where we sing, listen and chat, and if we want that, there is no problem unless we call it church and attribute things to it that don’t belong.
This picture of ‘church’ is so embedded in our consciousness it is all but impossible to escape it, and worse we judge everything we see through its filter. I am speaking from first hand experience as I saw the panic that is caused when you mess with the ‘church’. The depth of our brokeness is revealed by the questions that arise when you suggest that we should abandon the current church model. The questions boil down to the following:
- How will we worship?
- How will we learn?
- How will we fellowship?
Okay, time for a heads up, a thirty minute song service is not necessarily worship; for some of us it can be a time of genuine encounter, but for the majority who are texting, dozing, staring into space it is a prelude to the sermon. A sermon can be helpful, I listen to and read a lot of teaching, but if your sole input is a one way discourse on a Sunday you have a very real problem. Finally of course there is the fellowship, again, reality check – Asking ‘how are you” over a disposable coffee cup is not the New Testament definition of fellowship; in fact my experience is that the after service fellowship was often cliquey with the faithful few trying to ‘connect’ with everyone whilst others made their escape or expressed their loneliness and dysfunction in an often inappropriate way.
We are called to follow Jesus just as the first disciples were, and they followed Him down the road; they shared their lives, they ate together, shared hearts, laughter, tears, failure and success. They fell out, made up, went to work, slept at night and met together. And so it should be with us; the change that happens when we give our allegiance to Jesus is not a religious one, instead we are immediately translated into His Kingdom, we become ambassadors of another country, an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven, an organ or limb in His mysterious body, but not members of an institution. Our salvation is a transformation, not an invitation to a meeting.
We are the people of God who are learning to make their whole lives an act of declaring the worth of Jesus (worship) in all we do; everything from nappy changing to college, cooking to unblocking the loo – We do it all for our new Lord.
In this journey we are receiving constant instruction from the indwelling Holy Spirit; sometimes we learn from direct revelation, sometimes nature, sometimes the Bible and sometimes from others. I even got a great insight whilst watching ‘Lewis’ the other night (A UK cop show) – Our whole life experience becomes a learning process.
Our worship and learning are done in the context of our new family, the blood bought children of God. These people have been rescued from death as we have and we share the same life, we look out for, encourage and assist one another as much as we can. Passengers and the lazy are rebuked out of love, the weak are upheld and we experience a daily deepening of love for each other. I know it’s scary, but we actually get to know each other as we are. Some might feel naked without their church suit on :-O .
Finally, when this band of freed men and women meet the invisible presence of their Lord is in their midst, and the worship, teaching and prophecy is orchestrated by Him using each one as His Spirit leads. There is no service, no clergy, each one is a heavenly priest ministering for the benefit of all.
A happy beginning
I am pleased to say that today my walk with God is probably more real now than I have ever known; I have an honesty and a knowledge of His acceptance that at times is intoxicating. I am learning to live, I am learning to love and perhaps glimpsing something of the beauty of what Jesus called His church.
As a foot note let me finish with this; I have no problem with meetings that are led, that have bands that lead the singing and gifted teachers sharing the Word of God – My problem is what happens when you call these meetings church…
Go well my friends 🙂