The best way to describe a vision is to sometimes paint a picture. Merely speaking our philosophies isn’t always effective in fleshing out how they will look in real life practice. And verbalizing alone leaves room for misinterpretation and preconceived ideas; resulting in blanketed conclusions that often lead to something entirely different than what was originally intended.
In order to set forth a practical working design I am going to do just that- paint pictures. And that begins a little later.
You will find here philosophies as well of course, not to mention scriptural references that I think are relevant to the discussion at hand.
To begin: I believe that there is no one right way to do church. There is soooo much freedom in Christ that it is sometimes difficult for disciplined minds to fathom. We have erred here. But if you think this is an article about permissiveness and a letting go of the sound doctrines left by Jesus and the apostles you’re looking at the wrong sheet of paper. We have erred here as well.
Balance- healthy and pure is the ultimate goal. My husband has a life motto he lives by: “Balance for endurance.” My motto is different, but similar: “A person on the change is a person with brains.” The ideas set forth are to achieve flexibility and wisdom that leads to a balanced lifestyle that ultimately enables the traveler to come out on the winning side of the journey.
I love God. I love, and am so very grateful to, his son Jesus. But I’m a gal who has a hard time with church. Since I was twenty-one I’ve attended church regularly (less regularly of late). Sunday morning Bible study and worship service, Sunday evening meeting, Wednesday evening Bible studies, and Friday night church functions. I was there. I showed up for all of them for twenty-five years. I taught the Sunday schools, worked with the teens, hosted youth rallies, organized countless church events, attended or taught ladies’ classes, spoke at ladies’ retreats, cooked for summer camps, deaned summer camps. I enjoyed it. I genuinely love to serve and I genuinely loved the people.
About five years ago, God began to take me on a journey and I believe there was a definite and specific purpose in that journey that culminates here today, at my keyboard, in the fire burning in my heart, and in purposeful actions begun in our home.
I could write an entire book about what happened in those five years to bring me where I am today. Perhaps that is another story for another time. Suffice it to say I’ve wandered through more than a few years of discontent.
One thing I am convinced of, however, is that I have not been alone in this journey. I see it in people who have stopped attending church all together, who have been hurt too badly to even consider gracing the doors of another church. I see it in those who are still attending a church, but the pits of their Spirit are unsatisfied, looking longingly out windows and wondering why the Greatest Gift of All doesn’t seem to be enough. I see it also, in those who observe modern day Christianity as bystanders, as haters, as critics- seeing the hypocrisy, and the plastic and they too are discontent in their journey (thanks, in part, to us).
This model will probably not sit well with everyone, but I’m not going to make apologies. I’m getting too old to worry about what people might think of me, or what category they are going to put me in now (cause you know they’re just gonna!). If I get called a radical…so be it. The promises of the modern church and the fruit she bears haven’t held much weight with me recently. If I’m considered an outsider from our conventional numbers, so be it. I’m okay with that. It’s time to live what I believe.
I’m going to paint you a picture of Sunday go meetin’ and along the way I will also explain why I think this “church” model sits well with my Spirit. Please keep in mind these are just examples of how to “do church,” they are not written in stone. It is the principle of the thing that is important and it is the principles that I sincerely hope you grasp. Remember we don’t really “do church” we ARE the church set forth by Jesus Himself. 1Peter 2: 9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Cor 1:2 “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”
Why Sunday? Personally I don’t care. The Jewish Sabbath falls on sunset on Friday evening to sunset on Saturday evening. We here in North America work it around the already established work week. Sunday being the first day of the week. Acts 20: 7 “And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread” & 1 Cor 16:1-2 “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.” Are these passages proof that the early Christians set aside Sunday as their Sabbath rest day? Not necessarily. True they broke bread, but according to Acts 2:42, “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” There are, however, enough examples here that show many of our Sabbath functions were done on the first day of the week. And that works okay for us over here. Is the Jewish work week more structured around Friday sunset to Saturday sunset? I don’t know for sure, but I’d say likely. But I don’t believe the actual Sabbath day chosen is an issue. I think what matters is that we put aside a day of rest from our labor to reflect on the Holy One and honor Him on that day. Sort of like what we do for the fallen soldiers of war. In Canada we call this “Remembrance Day.” In the U.S it’s called “Veterans Day.” We pause to show them great respect for the lives given on our behalf. How much more should we pause to show respect to the Great Creator who gave so much? And how much more should we show respect to His Son who also gave His mortal life in exchange for our eternal one?
Is an entire day too long? Is it too much to ask? To be still and know that He is God?
Let me begin now to paint a picture of a Healthy Sunday rest:
Papa wakes to little Aimee jumping on his bed. The alarm wasn’t set, so he knows he probably got a healthy eight hours. Used to be he had to be at the church building by 9:00 a.m. Nice to revel in the realization that he has at least one day a week to sleep in and actually welcome little Aimee’s hugs. To spend time listening to her, tickling her and making her giggle. Time to laugh with all of them at the breakfast table. Time to help Mamma with the breakfast dishes- finding a surprisingly intimate moment and kissing her on the neck. No snapping the fingers and rushing everyone out the door and into the car arguing all the way to church.
When the time finally comes to leave for worship, everyone is fresh, vibrant and excited! Yes, I said excited. The relationships formed over the past year have been truly fulfilling, real, supportive, and endearing…”There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” Prov 18: 24
It’s noon and it’s lunchtime. Mothers, daughters, and others made some incredible dishes the day/night before. The smells in the ovens at the McCauley farm are driving senses wild. Especially the portion who are really hungry: The lonely bachelors who rarely see a home cooked meal, the Mother of five who has trouble providing even one healthy meal a week for her children, the bottle gatherer who wasn’t overlooked and invited five times before he finally accepted the invitation. The list goes on.
They all come. Some in fancy cars, some on bicycles, some on foot. Some sheepishly standing out like a sore thumb; children running in haste to embrace buddies; couples clasping hands with other couples; elderly seated first with cushioned lawn chairs; and singles beginning to serve up the meal.
They eat, they fellowship. Three, four, and five gather around the newcomers genuinely wanting to know their stories, they take their children aside to have discussion concerning some mishap that lacked honor and respect toward a fellow playmate, they discuss community events, and autumn harvest. So it goes until the meal is finished. The chairs are then pulled into a circle. John 13: 35 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
There are elders. Twelve of them in this particular gathering. (There are many in the flock. Good trees beget good fruit. Healthy trees beget even more fruit. Matthew 7: 17-19 “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.”) The elders are wise and appointed to oversee the flock.
Forty- seven year old Emerson Daily speaks first, hushing the chatter.
“It’s a great Lord’s day to gather together…….(etc)Let’s begin with prayer….(etc) So glad to see everyone……How are you, Lynton? Glad to see you are feeling better and back with us. Emily! Let’s begin with you today. How have you been able to minister with your gifts for the kingdom this week, and please tell us how we may help you in this? (Emily is a master baker and LOVES to bake. Emily also has the gift of hospitality, and a knack with poetry).
“ I was able to get my He is Near Poem hung at the Retirement center this week and they let me recite it out loud to the residents after lunch on Friday. I would like to ask for prayers and advice though, on how to deal with the woman who volunteers with me in the kitchen. I want to learn to love her genuinely, but she is so angry and won’t let me in. She mistrusts me and makes the day so long and hard.”
“Any thoughts on that?” Emerson throws it out to the congregation. Discussion begins. Scriptures are read and prayer is offered.
Several things have just happened: Emily feels validated for her God-given gifts and is encouraged to use them for God. And others want to be able to help Emily in action and in word if she needs it. Godly counsel was interjected and scripture references were given as the final authority. People are getting involved in one another’s lives-if there is trouble, there will always be someone to help, no more suffering in silence. This does not mean we share every detail of our lives with one another, but we will have made some choice friendships for issues such as those.
Did you know that our gifting from God usually come in the form of things we LOVE? Yes that is right. If it is your talent, it is your gift. You enjoy it! That is why it is called a gift! Some examples of gifting may be: carpentry, motocross, being good with numbers, songwriting, dancing, engineering, creative thinking, having discernment, speaking kindly and eloquently, putting others first, gardening, cross stitch evangelizing, preaching, relaying a good idea, good with your hands, understanding the soil, relating to children, relating to youth, writing, encouragement, playing an instrument, being mechanically inclined…the list is endless….and rarely, if ever, does a person possess only one gift.
Emerson (an elder, or someone with naturally gifted leadership skills) continues…
“Mr. Alder how about you? How are things going in the carpentry shop?”
“Well I feel that the Lord was able to use me to contribute to the organic farm to feed the poor that Warren and Nancy started up over on the Lyndon farm. I was able to build a large chicken coup, so they can start keeping free range chickens to feed all of us as well as others in need. But I do want to point out that help is still needed in the gardens. It’s harvest time in two weeks. There are several acres. They’ll need pickers and canners. “
Who says carpentry isn’t a gift to be used in the kingdom of God? We should be working together, using our gifts in practical ways to help the body and to help in the community. In this way we will become lamps on a hill instead of lights under a bush. Matthew 5: 14- 16 “You are the light of the on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Newcomers may think that they don’t have any gifts to be used in God’s church, but this will help them to realize that they, too, can contribute and “everybody’s somebody in the kingdom of God.” Often in our North American churches we will pass out something like a “How Can I Use My Gifts in the Church?” questionnaire. And there are options such as:
· I’m a goal setter
· I can teach Sunday school class
· I would be a good usher
· I can lead a Bible study
But sadly many people don’t feel gifted in these areas so they fill in what they can. We ask people to use their gifts in church, but we don’t provide an atmosphere where they can really use them. As a result, round pegs are forced into square holes and pressure and guilt abounds. Further to that, many of these options provided aren’t practical and don’t help in real life. And that is what the church should really be about: Real Life.
Gary Lent is next and he has recently lost his job. Gary is a little past middle age and had been working for Rubbermaid twenty plus years.
“How are things with you Gary?” Emerson asks.
“I’m sorry,” Gary responds truthfully, “I haven’t been able to use any of my gifts for God this month. I feel in shock. I am trying, but I can’t seem to get off the couch. I know that I need to be out there looking for work, but I can’t get over the idea they just let me go like that after I gave them so many years of excellent service. I feel betrayed and I can’t put one foot in front of the other.”
“Does anybody have any words for Gary. Can anyone help?”
Warren James speaks first. “Gary. I don’t have any words for you. That is a tough one. I don’t have any brilliant advice. I could recite scriptures about forgiveness and finding the strength in the Lord alone, but I believe you will grow into all of that in time, when you are ready. However, having said that, Mr. Alder is right. We do need help on the farm. I know your skills and we sure could use you. We will feed you 2 meals a day as you work, like we feed everyone else that comes to help. And I know the lord will bless your work, and in good time, in His time, he will change your situation. I love you Gary. I believe in you, and I will not let you go through this alone. I’m here and I am here today. I would like to say a prayer for you now if I could?
This is a place where happiness, or lack thereof, is not sugar coated or ignored. Christians are faced with tremendous obstacles every single day. If we cannot find comfort and a genuine helping hand from within the body of Christ then we are a sad testimony of the overcoming life and community to which we belong. We need to do all that we can in word and DEED in order to help our fellow Christians, even if it means giving up some of our own comforts and privacies. Acts 2: 44-46 “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”
How far we have moved from the original design of God’s church! Shame on us!
These have been just a few examples of what the beginning of our Lord’s Day together might look like. All names are fictitious, but we can all relate to these examples in one form or the other. I envision this initial interaction to be an hour, or two, or three of excitement and caring- sharing and reporting what the Lord is doing in our individual lives. Reporting on each individual ministry and finding out how we can use our giftings to help in these ministries. Not everyone will be able to help out in every situation, nor are they meant to. We have different gifts for a reason…all contributing to the growth of the body to the glory of God. 1 Cor 12: 12-26 “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
Now we are doing church! Now we are being the church! This isn’t a “How are you.” “Fine thanks, and you?” “Fine thanks.” kind of church. This is a vibrant, validating, encouraging, and genuinely helping church. This isn’t a reacquainting of ourselves with one another because many of us have been spending time with one another on a daily, or weekly basis. But it is a time where we can report, assess, and help with those whom God desires us to connect with every week. No one should ever feel alone that belongs to a church family- ever.
Now that we have spent a few hours getting real with one another, we can begin genuine, uninhibited, worship to the Lord and Savior. Knees have probably already been bent in prayer. Tears have probably already been shed. Hands and hugs have probably already been offered and there is no separation. There is no oneness except the oneness of everyone together. So tearfully, joyfully, exuberantly, excitedly, with complete awe and respect, we lift our voices, raise our hands, dance and clap before His throne. Prayers are offered up, scriptures read, musical solos sang out to the Lord and for the edifying of the hearers, skits performed in excellence to send a message home, testimonies shared peak the curiosity of newcomers, sins confessed for the healing of the soul, musicians play skillfully giving back to Him the gift He gave…
The Lord’s Supper (communion) is observed and never often enough since they “broke bread daily” in the early church and Jesus commanded us to “do this as often as you come together in remembrance of me.”
Our offerings do not pay for buildings. Buildings that exhaust our resources, cripple our freedoms, and give cause for not getting out in the real world and doing the work that has to be done. Buildings that give a false sense of identity of who we are as followers of Christ. We have enough houses and barns for when it rains or snows. We have enough land for outdoor gatherings in good weather (which is preferable). We have enough beaches for early sunrise gatherings on special occasions, or baptisms often. Our money goes to those in need (i.e., those who have health issues but can’t afford insurance, our college students, our single working parents, those who just can’t quite make their payments, the needy in the community etc. ) and to help those who take in the elderly, the recovering addict, the orphaned, and the misguided. The funds also go toward furthering the kingdom of God in very real and tangible ways (i.e., marriage enrichment weekends, soup kitchens, farm equipment, kids craft material etc. etc. etc). 1 Cor 16: 1-3 (apostle Paul talking to the church in Corinth) “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality (generosity) unto Jerusalem.” Galatians 6: 10 ”So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”
In these hard times, as the cost of food and housing rises, people are struggling financially. It is not hard to figure out the plan of the early church to make sure that everyone had shelter, was fed, and safe.
By now it’s around 5 or 6 pm don’t you think?
Arrived at noon to share a large meal and fellowship (around 1.5 hrs)
Spent 1-3 hours sharing, reporting and exhorting (depending on the size of our congregation)
Spent about 1.5 hours in worship, communion, and giving of our tithes.
PLEASE don’t even think of making a formula out of this! This isn’t about formula. This is about attitude of the heart, flexibility, balance, creativity, and enjoying the freedoms in Christ. 1Cor 10:23 “All things are permissible, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.”
Resting all day, first enjoying our own family and being attentive to their needs, then coming together with the saints to edify one another and glorifying the Lord sounds like a great way to spend the entire day showing honor to the Father. Are we too busy and self important to give Him more than a few hours of our time on Sunday? Are we too busy and self important to get out of ourselves and genuinely care about the needs of our fellow Christians?
I’m thinking the traditional man made formula for church that we have collectively created just isn’t working. Am I the only one to notice? People are cracked and lonely. People are killing themselves. People are barely getting to church on time and are showing up as a result of duty instead of with a genuine excitement and desire to be there. People in church are complacent and lack passion. People in church are competing in a fashion show (we are supposed to come apart from the world, not become just like it), people in church are going to worldly counselors for advice, people in church are taking antidepressants, people in church are hooked on drugs and drinking, people in church are ending up in court and in jail, people in church are arrogant, people in church are greedy, the drug of choice for Christians is coffee (a low grade heroin),….I’m just sayin’…Now of course , not everybody that attends church have these problems, but we certainly aren’t the “healed” community we make ourselves out to be, now are we?
Will this new way of doing church solve all of these problems? Of course not. But I believe it will give us a big head start. We will learn to be connected, cared for, listened to, validated, loved, busy, selfless, productive, fed, and fulfilled. That is a huge head start. We will, in fact, become a beacon shining on a hill beside the beach on a sunny day. An oasis in the desert.
Notice I didn’t mention anything about a sermon on Sunday? That is because when we only have one or two men edify and share wisdom with the church, we are setting ourselves up for danger. Two things happen; 1) We miss all of the gems of wisdom that other men and women have to offer and 2) These “preachers” rarely get ministered to themselves and are rarely held accountable. It is unhealthy for them and it is unhealthy for everyone else. 1 Cor 14: 26 “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, EACH ONE OF YOU has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”
But what about the gift of preaching? Isn’t there a place for it? I believe there is- out on the street. And if you don’t have the stomach for that, then why are you calling yourself a preacher? Anybody can speak to a friendly and adoring audience, telling entertaining stories and jokes and getting pat on the back (as is the case with modern day preachers in modern day churches). But try doing what Paul and the early preachers did in the old days. Try going right into the community, breaking in on discussions, calling attention to yourself and the gospel, reasoning with and persuading non believers and then you may wear the name “preacher.” Paul was stoned, imprisoned, beaten, and publicly humiliated and he kept going back for more.
There is a man named Tom Short. He is a modern day preacher. I do not know his denomination (or non denomination), but I know he IS a preacher. He goes to the university campuses in the USA. He stands there. (Institutions of higher education are the front lines of Christian battle today by the way). He pulls out a Bible and begins to read loudly. He proclaims and persuades, reasons, and endures verbal attacks on a daily basis. He is courageous beyond courageous. He has the gift of preaching. Watch this short video of Tom in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNAzrh_ZVz8
* I do believe in certain cases that some ministers of the gospel (those showing a track record and passion for service) CAN receive housing, salary, and food. Paul said this was okay (ITim 5: 17, 18), but keep in mind, Paul himself chose not to become a burden to people and chose to not receive a salary, though many Christians put him up in their houses and fed him etc.
What about the gift of evangelism? If you have it, great. Evangelizing means telling people about Jesus, persuading, sharing scriptures, converting. Could it be possible that only one man in the entire congregation is an evangelist? I don’t think so, but why do only a few wear the name?
I believe there is time for those gifted in teaching to bring Bible studies during the week at several different “house church” locations. Is a Bible degree required? Well if so, then that would disqualify all of the apostles and great men and women of the New Testament. Bible studies during the week (and whatever was shared on Sunday) foster greater Bible knowledge, accountability, and deep relationships.
You might suppose this revolutionary way of doing church (which isn’t even revolutionary at all…it’s just a call to return to the early ways) sounds like mayhem. People getting up and talking and speaking out of turn, going on and on and being disrespectful. But if we follow New Testament examples it teaches us how to avoid that kind of fellowship. 1 Cor 14: 40 “Let all things be done decently and in order.” This is why elders are appointed (by the congregation) and where their wisdom comes in. They gain order and control with prudence, life experience, rich leadership skills, and courage. If someone is being disrespectful of other people’s time or is just being immature, the elders gently, but firmly, steer all discussions back into balance.
In the same way, if we are concerned about how funds are managed, this is another reason to appoint wise, honest, and humble elders to oversee all of these things. The qualifications for elders, bishops, and overseers are clearly laid out in several passages of the New Testament such as Titus 1: 5-9.
Am I talking about starting a new church? Nope.
Am I talking about starting a new movement? Nope.
Am I hoping to take credit for this old idea? Nope.
Do I think any church can survive without a corporate headquarters? Yep.
In fact the fastest growing church I know (around AD 20, say) didn’t have a corporate headquarters. Seems to me the very idea was rejected by somebody who refused to set up his kingdom here on earth, and those who worshipped him did so in “Spirit and in Truth.” And if my memory serves me correctly, wasn’t it the religious leaders of the day who had a problem with that? ? ?
Jesus is enough ladies and gentlemen. Jesus alone is the head of the church. The church model He set forth through the apostles in the beginning works. Just like the fruit and vegetables He created in their most natural state, are the best way to eat today. The original design works.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13: 8 (It’s good enough for me).
I say, it’s worth a try.
And, hey, how about we just call ourselves “Christians”?