Monday, January 4, 2010

What is a Church?

The question "What is a church?" is one that has been posed to me time and again over the last several years of my life. Although there is a specific definition that I should give according to the statement of my denomination on biblical ecclesiology. I've come to the conclusion that we... and by we I mean all humanity... have complicated the issue to such an extreme that I'm sure God is looking at us with a sheepish grin as to say..."They think they have it all figured out don't they?"

Well, I do believe in the New Testament church but I've learned and I am continuing to learn that it expresses itself through so much more diversity than I've even begun to wrap my mind around. Before you read my thoughts on this topic I would ask that you refer to the book of Acts, the churches at Ephesus, Corinth, Philipi, etc. and tell me if they all looked the same... falling neatly into one category that is "church." Don't misunderstand, the foundation must be the same (The Bible as authority, Jesus as Savior and the only way to salvation) but the expression is as diverse as the day is long.

The reason this is so fresh on my mind is because I believe that the members of our leadership team... Kelli and me included... are struggling to fill the "church" void in our lives as we plant this unique expression of the Kingdom in Tacoma. For those who have been to The Pathway you know that we are very much a "church plant" at this point rather than an established local church. However, we are a plant because we have the seeds of the body of Christ (i.e. Christians) and we certainly worship the Master Gardener (i.e. God). And by the grace of God we will soon be a fully established, evangelizing, disciple-making, autonomous, giving, worshipping, baptizing, communion taking missional CHURCH. However, I believe God is stretching us to the point where we recognize that the "church" is not a service, it's a people on mission. And, the service held by the church is not as much about emotion and experience as it is about a choice to worship the God of the universe in community with other believers.

Although I believe this to be true, I believe the "churched" on our leadership team... again, myself included... will always struggle with the fact that we are not walking into a "church" building, led by a dynamic worship team, and going through the typical "order" of worship found in most American churches today. Thankfully, I believe God has put our leadership team in urban Tacoma for a reason. He wants us... and you... to step out of your "church" box for a moment and take a look at the New Testament church as Christ established it. Did they all have church buildings...? no. Did they meet in houses...? often. Was every church in every city the recipient of a weekly expository sermon???

My point is absolutely not to bash church as we have come to know it. I tell people all the time that I'm probably more proud of traditional Southern Baptist Churches than I should be because I am a product of the efforts of many an SBC church... from Texas to Hawaii... from Colorado to Guam... many have had an enormous impact on my calling to live a Great Commission life and plant Christ-centered, Bible believing, reproducing missional churches!

However, I think if we accept the idea that all churches must look as neat and tidy as our upper-middle class church mindset has come to tell us it should, we need a swift kick in the pants from the Senior Pastor of us all, Jesus Christ!

This issue came to a head for me as I sat in the worship service of the Church of 2nd Chances-- A Church of God congregation that I was invited to be Antwan (the guy I shared was saved most recently). His sister brought him to that church for years as she prayed that he would find Jesus. He continued to ignore Christ for years but that "church," which looks very different from what the majority of my friends and family would describe as "church," planted the seeds that initially led to Antwan joining the Kingdom of God!

What did the church of 2nd Chances look like???
- A worship service that was carried out with anything but "professional excellence"
-Location: a store front right next to the industrial park in Tacoma
-The service:
-singing led by the praise team (2 ladies and a drummer!)
-Multiple times of shouting praises to God.
-Offering (everyone filed out by rows, led by an usher, to place their offering in the bag at the FRONT of the room)
-Preaching-- not expository, not hilarious, not incredibly deep... just SCRIPTURE.
-Fellowship (I was a visitor on that day and I was asked to stand and introduce myself. After my introduction I was swarmed by children and church members welcoming me and giving me hugs!)
-More singing!
-A time to praise God for what he had done in our lives
-Corporate prayer proceeded by all in the congregation being anointed with oil

Three hours after I arrived I walked out refreshed, filled with the power that comes from the Holy Spirit after worshipping God in the context of his church. Was this church perfect...? no. Do they have the market cornered on what the church should look like...? no. Were there certain theological and doctrinal issues that need to be addressed...? yes.

Did they love and worship Jesus proclaiming that salvation is found in no one else??? YES!

Was this a church? Absolutely!

I love the true CHURCH no matter what it looks like. I want The Pathway to be an authentic CHURCH. I will admit to you all right now that I'm not a deep theologian. I do have a seminary degree but it is in Missions rather than divinity or theology. I screw up all the time, I don't have all the answers and I am learning something new about the Church of Jesus every day. I'm a disciple, a learner, a follower of Jesus... and I happen to have been called to be a Pastor too.

My desire is for The Pathway to be a local church that brings glory to God... that worships above all else. The church is messy. It is made up of people after all. Thanks for praying for our church. All praise be to Jesus!

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