I said I was going to start writing again, and I said I had lots of thoughts about church. I suppose Sunday morning is as good a time as any to get started. Let me start with a disclaimer - I don't purport to be offering definitive answers on this topic. Not at all. I probably have many more questions than answers. And in fact, I'd welcome some hearty dialogue on the topic. I just find myself wrestling with many of my long held beliefs about church - not my faith, mind you - but the formal, time-bound, brick and mortar church building, meeting, and gathering place.
I became a Christian when I was 6 - in my church we called it a "profession of faith." I still cling to, and believe in, that faith. I have not abandoned God or my faith. My faith has continued to grow and broaden with me as I have grown. But some days I feel like abandoning the church. Now, depending on your perspective, don't let that statement cause you to gnash your teeth in despair or conversely, to jump for joy. I haven't abandoned the church, and I don't really want to. But I am taking a step back and becoming at times a conscientious objector, and at others a conscientious observer. The world has changed, and I have changed - dramatically - since I was 6. And as more and more questions are raised in the mind that God gave me, I become more and more convinced that "the church" needs to reassess and explore whether or not it isn't time for a new paradigm.
Here is what I do know. Jesus went TO people. He didn't gather his disciples together and say, "Guys, we need a building so people can come and hear the message God has given to me to share with them." He didn't turn to them after he fed 5000 people on the hills of Galilee and say, "Let's just build a big multi-purpose room right here to commemorate this event, attach a nice worship center, and we'll have a big fish fry this time every year to kick off our stewardship campaign." No, he headed out in a boat to recharge, saw a man with inner demons in need, and took the time to help him get rid of those demons and regain his true self. Jesus went TO people. He showed interest in them, and in their specific needs. He loved them just as they were, and continues to love all of us just as we are.
With that said, when did we lose that organic and simple approach to helping people discover that there is something greater than ourselves who loves us? When did "the church" move out of small groups that met in people's homes and tried to make a difference in their community, into large buildings that are becoming more like clubs, offering activities to meet the needs of all its members and designed to entice prospective members? Rubel Shelley in his book, I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Christian . . . and I Liked Him Better Then, would opine that we can blame the Emperor Constantine. He believes that after Constantine became a Christian, he decided to exert his royal influence on the "church," and the result was the transformation of this organism to an organization, this community to a corporation. Organizations and Corporations require governing bodies, organizational charts, maintenance, money. I don't recall Jesus and his followers worrying about any of these things in his organic community.
I am a "member" of a local church. I love my pastor and the congregation, some of whom I consider dear friends and spiritual mentors. But I haven't been attending church much, lately. My spouse and I do still meet regularly with the church book group that we started, and that group meets in our home. I treasure those meetings, not just because I love to read, but because I value the "organic community" I have with this group of people. I have a group of other friends, all of whom have a deep faith in God but are struggling with the whole issue of "church," and we are "community" to one another in times of need and questioning. I see - directly - almost 200 students every day in the school where I teach, a number of whom have serious financial, emotional, and familial needs. They don't need me to invite them to church. They need me to BE "church" to them.
I'm raising more questions than I am answering. But this is where I begin. What if "church" operated more like a 12-step program (no overhead, no single set meeting, just diverse people coming together to share and meet one another's needs - credit to R. Shelley here)? Isn't God big enough, and smart enough to speak to diverse people through diverse ways? I found my way to God through Christianity, but does that rule out other spiritual paths for other people? Is it more important for people to discover that the way to God is Love, or to discover MY God's love, MY way?