September 2, 2010

Stop Going to Church and Be The Church

I might as well be upfront about this, I have a number of pet peeves word usage-wise. I am sure if I ever sat down and made an all inclusive list of my communication pet peeves I would realize I really have earned the affectionate nickname my wife's steps siblings gave me; GP i.e.Grammar police. That being said here is my top 5 list;

1. Misuse of the word Irony- If I ever get the chance I just might lovingly punch Alanis Morissette in the nose.

2. More than one '!' in a paragraph- With exclamation marks it is one or none.

3. Synergy- I hate this word, and I hate when people say things like, 'we just need more synergy' and think they said something brilliant. What they really have said is nothing.

4. Organic- Just to be clear I don't mean organic food, I mean when people talk about the difference between organic growth and structured so called artificial growth in churches. I understand what they mean, they want something to just 'sprout' out of the ground instead of a cultivated artificial development. It's just every time I hear it I think, most organic growth is more structured and cultivated than people give it credit for.

5. The phrase 'Stop Going to Church and Be the Church.'

Now you might have noticed that #5 and my titled are the same. Yes I used my pet peeve in a title. I need to say when I first read this phrase I thought it had some level of cleverness. Now that I have read it in dozens of books, and heard it in a number of sermons and seminars I find the phrase tired. It has become for me something like picking up a mystery or thriller novel and reading on the first page 'it was a dark and stormy night'.

But just like an author of a thriller novel may want their story to begin at night during a storm because it is critical that it does; it is critical that people get the distinction between getting up on Sunday and driving to a location for 1-4 hours and engaging in a lifestyle that spans our entire life each and every day. The problem is that sentience is just so long, and clumsy. It is just so easy to say we need to stop going to church and be the church. It is easier and it is clearer. We on some level understand the difference between going to a location i.e. the church building and being the church e.g. caring for the poor. It is easy to say, easy to understand and critical for us to do.

It's a cliche, but it is also right. We really do need to start 'being the church'. There is a letter from Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor to Emperor Trajan. Pliny wasn't sure what to do with these people called Christians, so like any good governor he arrested and 'questioned' so called Christians to see what he could find out. Any of those willing to recant their beliefs, curse the name of Christ and sacrifice to the state's gods were free to go. Those that did not where put to death.

After he concluded his investigation he discovered this "Some said that they had been and then stopped, some three years before, some longer, some even twenty years before. All these reverenced your statue and those of the Gods, and cursed Christ. They stated that the sum total of their error or misjudgment, had been coming to a meeting on a given day before dawn, and singing responsively a hymn to Christ as to God, swearing with a holy oath not to commit any crime, never to steal or commit robbery, commit adultery, fail a sworn agreement or refuse to return a sum left in trust. When all this was finished, it was their custom to go their separate ways, and later re-assemble to take food of an ordinary and simple kind."

These people were being the church. They were not making a lot of noise about their faith, instead they were living out their faith. They committed to doing no wrong, they came together to support each other, and while this quote doesn't say it they also went out and did a lot of good. They took in orphans, windows, cared for the sick and shared whatever little they had. I wonder what would be said if a bunch of us were rounded up and 'questioned'? I suspect it wouldn't read anything like this.

Now this is obviously a very old example. Let's bring this closer to now and closer to home. Currently all across North America people are living out their faith in Jesus like our brave forefathers and foremothers. On one end of the spectrum we have people moving out of their comfortable homes and churches and moving into abandoned buildings in hallowed out urban centres. They set up little urban Monasteries, in very poor and rather dangerous areas. They take in the poor, the homeless, the addict; and together as a community they seek to meet their basic needs of food, drink,shelter and medical care. Looking at these communities is like looking into a living and breathing Acts 2 Christian community*.

On the other end of the spectrum there are Christians that have chosen to make every space they go into a holy space. So when they pick up their morning coffee along with normal the pleasantries exchanged with service staff they ask how they (the Christian) can ask God to bless you (the service person). They treat every person they met as a person made in God's image worthy of God's love, and they assume God is willing to bless them in some way**.

These are only two examples. There are nearly endless ways for us to start being the church. And it is important that we do this. In the Western World most people have long stop caring about anything we have to say about, well pretty much anything. But people still appreciate a cold glass of water on a hot day. We need to ask ourselves what is the 'hot day' in our neighborhood, and what is the 'cold glass of water' we can give? Are there children in your community that lack money for food, start a lunch program. Are there people moving in with very low levels of English, start an ESL program. Take a look around you, how can you stop going to church and start being the church?

*For more on this read 'New Monastics: An Insiders Perspective, What It Has To Say To Today's Church' By Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

** For more on this read 'Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church'


  1. Punching Alanis in the face:
    'Isn't it cathartic, don't cha think?'

  2. looks like a great website/blog .... have to check it out more later in my day after work.
    But this caught my eye ..... 'walking as Jesus did' and 'stop going to church and start being the church


  3. Monique,

    Thanks for the comment. I'll look forward to hearing from you