Is the conversation really about organization?
Take away our buildings and our branding, our programs and our structures, our worship bands and our sermons, until all that is left is Jesus and his people and… I believe that we would still have all the necessary components for church (tweet, Phil Rice).
People continue to ask why I’m not part of the local church, and in the asking is precisely why. We have lost a sense of church beyond organization and branding. I have not left the local church (tweet, Phil Rice).
These are a few thoughts that have sparked some passionate and productive conversation about the church gathered. I thought I would take a moment to add to that conversation. I would just like to say at the onset, thank you to everyone who has already vulnerably shared their thoughts and perspective on the subject. So let’s deepen the convo… yeah?
A traditional picture of church
When we begin to talk about church, for many of us [especially those of us who have grown up in midwest America], a very specific picture comes to mind:
We are greeted at the door or foyer [fancy word for entryway] and are ushered into a [hopefully] friendly and warm environment of people mingling and catching up on a week’s worth of highlights. Typically what follows includes a time of corporate worship, where we join the gathered assembly singing songs to God, led by an organist, a rock band, or something in-between. We are welcomed by a man or woman of the community who stands up at the front of the group to communicate the happenings of the larger community and invites us to pray for specific needs there in.
We are then invited to participate in donating financially to the community by the passing of a plate or basket. A leader of the community will then stand and share with us, his or her thoughts on a particular passage of scripture, value, or vision for the community. Usually, a song is played at the end of our time together, giving us a chance to reflect on or internalize what was communicated. Then we head back out to mingle for a few more minutes, grab a cup of coffee from the coffee pot [or espresso machine, or perhaps pour over bar?], pick up our kids in a different area of the building where they have gotten to have their own time together. And finally, we head home or to lunch or to wherever we go.
And we love it
Whether you’ve attended a gathering like this or not, you’ve been exposed to pieces and bits of such a gathering. Both the symphony and the rock concert give participants a place to lose themselves in music, lyric, sound. The CEO of a company will regularly gather the team in-order to communicate a value or practice. Every year United Way invites entire cities to donate finances as a means to help those in need.
And we love all these things! And rightly so! There is purpose and intention behind them.
We love it… Sometimes
There are also times where the music doesn’t quite hit us in deep places — a symphony goer that finds themselves at the rock concert, a CEO or manager has too many meetings [or not enough?], too regularly, and of course… if someone is asking us to donate to something that we don’t have a value for, we may give once, or twice… but if they knock on our door for the 7th week in a row, I imagine we will [very politely] communicate that this will be our final donation to the cause.
A different way forward [just a few Phil Rice thoughts]?
There are many communities or individuals that my church example and say, ‘Yeah, that sounds about right [with a few adjustments here and there].’ And, you know? Many people fit right into this world and need not look elsewhere.
Some might even say, ‘Well, our church is different, because we do ABC instead of XYZ.’ Or, ‘Phil, your description of church was about as vanilla as it gets and I’m offended by how you portray it. Our weekly meeting is way more exciting/intimate/deep/rich/provoking than that!’ And that’s totally fine! You can be offended at me. But the fact that you relate to my description in any way, communicates that there are several key rhythms that most of the church prescribes to, yeah?
Something I’ve observed is that some people don’t fit. I’m not talking about not fitting in one church [read “organized church gathering”] over another… I’m saying… they’ve tried them all and they don’t fit the model. And that’s okay too.
What happens if I don’t fit the model?
Often, those who don’t fit the traditional structure of church are encouraged to:
- Look into overseas missions — what nation do you have a heart for? let’s send you!
- Attend a ministry school — let’s hone your gifts and really let you go for it…
- Lead a small group — I love your passion, I want you to reproduce that in others…
There is nothing wrong with shaking things up a little! These are good options. And they are perfect for some! But… they are not for everyone and I think it’s important to add more dimension to the conversation.
What if we gather around the problem we’re solving for?
As disciples of Jesus, there are so many areas of society in which we belong. We have so many diverse opportunities to bring our perspective and our light into our world.
If this is really true, then why would we think that we must all gather the in the same way?
Some additional thoughts in the following articles
-> Not At Church — Phil Rice
-> What Is Spiritual Authority? Am I Under It? — Phil Rice
I will be measured only by what He asked of me
When I stand before God at the end of my life, I will not be measured by what others expected of me, I will be measured only by what He asked if me.
His path for me is what determines the rhythms and patterns of my life. If traditional patterns and structures hinder my ability to walk the path that He has put before me, then it is of the most timely importance that I drop them and begin to ask, “How then shall I live?”
The same goes for my spiritual family and for yours. His path for us [insert your ‘us’] determines the rhythms and patterns of our life together. And if any of the patterns or structures hinder our ability to walk the path He has set before us, then it is of most timely importance that we move out from them in pursuit of the question, “Jesus, since this is the path you have set before our family, how then shall we live?”
Any of this resonate? I’d love to continue the conversation and hear your thoughts.
Thanks for journeying alongside,
Oh yeah, and if you resonate with this article, consider joining the conversation more regularly! I send out a super helpful [I think it’s helpful] short email with  highlights of content over the last month [or so], my 5-things email — meaningful content for the religiously disillusioned [or spiritually tired] seeking to practically and authentically follow Jesus in real life.