Monday, December 31, 2012

"Going to" Church...

I know it's been forever since I blogged, but I am feeling led to today so here goes. Warning: I'm in one of those moods!

Yesterday I did something I haven't done for 6 months...I "went to" church.  You see, Carla and I have been on a bit of a sabbatical from "going to" church as we're feeling led to focus more on being the church. Strangely enough, our faith seems to be changing and being more challenged by Him.  It's been a blast to really grow deeper in our love for the Lord and sense more and more of His presence and commands, but it has been a bit ironic in that we have done that without "going to" church.

The concept of "going to" church isn't found in the Bible.  At all.  Ever.  In fact, "church" is not mentioned much at all.  It isn't even alluded to.  Living together in obedience to God, however, is written all over the place.  So that is what we have been praying through.  (We have been doing a lot of reading so comment on this post if you're interested and I'll give you a little bibliography.)  What we have been doing is living more for Him and doing so with the people God has placed in our path right now...the church.  We've been meeting in homes and letting Christ truly be the head of our times.  No set agenda, just His spirit leading, teaching, convicting, challenging, comforting, changing.

So yesterday was a big step for me.  I "went to" a large suburban Pittsburgh "church" which, in my mind, is a really large beautiful building.   My time there was a confirmation that God is leading us right now.  The "service" (why do we call it that?) lasted one hour and 20 minutes and was perfectly orchestrated.  Beautiful computer controlled moving synchronized stage lighting, and "worship leaders" standing with their toes right on the tape in the proper place on the stage.  The "message" was 50 minutes in length...30 minutes until Scripture was really even alluded to and 40 minutes until one verse was even read.   There were two prayers in the "service" at the beginning and one at the end.  There were two songs, the first to "lead us into the presence of the Lord" and the other to, I suppose, take up for the awkwardness of passing the offering bags on a stick.  The entire time, I was thinking "how is this the church?"  And it isn't just there, but this idea of compartmentalizing our faith into a neat, timed, comfortable package just makes me want to jump out of my skin.  (Note: I have been doing some real soul-searching and forgiveness-seeking for some of what I did as a pastor...thank you Jesus for your grace toward us!)  The fact that the place was very empty compared to the dozen or so Christmas services they had is another weird and telling piece.  As an unchurched friend of mine said a few years ago of this church (and a few others whose mailing list he must be on) "why do they only want me to come at Christmas? 

I can honestly say that I haven't missed "going to" church.  I do long for the church, however.  I long for  people who live lives together in the mess and grace of following Jesus.  I do long to be with people who's sole desire is to know and follow the living God.  I long to live life with people who see that as happening in less scheduled, structured, formatted, and programmed ways.  I already said it, but I'll say it again...I long for the church.


Mark Heotzler said...

I find this post quite humorous merely because you were a pastor yourself. In light of what you said, how are you using your gifts and spiritual gifts to work in cohesion with the rest of the Body of Christ? A "church body" represents the body of Christ (or should)and it consists of people of all different talents and gifts. Are you uplifting the body of Christ with your gifts or are you hindering the body of Christ by excluding yourself?

Brett said...

I knew you'd find it funny...and you can imagine my own self-giggling!

You're absolutely right. The church is the body of Christ. But the church in America today all too often sees gifts as serving in the nursery, going on a mission trip, leading worship, etc. And don't get me wrong, those are good things. But what about the rest of the week, or the year, as it were?

Your question (or you're question, just to irritate the grammar hounds watching over this blog) about whether I'm hindering the body by excluding myself is valid. My answers are several:

1. Excluding myself from a building or a specified gathering of the church in a particular place at a particular time doesn't necessarily preclude me from glorifying God or edifying the body.

2. Again, the primary expressions of gifts today in the organized, American, institutional church focus mostly on programs and activities associated with the building or the institution. That's not bad, it's just not necessarily inclusive of all the attributes of truly living a life of following after Jesus.

3. Carla and I have been participating in what some would call a house church or simple church. We meet at various times in homes and don't come with a set agenda. Everyone participates as the Holy Spirit leads. Sometimes we sing, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we have in depth Biblical study, and some times we don't. Sometimes we spend considerable time in prayer, and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we share food, and sometimes we don't. The commonalities however are that Jesus is leading us and that we are all glorifying God and edifying one another. Our hope is to begin to invite others (not those already attending an institutional church, but those not yet on a journey of following Jesus) to join us.

I hope this helps. Thanks for the thoughtful and challenging feedback. I'm blessed to call you a brother in Christ and honored to walk the journey with you. Thanks for your faith and faithfulness that inspire me and others!

Mark Heotzler said...

I hear ya bro. What about accountability? Who is keeping you and your "home church" accountable? I am not so in-tune with the home church movement but I am just curious as to how you and Aunt Carla do that. Keeping each other accountable and keeping your home church accountable seem like two different realms. Is it dangerous to have a church made up of a close knit group like family and close friends? Just curious for your feedback.

Brett said...

Again, excellent questions. First of all, our church is called the Church of Ultimate Light and Transformation (CULT for short). OK, that was a joke. Of course our church is called Brettway. We just do things my way and it seems to work. OK, that was a joke too.

In reality, this is one of the pitfalls of doing church this way. Our current accountability comes from a couple of different avenues. First, I'm still ordained as a Untied (oops, I mean United) Methodist pastor and am therefore still accountable to the UMC as a whole. Secondly, I have been meeting regularly with the pastor of the church in our neighborhood where we have recently attended. Thirdly and perhaps most profoundly, is through conversations and dialogue with fellow brothers and sisters such as yourself. We continue to pray and seek the Lord about His direction and will for us and how we don't become isolated, or worse.

On a related note, I think two things are noteworthy when considering this question. While it isn't a bad concept, accountability is not a Biblical term per se and is not, in some senses, even a Biblical concept in the way we use it today. Whether or not we're connecting to the body of Christ as a whole is a much larger issue.

Secondly, the organized institutional church in America itself has a pretty poor record for accountability. I don't believe that the institution or structure as it stands is necessarily the answer in totality.

Again, I hope this helps. I'm blessed by your interest and your challenges!