In recent years it’s common to hear someone say “the church is not a building, it’s the people”. I may well have written that phrase myself. The definition of what church is or isn’t is debated and refined until we’ve all got a pretty good working description. Often however, we still only see the “people” we believe the church to be once a week on Sabbath morning (maybe twice a week if we’re lucky). We still think church is only those people who believe the same as us and meet with us regularly and only when we’re doing church prescribed activities. We can limit who we think of as the church to those who share our particular cultural preferences for worship or even those who agree with absolutely everything we believe doctrinally (see cover feature on page 16 for why this is limiting). And we still go to church instead of being the church.
The other week I went to be the church instead of going to church and it was such a rich experience, I wanted to share it with you.
You see our friend is fighting advanced bowel cancer. It’s the first time I have seen him for a while and I was shocked at how skinny he has become. The disease has robbed him of flesh and muscle, but not his optimism and his smile. Thankfully he’d been well enough to return home and had moved into the granny flat at the back of his family home. As we crowded around his
hospital-style bed in the little pool house, his smile and positivity lit up the room. Although weak, his faith shone through his smile, so strong.
The service wasn’t formal or structured.
We went around the circle in the room and each family shared a verse, a personal word of encouragement. The singing that filled the room was as powerful as a packed auditorium of worshippers. Old hymns and choruses brought hope and encouragement.
Now some might argue, you can go to church in the morning and do things like visitations in the afternoon. And that’s a valid point. But with two children under three and with both the visitation and church being in different directions, sometimes you have to choose. We were debating what we would do, what we could handle. I’m glad we made the choice we did in the end. Being the church on a Sabbath is just as important as attending a church (if not more).
The church is not perfect. Many of us have been hurt by people representing the church and unfortunately, that will continue to happen until Jesus returns. We should not be comfortable with that, and we should continue to strive to be reconciling agents between people and God, be like Jesus and focus on introducing others to Him.
However, in the room that day I experienced the best of what the church can be. An uplifting, encouraging body that carries the injured part.
There are many expressions of church: from a small group in the highlands of Papua New Guinea; to young people sharing a meal in Wellington, NZ; to a kids’ club on a STORMCo trip in Cobar; to a bush materials church in Vanuatu; to singing and gathering around a pool house in Penrith.
They are just as valuable an expression of worship as a traditional, three hymns, a sermon and a prayer service. So let us as the church, continually remind ourselves that we are the church and that we have a role to play in serving, encouraging, uplifting, proclaiming and loving. The kingdom of God is near and it’s often found in the church.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day
approaching“ (Hebrews 10:24,25).