What do you think about when someone says the word “church?”
Answers vary, especially in first-world America, but they all reveal something crucial. For many American Christians, church is often associated with a talented worship band, an eloquent, inspiring preacher and a community to greet you.
We cherish our Sunday school classes, vacation Bible school and trunk-or-treats. We enjoy being able to listen to a sermon one moment, then talk with our friends over coffee the next, all while staying in the same building. Church is somewhere we love to be. It’s somewhere we can be filled, recharged and inspired. It’s a place where we can escape the chaos of this world and appreciate being with people who believe the same things we do.
It’s our charging station.
Envision your charging station—your church. What do you see? What fills your heart with joy and makes you want to keep going back?
If I were to guess, many of our answers would relate at least partly to one of the characteristics I mentioned above. Whether it’s the worship band or the pastor or the activities, there’s a reason we picked our church and are still there. There’s a reason we smile when we think about it.
Now, take all of those good things and imagine if they were gone.
Yes, gone, as in completely gone. The worship band? Gone. Sunday school? Gone. Small groups? Gone. Volleyball and basketball tournaments? Gone. Christmas parties and Easter egg hunts? Gone. Festivals and freebies. All of it, gone.
Now, let’s take it a step farther.
What if instead of spending an hour, maybe two, in the building, we spent the entire day?
Those TV screens at the front that project the lyrics and maybe the day’s message? Gone. The speakers that play the worship music? Gone.
What if instead of spending an hour, maybe two, in the building, we spent the entire day? What if instead of working through a couple pages in the latest book by a well-known Christian author, we worked through the Bible? What if instead of brief prayers led by the pastor, we prayed as a group for hours?
Just imagine it. Imagine going to church, knowing you would spend the entire day doing nothing but reading the Bible, listening to others read the Bible, worshipping a capella and praying. A few may give their testimony and you may share in communion.
It’s not normal, is it? No, it’s not, not in present day America, anyway.
But when you sit down and think about it—and I mean truly think about it—is there anything wrong with it? Is there anything wrong about having a church service where the people are constantly reading the Bible, praising God and praying as if their life depended on it?
I can hear some of you now, “That would get boring after a while,” or “I have too many things I need to get done, we can’t spend all day in church.”
And you’re right. That would get boring after a while and we do have a lot to do each day, especially the things we like to do. I mean, the weekend is only two days long, one for some. I get where you’re coming from and I often feel the same way, but that’s the point.
For many Christians—again, American Christians, in particular—the idea of spending hours listening to a sermon, reading the Bible and praying isn’t appealing nor does it seem like a good use of our time.
Doesn’t that concern you? It does me.
For many Christians—again, American Christians, in particular—the idea of spending hours listening to a sermon, reading the Bible and praying isn't appealing nor does it seem like a good use of our time.
We as God’s people, the very ones He chose in exchange for all the glory in Heaven, aren’t attracted to church.
Yes, you read that correctly. We as God’s people don’t like the idea of church. But how can we not like church? We just spent a page talking about all the things we love about it. The answer lies in the fact that our definition of church is not the same as God’s definition.
You see, our idea of church is a physical building where we get together with people whose beliefs align with ours (for the most part), listen to someone teach us, sing some songs, listen to someone else pray, have some coffee and maybe a doughnut, then head home to get on with the rest of our day. That’s our church.
What is God’s church? Turn to Acts, chapter 2 in particular.
Following Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross, His resurrection from the dead three days later and His ascension into Heaven forty days after that, we are introduced to the Church. Is it a building? No. Is it a worship service? No. It’s the body of Christ.
Yep, the Church was a who, not a what. The Church was wherever there were people who believed in Jesus. That could have been one place, two places or one hundred places. It didn’t follow a schedule, there was no start time and no end time. They didn’t start “church” with a few worship songs, followed up by a 10-minute sermon and a one-sentence prayer. The Church was worship, it was the Word (the Bible), it was prayer. But even more so, it was the worshipers, the students and the prayer warriors.
Church wasn’t something you went to, but the way you lived. It was God’s people setting themselves apart, devoting all their hearts, souls and minds to their Father and intentionally living so that everything they did was for His glory.
The focus was not on how the disciples could be served, but how they could serve God and others. The goal was not to cram as many things as possible into a 60-minute time window, but to saturate oneself with the Word and with prayer. The purpose was not to offer a discipleship class for one group and a prayer class for another, but to teach everyone the Word of God, a source which covers those topics and so much more.
If that was God’s original plan for the church, why do we not see that today? Is there any hope in seeing it again?
Yes, there is hope, but only by the grace of God. The Bible tells us God wishes none to perish (2 Peter 3:9). It tells us that if God’s people will humble themselves and turn from their wicked ways, He will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). It tells us that if we give Jesus our all, He will give us all the more in return (Romans 12:2-3, 2 Corinthians 9:6-9). It tells us that God desires our hearts more than any work or material object (Hosea 6:6; Psalm 40:6-8, 51:16-17).
Church wasn’t something you went to, but the way you lived.
The question is, will we take God at His Word and go back to the drawing board? Will we trust that His original plan for the church is what’s best and will bring us the revival our land so desperately needs? Or will we continue with the American model of church and continue to watch it die?
It’s that black and white. We’re either for God and His plans or we’re against Him and His plans (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23). God may want us to be like the early Church again or He may have a new plan in store for us—an “updated” version, if you will, for the 21st century church. Only God knows, and if we don’t ask Him about it, it will stay that way.
We have a decision to make, Church. Will we choose God’s way or our way?
English Standard Version Bible. (2001). Crossway Bibles.
This post originally appeared on County News Online.