Tuesday, September 13, 2005

What is Church?

Yesterday I slept in past time to go to church. We decided to drive down to Orange County (sorry mom) to South County United where my good friend Mike Devries and his wife Jamie were officially named as their pastor. I love going to S.C.U because of the honesty in that place. It’s like no other church I’ve ever experienced. It’s a very small church who loves each other and makes it obvious. They started out talking about what God was doing in their lives and He is doing some amazing things.

After the church prayed and prayed over Mike and Jamie we got to hear Mike teach, one of my favorite treats especially when I run out of blogging ideas =).

He begged the question “what is church?” We all have a lot of things pop into our heads with that word don’t we? Different ideas come to mind, some good and some very bad. We often have this idea, subconsciously if not intentionally, that church is a place. We say things like “I’m going to church” implying that church is a place, a building that I am going to go to, it’s four walls with a cross on top…

“Church is not defined or confined in four walls…” “Church is not a building built… it’s a people connected” (Mike)

In my Exodus/Deuteronomy class we’re reading Genesis. Last night Mike decided to teach the first three chapters of Genesis 12. He pointed out something I missed when I read it recently. God’s telling Abraham to Leave. “Leave your country, your people… and your fathers house…” Each specification sounds more difficult. It’s like God is making sure that He doesn’t leave the difficulty of this command sitting in the fine print He’s full on putting it in bold letters… Leave, and it won’t be easy. God continues and makes these promises which reveal His heart. He says “I will make your name great” then He goes on to say something completely stunning, radical, life changing (if the first part wasn’t life changing enough), something I missed the first time I read it. God tells Abraham “All peoples will be blessed through YOU….” All peoples, He says… that’s everybody. God’s blessing is for everyone in the entire world not just Abraham and not just for his people.

The Church can be one of the most marginalizing entities in the world can’t it? So often we make the “good news” into “bad news.” We send this message that the blessing is for us and unless you join our club you get nothing. We limit the message to being primarily about what happens when you die and in doing that we say we don’t care about you unless your “saved” meaning “going to heaven someday.” That idea is sadly distant from the heart of God revealed to Abraham and to us in Genesis 12. If the blessing is for everyone, “all peoples” then it’s not just for the Church, is it? When God says all peoples that means everybody… can He be more clear? So it’s ultimately not about what we get that makes us the Church… it’s what we give.

“It’s about the Church giving itself away” (Mike)

Why do we miss that message so often in our churches? Maybe it’s because of verse 1… it’s difficult.

Sometimes we can lose grasp of the difficulty of the whole thing. We start thinking that we’re ok; we’re comfortable where we are. We sit and we dream and it’s good to dream but that’s all we do. We come up with all these great ideas of what it means for us to be the Church but we don’t do it, we never test it in our own lives. It has to work in our own lives, in our own “backyard” before we press our dreams upon the world. Now I may be accused of pressing my dreams in this post so I will leave it to you. You answer the question… what does it mean for US to be the Church? What does the difficulty look like? Dream! Wrestle with the question and then, the challenge is… DO IT… LIVE IT… be a blessing to everyone… decide what that looks like and do it. Remember that it’s difficult. Would we expect something so beautiful to be easy?


Last night Mike quoted Rob Bell.

“The church does not exist for itself; it exists to serve the world. It is not
ultimately about the church; it’s about all the people God wants to bless
through the church. When the church loses sight of this, it loses its heart.
This is especially true today in the world we live in where so many people are
hostile to the church, many for good reason. We reclaim the church as a blessing
machine not only because that is what Jesus intended from the beginning but also
because serving people is the only way their perceptions of church are ever
going to change. This is why it is so toxic for the gospel when Christians
picket and boycott and complain about how bad the world is. This behavior
doesn’t help. It makes it worse. It isn’t the kind of voice Jesus wants his
followers to have in this world. Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far
more helpful to ask why the light isn’t as bright as it could
be.” -From Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell

8 comments:

Teresa said...

God has been speaking to (Jim)about this and this week he came up with a quote, "Man see the building; God sees the Man". God gave me a great thing for our web-site. I am taking a pic of an old church building and we are tacking a note to the door with a note: "The church has left the building, won't be back, gone to the people". Of course, this is something that the Lord has greatly put on our hearts. Your friend sounds like a great guy with a great heart! Thanks WES!

WES ELLIS said...

"The Church has left the building"

great comment Teresa. I love the point you make. The Church is the people. Sometimes they meet in a building but the building isn't the Church.

Janette said...

fantastic=)
We should all gather with our church sometime this week, sometime in the middle because life happens between Monday and Saturday too, and experience each other. Ok, this isn't exactly original, but tacking a name onto it puts up guidelines that may unwittingly restrict the flow and freeness of the group. When was the last time we just got together and read the scripture? Free of analysis or study but more to appreciate it? Or how about sitting down as a group and praying for each person?

So yeah, I defintely think church should be so much more than once or twice a week, its a family!

simplejoysofpain said...

It's been very interesting experiencing different sections of the Church. I've moved to texas where there is a church building on nearly every corner - mainly Church of Christ in Abilene, with a decent scattering of Baptist.

It saddens me to see these churches pitting against each other to see who can get the most members. Each trying to out-do the other.

Church-going is something nearly everyone here grew up with. It is something you do, you go to class and then to service and then the potluck afterwards. For many of my friends its just habit, it is not the coming together of a family to encourage and support one another.

Oh dear, I was going somewhere with that, i stayed up way too late last night...anywho, I hope your week is going fabulously well Wes! I miss you!

Ashley said...
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WES ELLIS said...
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Kim said...

Unbelievable. I clicked on the link for South County United and realized that this is the place my son' High School Christian Athlete's group met at last year. Seriously small world, Wes. Seriously. I think we're practically neighbors...

Gayla said...

Great post, Wes. I remember my pastor commenting once that 'we will consider ourselves successful when you're all out of here.'