What is (the) Church? (Part 1)

As the Lord continued opening my eyes to the things slightly skewed off-center in the church, He also helped me see the beauty of His design for HIS church. (And as an aside, this is one of the things we’ve come to see over and over again. So many of us, myself included, have made church about us and our preferences… and this goes well beyond our opinions about worship style and adequate child care on Sunday morning.) It’s no secret, I’m not a fan of the “seeker” model of church. I think the early church fathers would scoff at what we’ve made the Sunday morning service into. But, moreover, I think they would be scratching their heads at our reasoning.

When you look at church history, the concept of having non-believers at the gathering of the saints would have been non-sensical. The gathering was simply believers coming together for worship and communion. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the gathering intentionally excluded non-believers (but I could be wrong); I just don’t see much (any) attention given to their inclusion. Does it matter? Maybe. Maybe not. But, it’s something to think about… especially if their inclusion results in a deviation from the purpose of the gathering.

I once had a pastor ask me this question: What is your philosophy about church? What he really meant was, “What is the purpose of the Sunday morning service?” I won’t bother dissecting his constant references to the “church” as the Sunday morning service, or the building where it takes place, instead of the people entering said building and participating in the service. Culturally, we’ve created these deviations. He wanted to know my “philosophy” about the “target audience” for the Sunday morning service. His words, not mine. My response, “You lost me at audience.”

What followed was a pointed conversation about our objectives on Sunday morning. He believed our goal should always be 50/50: 50% Believers and 50% Seekers. First, I told me that I have a problem with the word “believers.” So did James. (I personally like the word “Followers” better, but it’s not about me, so…) I told him that goal was asinine, mostly because it wasn’t supported by scripture, but part of me also liked using big words in his presence. It annoyed him and I enjoyed his annoyance. (Not exactly mature. I admit it. Thankfully, I’ve grown up a lot a little since then.) After a little bantering, I said, “The percentages don’t really matter unless they affect what you say and do.” Then I followed up with this question:

“Would our Sunday morning services look differently if we stopped focusing on being ‘seeker-friendly’?”

I expected him to chew on that one for a bit. When I first heard that question, it took me a good 24 hours to wrestle through all the implications. It’s something to really ponder: Would we pick the same music? Would we offer as many programs? Would we allocate more or less time to outreach that takes place outside the church building? Would the sermons be the same? Is there anything we’re holding back because we don’t want to offend anyone? Would we spend more or less money (and time) on things like Easter eggs hunts and Trunk-or-Treats than we do serving the homeless? (And look… I have my own personal feelings about Easter egg hunts and Trick-or-Treating, neither of which I’m sharing because that’s not the point. I could care less what your conviction is. That’s between you and Jesus. But, the question is, are you spending more time and money doing the “fun” things without much (or ANY) attention to the ministries Jesus actually calls us to.

But, he didn’t even take 5 seconds to think about it. Out of growing frustration (and, I get it, I can be INCREDIBLY frustrating), in his most exasperated voice, he replied, “Of course, it would, but that’s not the type of church our elders want us to be.” And just like that, I was speechless. It doesn’t happen often folks. (But, interestingly enough, it happened quite frequently with this particular individual.) Over the next few years, I came to learn that bringing up the elders was like throwing down the trump card, usually used to shut down a conversation. But, my response has always been (and ALWAYS will be): What does Jesus want?

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