Community fellowship--I'm not sure if church can be as simple as that, but there is something in my heart that tells me it is; something telling me to stop going to church and start going after the church. I am so intimidated by these feelings, not to mention frustrated and hopeful too. I don't want anyone to think the post I wrote or the ones to come, regardless of rantings, are church-bashing. My goal in doing these posts is to wrestle out my thoughts and to figure out what my part is in the church. In doing so, I want to make sure that as I discuss church, that although frustrated by the church organizations the western world has created, I am respectful of the church as a whole. Why? Because, the Bible tells us that the church is Christ's bride and I don't know any groom that likes someone talking smack about his bride.
In case you aren't familiar with the bride/bridegroom imagery, here's the back story: The church is not a building, rather it is the people that have admitted that they are sinful (have sinned and continue to struggle with sin) and have asked Jesus to be their personal savior (a.k.a., asked him into their heart) and because of this will have eternal life. In summary, church = people saved by grace (not a building that hosts Sunday services). 2 Corinthians 11:2 says we are made pure by him so that we can be presented as a bride to him. Ephesians 5:25-27 goes on to tell us that Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for her (died) so that she could be holy and spotless. Right now, this time in history, we are experiencing a physical separation period from Christ until he returns; it's like the betrothal period from ancient times when the bride and groom were separated before the wedding (kind of like the day of the wedding for us). When Jesus comes back, the second coming, (the first is when he was born in a manager) is when the church will meet her groom at a fantastic wedding celebration (Revelation 19:7-9). In the meantime, the church's job is to keep herself pure, church buildings could probably handle that, but unfortunately church people can't.
Despite the church's haggardness, her groom sees through to her beauty. When you think about it, even with our crazy and our issues, the church is stunning; a group (not like five or six people; rather a ton) of believers; all nationalities, all ages, all sizes, all abilities, all worshiping the creator God, all trying to love like Jesus.
We Americans, innovators that we are, have introduced the entertainment factor to our church organizations. It's like the bride of Christ getting her makeup done by Barnum & Bailey and hiring Lady Gaga to pick out her gown. Here's what I mean by that; church should be more simplistic. The church's beauty shines most when she is not trying to attract people to her, but when she simply seeks the Kingdom of God. Jesus said #1 love God, #2 love people, #3 love yourself (Mark 12:30-31). Simple. Not easy, but simple. The American church often seems to want to be loved rather than to love. They dress up and apply make-up in an attempt to attract people to them with: worship experiences comparable to rock concerts; refreshments like a Parisian cafe; over-the-top events, i.e., the biggest egg hunt this side of the Mississippi and come pet the chickens who laid them. Easy on the ears, delicious in the belly, and fun to attend. Yes! But where is the love? The new American church is focused more on Jesus' #3 of love yourself than the top two. Church organizations feel loved through numbers; attendance for services, number of programs established, money on the offering plate. If the numbers are high, the bride of Christ is looking in the mirror thinking she is looking good. Funny thing is, God isn't concerned with our outward appearance. He is all about the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). How is the worship, our snacks, and our clucky hens showing love to God or people? How is it seeking first the Kingdom of God?
Look, these things aren't wrong, but when they become the priority of the bride and they are self-serving it's hard for her to keep herself pure for her coming groom and that's our job as Christ's peeps. We are going to fail, we are human and we always do, but we still need to try to love Him and others before self. Seek the Kingdom first, not a church organization's agenda. Maybe instead special effects just short of pyrotechnics that accompany some worship bands we take that money and use it to love God by loving his people. Colored lights don't speak love, but paying for the medical needs of kids in third world countries does. Want to have a cafe that encourages relationship among your parishioners? Great! But how about using the money from that endeavor to hire some single mamas from the neighborhood to work it. Empower them by employing them and let then use the nursery during services as free childcare. I'm seeing some love! Event that is gargantuan for the entire community? Fantastic! (Not gonna lie, I still struggle with some of these events.) Make sure you don't have your whole congregation running an activity or executing "the plan," but have folks wandering around with the sole intent of talking and connecting with new faces and families.
Have you noticed the anticipation of a man waiting at the alter for his bride? It always gets me. When the music changes during the wedding ceremony and the doors are about to open to reveal the bride and everyone turns to see her enter in her splendor, I always look up front at the groom instead. I love to see him standing there in disbelief that this is his beautiful bride walking to him. The look of love is intense and no matter what has happened before this very moment is now obselote. That's what I want...for me...for us,his church. Because of his great love for us I want to do better. Jesus is coming for his bride and despite our often selfish failings he has made us pure. And for this reason alone, the wedding celebration is going to be OFF-THE-CHAIN. (Does anyone even say that anymore? Regardless, you get the point.)