Question: The Spirit compels you to enter a new city to establish a new expression of Christ's church. Where do you start? Or more accurately, with what do you start? Answer: A worship service, of course. In the words of Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend!” (My apologies to all non-college football fans for the obscure gameday reference.)
Neighborhood church has been gathering weekly since January. And our gatherings are not a worship service, which begs two questions. Why not? And if not, what are they?
Make no mistake. Worship services are great. In no way is our lack of a worship service an edict against them. We’ve attended worship services all our life. We’ve planned and preached in them for years. Scripture is proclaimed. God is praised through song. People are encouraged. It is a wonderful element of the church. But, hear this. Don’t miss this. Pay attention. Worship services are NOT the church. Far too many people, believers and not-yet-believers alike, mistakenly understand church as something you attend. A place to which you go before heading back home or out to lunch. We wrote about this in the blog, Going to Church.
The church--which there’s only one by the way--is Christ’s presence in Christ’s everyday people, in every place they live, work and play every day. The apostle Paul says it this way to the church in Ephesus, “And the church is his (Christ’s) body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.” (Ephesians 1:23 NLT)
There’s nothing new about this truth. This is not some revolutionary or heretical thought. In fact, I’d be surprised to find any pastor who would disagree that the church is not a building or worship service. We know the church is Christ’s people. But can I be the first to confess? We forget. We get caught up in preparing messages. We work hard to plan worship services. We use phrases like, “how many were at church Sunday?” or “I pastor the church at 100 North Main street.” It is oh so easy to slip into the mindset of church as location or worship service. This is why we have been so intentional in beginning neighborhood church with something else.
So, back to the original question. Where do you start? If given the opportunity to begin from square one, with what do you start in establishing a new expression of Christ’s church? For the people of neighborhood church, we’ve chosen fairly simple gatherings.
Our gatherings focus on training and sending. Preaching and singing certainly have their place. Hearing and verbalizing truths is important. But practicing and working to live within these same truths is essential. And so we gather around the tables to be trained by God’s word, by His Spirit, and by the experiences we share. We work to apply the gospel truths of the Scripture to every thought, attitude, motivation, and action of our everyday lives. We learn to pray for Christ’s work in our lives, relationships, and neighborhoods. We are equipped to understand ourselves as neighbors, seeing and seizing opportunities to love our neighbors with the love we ourselves have received from Christ. And we are not simply trained as Christ’s church. We are sent as his church filling our homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our play places with the life of Christ being formed and shaped within us.
Personal growth. Relational Connection. Neighborhood Engagement. Living in Christ. Relating through Christ. Engaging with Christ. For this we gather. For this we are sent.
Church isn’t something you go to; in Christ, it’s who we are.