Church: Something More Than You See
Stop right now and think of the first three things that some to mind when you hear the word Church. Don’t hold anything back. Be honest. Be sincere. Be vulnerable. Be authentic. Be real.
What are your first three thoughts? Maybe feelings? Maybe experiences? Maybe ideas?
There was a study done about what people feel when they go to a church for the first time. Here are the five most common emotions from the survey:
Out of all those words, there are a lot of kinda negative emotions. But that is where we have to meet first time guests. It’s good that hope is nestled in there, but it’s telling that the other four are not so positive.
In fact, I hear lots of folks these days talk negatively about church. They say things like:
- Churches get political.
- Churches don’t practice what they preach.
- Churches are dying.
- Church is boring.
- Churches only care about themselves.
- This church is too inwardly focused and doesn’t do anything beyond their walls.
- That church is so outwardly focused they don’t even minister to their members.
- Church May be okay, but I can’t stand the meetings and committees and finances and bureaucracy of it all.
- I love the church, it’s just the people I have a problem with.
You no doubt have heard this kind of talk before. And who am I to argue. There is truth to all of these at different times in different places.
But allow me to add this: If the church wasn’t these things then it wouldn’t be real. It wouldn’t be authentic. It wouldn’t have the possibility for grace. It wouldn’t know resurrection. Instead it would be empty. It would be pretty, pristine and perfect. And if that were so, you would know it was all a facade.
There are some churches out there trying their best to look pretty, pristine, and perfect. They swoop people into the shiny, new, pretty buildings, the perfect record label quality music, the pristine looking people dressed to the nines. And it all seems nice for awhile. Until folks begin to peer behind the curtain. And they begin to see toxic culture and corruption, exorbitant salaries, tax evasions, mission trips that are little more than vacations. The masks that say “praise God all the time” but never admit the struggle, the guilt, the doubt, the grief and even sometimes the anger that we all experience from time to time. And eventually folks leave frustrated at the lack of transparency, the hypocrisy, the wasteful spending, and so on.
And I know plenty of folks who at the end of their struggle with church wind up at this place:
You know what? Jesus never wanted a church anyway. Jesus wasn’t part of a church. He never intended to start a religion. He wouldn’t want what we have created today in the church.
And on the surface that all may sound true and you may be able to identify with it because of your own struggle with church. But here the thing: These kinds of statements are evidence that we have forgotten what the church is and what it isn’t. We have forgotten God’s Word. We have forgotten Jesus’ message and ministry, forgotten his life’s work.
A few weeks ago, we talked about Jesus. The message was titled Jesus: Something More Than Your Personal Savior. I suggested that the church is part of this something more that Jesus is. Jesus is the church, people coming together through both the praise and the conflict of life to work out salvation each and every day.
You see, thinking that Jesus is merely your personal savior is a shallow, immature, individualized faith that has been promoted by Christians, by far too many churches for so long that it has led so many of us away from the church. If Jesus is my personal savior, and salvation is something I can posses (I am saved), then what do I need the church for? I don’t need it cause I already have everything I need in Jesus. So when the tough stuff of stress and conflict and disagreement arise within their church, people leave and never come back. They enter this mindset that they are the church without the actual church. That by going out and doing and serving and following Christ’s teaching on their own somehow they are the church more than the church is the church.
But look, before you think you can just go out and be the church on your own, remember this: It was Jesus idea to get together, not ours. We did not invent the church. Jesus did. Jesus built the church. And as scripture says he built it not with brick and mortar, but with people, specifically he said to Simon, son of Jonah, you are a rock, and on the rock that is you, I build my church.
And brothers and sisters, you and me, we are Simon. Jesus looks upon us just as he does upon Simon and says,
You are a rock. And on you – yes you! – my rock, I build my church.
So, you wanna follow Jesus? Wanna want to be a Christian, want to claim Christianity as your faith? You want salvation? You want the inheritance promised by God to you? You want to accept the invitation of Jesus to be your savior? Then listen to Jesus: “You are my rock on which I build my church!” That is a call you accept when you choose to follow Christ.
So for those disillusioned folks out there, listen, I give you this one: Stop attending church. Seriously, stop it! Instead, start being the church! Listen to me now. I didn’t say don’t show up here on Sunday or Wednesday or Thursday or Tuesday and stay home. I said stop just attending and start being, start living, start becoming, start serving, start living. Because…
Church is when we gather together to be the body of Christ.
Church is when we sing and pray and listen and work and worship together.
Church is when we praise together and when we cry together.
Church is both the good and the bad.
Church is when we fight but stay together.
Church is when we are hypocrites together trying to overcome our hypocrisy.
Church is when we preach one thing, do another, but keep trying again and again to do the thing we preach.
Church is when what was fresh and living becomes stale and dead and so we search for resurrection together.
Church is all the beauty and all the ugly of us taking up Jesus’ commission to be the rock, to be the church
You cannot do that alone.
You cannot do that without struggle.
You cannot do it without frustration.
You cannot do it without politics.
You cannot do it without taking care of those inside.
You cannot do it without taking care of those outside.
You cannot do it without getting together with other people.
Jesus bore witness to this as he gathered together the disciples and started his church with them, as he expanded his church to the masses who gathered again and again to hear the good news through his preaching and his acts of mercy and service. Not only does Jesus bear witness to the absolute need of the church, so does the rest of the New Testament. Pretty much every book after the gospels is about the work of the church – the good the bad the beauty and the struggle.
So if you think the church isn’t biblical, if you think Jesus didn’t start it, if you think Jesus never wanted it, then you have to throw out pretty much all of the NT. And when you throw out the word of God, if you choose not to follow Christ’s teaching to gather together and the witness of the early Christians to be the church, then, well, just be honest and say you don’t believe. Because if you want to get rid of church, then you haven’t to also get rid of Jesus. You cannot have one without the other. Jesus created the church.
And look: Jesus started the church with imperfect people. And that shouldn’t make us despair in frustration and dissatisfaction when things get tough or uncomfortable or tiresome or your burned out. Instead, that Jesus started the church with imperfect people should make us marvel at God’s amazing grace! God uses ordinary broken human beings as the body of Christ! God uses our conflict, our hypocrisy, our anger, and our angst along with our joy and praise and celebration as a witness to resurrection!
So wherever you are along your faith journey, come home. Come home to the Body of Christ which is the church. Come home to joy and ministry. And come home to struggle and messiness. Come home and be the church which shows the world what love looks like in the face of both the good and the bad. Come home to the celebration of success and the resurrection of failure as we rise up from the ashes of conflict and mistakes and messy lives.
Brother Carey Nieuwhof says it best as he describes what the church does when people are committed and loving and do what we have been talking about today. He says this:
The church gives the world a front row seat to the grace of God.
That’s it. Church is something more than what you and I see. Church is the good, the bad, and the ugly. Church is about success and failure, praise and struggle. Church is the joy of laughter and the tears of frustration. Because church is about resurrection – the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection within our daily lives. So that at the end of the day church gives the world a front row seat to the grace of God.