‘Cause i haven’t come for only you
but for my people to pursue
you cannot care for me with no regard for her
if you love me you will love the church
-The Church by Derek Webb
Recently, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the church; a sensitive topic, if there ever was one. Growing up in the church has probably been one of the better things that has happened to me, and I am extremely grateful for the blessing of being able to spend 19 years with people who honestly love God and love others. Because of my close ties and time spent with the church, writing this is not easy for me; I do so with a heavy heart. If I did not sincerely believe that the things that I am about to say have immediate relevance and importance, I would not say them. I can be an antagonist, but I don’t believe that is who I really am in my heart of hearts. Deep down, I have a burning desire to see the Church take her place in the world with grace, strength, and passion; being a light to those who are walking along this path of life. I humbly submit these words as a constructive critique of that which I know can rise to its full potential.
I love the Church. I love the people, with their energy and enthusiasm for Christ. I love the focus that the church tries to put on worship. I love the love that the Church has for children. I love the good that the Church does, both in the community and the world. I love the community of Christ that is created as people come together in humility to worship God.
I hate the church. I hate the way that it has become a business, a business of money and of souls. I hate how churches become more about what divides us than what unifies us. I hate the fact that only a small portion of tithes ever reaches beyond church walls. I hate the pressure that is put on pastors to put on a smile and act happy, even if they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. I hate how dissent is treated as a virus, and thus the person who has dissent is considered an anathema to the church. I hate the fact that people have turned their backs on Jesus because of the actions of his church.
It shouldn’t be this way, church shouldn’t be a love/hate relationship. My relationship with Jesus isn’t love/hate, though it certainly is difficult at times. Church should not be getting in the way of people meeting and running to Jesus. The instant that a church starts doing this (and I would argue that in some ways, it has) is the instant that said church begins a path towards setting itself up as an institution that takes the place of God.
For a long time these thoughts have ran through my mind, and I have tried to ignore them; cognitive dissonance, if you will. As these thoughts have become more frequent, I have been forced to ask an incredibly difficult question. “Is there a better way?”
I believe that there is.
The churches that are having the most explosive growth today are house churches. Really, house churches actually birthed most of the megachurches (eg. Mars Hill (both of them) etc.) that we see today. They grow quickly because the community fostered within them is usually genuine; and everybody invests time and effort into each other. House churches are relational, and contain many of the things that I have come to appreciate about church, whilst subtracting many of the business elements that I believe get in the way of true ministry.
Of course, house churches aren’t perfect, no church will be. One major problem that I have been struggling with, is that house churches tend to evolve into that which they may have been trying to break away from. One cannot help but note the irony in the situation where a house church forms to break away from the institutional church, but then procedes to purchase (with credit) a brand new building, hire a pastoral team, and deck the sanctuary out with all the new lights and sound equipment that money (or at least loans) can buy. House churches face a catch-22 in which success brings about an inevitable trend towards institutionalization. However, if (by God’s grace) we are able to plant a house church that is built on ideals meant to combat institutionalization and a growth model that does the same, perhaps we could be on to something.
Perhaps we could be on to what the early Christian church* called Koinonia (loosely translated: community).
In my next post I will try to lay out the vision that I have been wrestling through for a community that (hopefully!) worships God, loves others, and breaks free of the institutional church model that seems to have a stranglehold on American church plant models. I would LOVE feedback, both on this post, and the next one I write!
*Not to say I think the early church model (or what we think the early church model was) should be the end-all be all… there is always room for improvement in any endeavor where humans are involved…