Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How Did We Get Here?

Driving up to the building brought excitement to Aaron and Ellen. They had been looking for a church family to belong to for several months. They had visited many churches in their area from mega churches to churches with many seats and few people. In each and every experience, they felt like outsiders as they sat among brothers and sisters. Here they were again, pulling up to a building hoping that this experience would be different. They had been told about this church by some friends and it all sounded wonderful, but so did the last six churches they tried.

As they walked in the door Ellen noticed that the decorations were done very tastefully and Aaron noticed that there was some free coffee and snacks. They were greeted by another couple who introduced themselves and they exchanged pleasantries. As Aaron and Ellen stacked their plates with finger foods, they faded into a corner and watched. They overheard several conversations of friends who were catching up on their week, how prayers were being answered, how their jobs were going and how their favorite reality show was going down. The people in this church seemed nice enough, but just like other churches they had attended, they felt left out and that others were more interested in their old friends than making new friends. As they sensed the others moving to a more formal setting they hoped that the music, energy and teaching would fill the longing in their hearts.

Everyone was welcomed and the singing began, the worship flowed, ministry to one another took place through the music and some personal interaction. Someone shared a section of Scripture, another said a prayer and more singing was enjoyed. As the time of worship softly ended a transition took place to a time of learning from the Bible. As church ended and people began heading for their cars there were a couple of hugs given to Ellen and Aaron from a lady who encouraged them to come back next week.

During their drive home Ellen asked Aaron if he sensed the Lord drawing them to this community of believers and also how he enjoyed the whole experience. Aaron said, “You know, I really was hoping that this House Church experience would have been much different than it was. For me, it was little more than church gone miniature. I think the Lord had much more in mind for His church.”

I hope you were surprised to learn that this fictitious couples experience took place at a house church. “How did we (the church) get to such a place” has been a question raging in my own mind and heart lately. I think most people would agree that during Jesus’ three and a half years on earth, that he had one continuous church experience with His disciples. If you agree, notice that almost none of what happens in churches today took place with Jesus and His disciples.

Large highly organized ‘services’ were unknown to Jesus and His followers. Focusing on how people feel and how comfortable they are was not on their radar. Large crowds are a marker of a successful church these days but Jesus often left large crowds to talk with His disciples privately and moved out to take new ground (Mark 1:29-38). Passive crowds of people waiting to be fed spiritually processed food did happen in Jesus’ ministry, but He never seemed to organize them or make them His main ministry. His message was always one of pushing people out to take His good news to others...even when He was working with brand new believers (Mark 4, John 4, John 9, Matt. 4:19, Acts 1:8).

When I look at how the church in the Book of Acts and throughout the Epistles interacted and were encouraged to conduct themselves, I begin to ask how did we, the church, indeed get to where we are today; one hour passive services, programs, slick marketing and consumer driven ministry? I also wonder how organic or house churches can look so familiar to the one in my story at the beginning of this blog? I’ll interact with those questions next time, but I’m curious, what do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I think in any "organized" or "scheduled" form of gathering there are 2 dynamics that often occur. It depends on which side of the proverbial coin one is on (I've been on BOTH many times).

    One is the dynamic of familiarity and comfort. Especially in established, long term groups, a sort of thick membrane develops around the cell (the core group of regulars). It isn't malicious or done on purpose, it just develops as a group meets with the same ones pretty much every week. It is, perhaps, stable or stagnant, as the case may be and people maybe forget what it's like to be the "new kid".

    The second dynamic is one of expectation on the part of the visitors. In a "church hopping" scenario it is easy to get into the "What do I get out of it?" mentality. If we feel like outsiders, then that's what we will usually be. We think it is up to "them" to make US feel welcome, warm and fuzzy. So, after a while, it is expected that this group will be the same as all of the rest. And, most likely, it turns out to be.

    My journey has been full of both experiences, being the "regular" and being the "visitor". Most of the instructions given to the Church in the Bible on how to act toward one another is individual not collective. If I want to be treated as family and not an "outsider" it is up to me to act accordingly. If I want to be acknowledged, I need to speak up, to mingle, to interject myself into the equation. It is up to ME more than "them".

    House churches are really not that different from regular churches in most respects. Because, more often than not, the Church doesn't show up ready to worship, encourage and minister as it should sometimes. When It does, it is out of this world though.

    I wish I could say I practice what I preach, but too often I don't extend common courtesy and embrace new folks as well as I should. My human nature wins over divine command much too often. But, my journey is not over and I can keep on working at it.

    As to the reason the churches of today are like they are, many smarter than I am have written volumes on it. Our society is very anti-Christ in many venues, sadly including the church.

    But I am not discouraged, not disillusioned, not deterred from continuing to let God help me figure out how to participate in the change He is making. We need to transition from church to Kingdom. I believe that is what God is doing with those who have ears to hear.