While I’m an active duty Chaplain assigned to a ship, I have the wonderful opportunity to attend worship services as a participant with my family (as opposed to a pastor). When we moved to the Jacksonville area, we found a local church that the whole family liked a lot. The preaching is biblically sound, service style is similar to our background, and there are places for kids, adults, marrieds, and singles to plug in. So we committed ourselves to being part of the church as long as the Navy has us in the area.
But while I was deployed, my wife told me that the church was selling its facility and would be meeting in a school until a new permanent facility could be found. This wasn’t a problem or an issue for my wife and me. We had been part of “mobile church” that met in a school when we were in ministry in California. The people in that church are dear friends and we still keep in touch with many of them, even though thousands of miles and a decade have passed since those days.
Other people in our Jacksonville church, though, are not so cool with the change. There are many people who are plugged into the idea of the church facility being their home. I understand the feeling. It’s easy to get comfortable in a location and get to the place where your location is part of your identity. In the Bible, Lot and his wife had to pull up stakes and leave their home when God was about to cleanse the city. But, while God told them to leave and not look back, Lot’s wife couldn’t help herself and turned back. The Bible says that she “became a pillar of salt.” (see Genesis 19)
This is how a lot of people feel when it comes to church facilities. The attachment to the facility becomes more important than one’s place within the community. This hit our family this morning as my wife and I were trying to explain the concept to our 9 and seven year olds. They had heard that we were no longer at the old familiar building and thought we were going to be attending a new church. We had to help them understand that we are still part of the same church even though the building has changed. It’s the long-preached concept that the people ARE the Church while the building is merely a location for the Church to meet.
Our younger kids are slowly starting to grasp that concept, but it doesn’t come easy. Church as people is more abstract than church as building. While it’s understandable for kids to wrestle with this abstraction, it’s disappointing when adults refuse to embrace the idea. We get so locked into location that our very identities become enmeshed with the spaces our bodies occupy. This is MY church. This is MY pew. This is MY…
But that is not God’s concept of church. It’s disappointing when people who worship alongside you week after week say, “We’re choosing to leave the Church because it won’t be at this location anymore.”
If your religion is tied to one particular building, your god is too small.
If you look up the word church in the English Standard Version of the Bible, you’ll find 113 references in the New Testament. Each one refers to the group of people gathered to worship, not to the facility where they meet. The early church met in homes, in catacombs, and in Jewish synagogues. We didn’t really start to have stand-alone buildings until post-Constantine. This is why the Bible is so big on maintaining healthy relationships among Christians. There weren’t 10 church buildings in a given town where you could pack up and find a new option when you were unhappy with your current church leaders/service. The Church is the people, and people are more important that things and buildings.
I don’t expect to change adult minds at this point – most of us are too set in our ways to learn new ways of doing things (unless God grabs a hold of us and changes us), but I do hope to pass on to my kids the understanding that God shows up where believers show up to worship regardless of location. I hope to pass on to my kids the concept of remaining loyal to our local congregation regardless of changes that we may or may not agree with. I hope to pass on to my kids the notion that God is bigger than our buildings.
What do you think? Leave a comment and share experiences you’ve had with church as buildings vs. church as people. And then go ahead and share the blog post on social media. 😉