What is the essence of ‘church’ when you strip it down to it’s naked core? When you get below all the cultural trappings and stylistic garb we dress her in, what is the church really? We tend to focus on the external forms and activities of the church – buildings, programs, services, worship styles, liturgy, ministries. But what’s the raw essence lying beneath all of these other things?
One of the best ways to force yourself to wrestle with this question is to be part of starting a new church from scratch. For months I’ve been leading a brave Launch Team of people in the process of forming MainStreet Covenant Church in Mound, MN. Daily we’re faced with questions from both inside and outside our team that force us to wrestle with the true definitions of church, and offer wonderful opportunities to rethink and reteach people what church is and is not.
Here’s a sample of such mini-lessons we’re learning together:
Q: Where is your church located? A: The church is a community of people, not a building. We’re located where ever our people happen to be gathered at any particular moment. Our goal is to be the presence of Jesus every day, all day, where ever God has placed us.
Q: When will you begin having Sunday worship services? A: We want people to get plugged into smaller house communities (i.e., LifeGroups) to do life together before we start having larger worship gatherings. True community, or ‘church’, happens in smaller groups; and sadly many people have let Sunday service attendance replace real Christian fellowship.
Q: When will your church ‘be official’? A: We’ve been official since the first 2 or 3 us began gathering together in Jesus’ name to further God’s mission.
This week I’ve been letting Acts 2:42-47 strip away all the popular conceptions of church, and I’m convinced that these few verses offer us a pure description of what the church really is when you strip it naked. Here’s what we’re trying to build up at MainStreet Community:
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity —47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
Do you think this is indeed the essence of true church? Which elements in this passage have been well-preserved in modern church experience? Which elements have been largely missing in the modern church? Which elements do you most long to restore in contemporary church experience?