If I could sing like Joe Cocker, I would tweak the lyrics into a spiritual lament... and belt it out like only he could.
Carol and I watched a staggeringly beautiful documentary on how galaxies work, based significantly on what we know now about black holes. I was blown away by the symmetry of it all... order, consistency... even at that magnitude. It makes the Psalmist’s words, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1), seem like understatement.
Meanwhile, back here on our pale blue dot in the Milky Way, we call pandemics and elections events of epic proportion. The Bible always exhorts us to look up... but we catch ourselves barely trudging along, with furtive glances skyward from time to time.
Everything about what is happening in our tiny world points to a God who is in control... one who wants to get our attention... one who wants us to find the redemption and eternal life he has provided for us through the sacrifice and resurrection of the Son of God.
Knowing this makes me want to howl and sing... like the best blues singers on the planet... “unchain my heart—set me free”.
What a great time to dream!
There has never been a better time to start the ball rolling on newness, freshness, unencumbered-ness than now. I wonder if we might be missing the point? “Getting back to normal” may not be God’s main concern for us right now. The Gospel of his glory is eternally his concern. Are we completely on board with that?
Staying on mission means we are all about people—all people—relationships, loving, nurturing, praying, empowering, and facilitating. All of us together, with our gaze fixed on the God of glory... being transformed into the image of the Son. There is a lot of stuff we think we need—but that we don’t need—in order to see it happen. Church that is stodgy and resistant to change does not resemble a Book of Acts kind of church.
We consider church to be the assembly of God’s people in particular localities. We say the people are the church, not the building... always to a rousing chorus of amens. Why, then, are we not—especially in the midst of a pandemic—better at doing church without a building? Why are we so determined to “get back to normal”... back in our places?
We have little precedent for it in the United States today, but church in much of the rest of the world is not like church here. What we have is never an option for them. Church happens in people’s homes. It could be lack of means to do more. But often it is just about raw Christian hospitality. Sometimes church happens in homes because they have to gather clandestinely. Getting caught doing church can mean being evicted from their apartment building, imprisoned, or worse.
But consider this: some of us have discovered we like it this way! We would turn down a church building even if you tried to give us one.
Have you ever experienced church without a church building?
I counted it up once. Linda and I loved church in our home. Our longest uninterrupted stretch was 27 years. For Carol and Milt also, home and hospitality were a vital part of their ministry in Japan.
We never felt obligated to work this way... it was our vision... and it felt like the opposite of constrained or limiting... it felt like... unchained... set free! No formalism and empty traditions... no mortgage payments and maintenance issues... no confusing the meeting place with words like “church” or “temple”... no temptation to call building projects and building maintenance “working for God”... no blurring the line between being religious or following Jesus.
What if you had entered this pandemic season as a building-less congregation? For you, adjusting to the new norm would have been nearly effortless and with a minimum of controversy. You would have looked more like church in the 1st century—and that might be a good thing.
I wouldn’t dare to advocate for radical change in longstanding customs for doing church. It would be unfair to people who have settled into the churchiness we have provided for them to suddenly dismiss the only way they have known for doing church. It would only provoke confusion and discouragement.
So... I have a dream...
What could building-less church look like?
It might hone in more effectively on relationships, discipleship, active community, deeper interpersonal commitment, and empowerment of small groups to help them “be all they can be.” By that I mean the birthing of baby churches, permission to dream and trust God for growth into adulthood... as in autonomous and self-propagating, with dependable truth-talkers known for their integrity... safer face-to-face meetings through smaller gatherings of people who are masked and committed to safe behavior the rest of the week... because continuing to meet together is that important to them.
If we could only look up... pray for an unchained heart... drink in the joy of watching others grow in pastoral love... and experience the excitement of outreach into the lives of the godless and hopeless... you know... those folks we generally talk about, but seldom to.
Part of ministry is about facilitating growth and letting go when it is best for growing the kingdom. Are we stuck because of our fear of lack and the upheaval that can follow on the heels of change? These are not good reasons to cling to the status quo.
The most enriching times of ministry for me were those seasons of church in our home. I wish more new efforts in church planting would give it a try.
God’s majesty screams through the galaxies... praying for more of the same in my life and in the lives of people around me.
Yes...! As of July 5, 2020, my book is now available on Amazon.com.
It's a new book about an old problem: the cross and the crown… the Gospel and politics… do they mix? Should they mix?
If my words generate some reflection and healthy conversation—as in more light and less heat—I will be satisfied.
For feedback or questions, feel free to use the email link below.
Greg grew up in Menomonee Falls, WI. His ministry began in 1976: 5 years in Central America, 37 in Mexico. Church planting and discipleship have been his passion.
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." -Matthew 13:44
GREG'S other BLOG
Concise devotions in Spanish and English, along with some lengthier essays… Designed for personal spiritual growth and to help anyone studying English or Spanish as a second language to improve their skills… Rev 14:6