She is Everywhere and She Is Glorious!

While on vacation in the Sierras a couple of weeks ago we connected with old friends we used to camp with in that area. The wife shared with us some pictures (one of which you can see above, and another further below) that she had taken on a trail we used to hike together. In fact, it was this trail over Potter’s Pass east of Huntington Lake that inspired the theme illustration I use in Finding Church

What if the church of Jesus Christ is more like wildflowers strewn across an alpine meadow than a walled garden with manicured hedges? Wouldn’t that change everything?

Maybe that’s why people get so frustrated trying to find his church, but they are looking at institutions, or home groups of like-minded people instead of simply loving the people God is bringing into their lives. The church Jesus is building is everywhere!  She is not a place or an institution; she is a real, living creation, and if we look for the people who express his reality around us, we’ll find his fingerprints at work.  The following is an adaptation from Finding Church

I realize such a seemingly amorphous view of the church will make many nervous, especially those who think it their God-given duty to manage a group of people on his behalf. The church takes her expression in relationships we have with others who are also following him—local friendships as well as international connections that he knits together.

We’ll first see it reflected in conversations where Jesus makes himself known. Some of those conversations will grow into more enduring friendships that become part of the fabric of our lives as we serve, encourage, and grow together. These friendships will lead to others, and out of that network of friends and friends of friends, God will have all the resources he needs to invite us to agreement in prayer and collaborative actions to fulfill his purposes around us.

Can it really be that simple? This is perhaps the greatest stumbling block to people seeing the church for who she really is. It’s too simple, they think, or too easy. So, they put their trust in the vast array of discordant institutions instead of the present work of Jesus. As we’ll see, finding those connections is difficult only because it is far easier than we dare to believe. In fact, you probably have those growing connections with people, even in the congregation you attend or have attended. I’m only suggesting that your interaction with them expresses more freely the life of the church than sitting in a pew watching the staged activity up front.

Admittedly this discussion about church is not easy to have. Most people want simple, clear answers to heavily nuanced realities. It would be easier to say that all religious institutions are bad, and smaller, more informal groups are good, except that it isn’t true. If we just had an organization that represented the one, true church led by the right people then we would know who is in and who is out, except that every group who has ever tried it has ended up arrogant and abusive in trying to keep it pure.

So, we are going to have to make a distinction in our minds between the church that humanity has attempted to build for two thousand years, and the community of the new creation that Jesus is building. They are not the same, though they can gloriously overlap on occasion. It’s just that our conformity-based structures cannot produce the internal transformation necessary for his church to take shape among us.

And as much as we have to see how our congregational doctrines, rituals, and structures can fail us, I’m not saying they are evil. This isn’t a matter of whether these are good or bad, but how we use them. If they enhance our growing relationship with God, great! It’s when they become a substitute for the relationship we lack that they are problematic.

I agree with the theology of the historic creeds and reading them inspires me. It is not our mental assent that’s important, however, but living inside the truth they espouse. Likewise, ritual can open our hearts into a wider world and help us reflect on him, or it can become meaningless repetition that only makes us feel more distant from the Living God. I’m not against structure, which is incredibly valuable whenever it gives shape to what Jesus is doing among a group of people. Everything I do has structure, from the books I publish, to the travel I arrange, to our work in Africa with orphans and widows. Structure is essential to coordinate people to accomplish specific tasks, but history shows us that no group structure can successfully reflect the life of Jesus’ church for very long. It happens subtly but, over time, people end up serving the structure. They become dependent on it, instead of following him.

In the end, however, no creed, ritual, or structure can contain the church Jesus is building. And strangely enough, neither do any of those things exclude the possibility of his church taking shape among them. Because the church finds expression wherever people are learning to live alongside Jesus in the new creation, it can appear almost anywhere at any moment.

The church isn’t something we can plant or build; we can only recognize it and make room in our hearts when she appears.

This book contains everything I believe about the church Jesus is building. I hope it is helping people get their eyes off the failed attempts of humanity’s doing, and see how Jesus is marvelously putting his church together through the interconnected friendships of people who are growing to know him. Whether or not that ever coalesces into a weekly meeting isn’t what’s important. It’s learning to be loved and to love others the same way. He has everything he needs to bring that family into fullness and life. It’s always been his job, not ours. And, I don’t have to participate in anything that is morally broken, condemning, or bound to obligation just because others call it “a church.”

I love being able to celebrate her reality wherever she takes shape around me, and I find her more breathtaking than any wildflower vista, whether it be in a conversation, a growing friendship, or a weekly gathering of people wanting to follow him.  Our task is only to recognize her when she’s there, and cooperate with his working however he may ask us to do so. There we will find community enough, mission enough, and discipleship enough!

You can get Finding Church in print, e-book or audio. For those who want the printed version for yourself or to give away to others, we are selling them from now through the month of September at a 25% discount ($7.99 per book, plus shipping).  For international destinations, please email our office for a price quote, since the online calculator is often wrong.

This weekend I get to wander in his meadow in western Canada (Calgary, AB and Kelowna, BC) to  see how his church is taking shape among people there.  I’m looking forward to it.

 

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5 Comments
  1. Debra D Elramey August 22, 2018 at 3:40 pm - Reply

    How beautiful, Wayne. Sounds like you love to travel. So grateful you traveled to NC and I got to me you. Hope to meet again someday. What a blessing you are to the body of Christ.

  2. Kevin August 23, 2018 at 9:30 am - Reply

    “Maybe that’s why people get so frustrated trying to find his church, but they are looking at institutions, or home groups of like-minded people instead of simply loving the people God is bringing into their lives.”

    I personally think that your above quote is key. I think humanity created and copied all the forms of rituals we see, based on a single person’s experience, in an attempt to duplicate God’s original response with the original and organic occurance. “God blessed…steve….when steve did…whatever….so now let’s all do that thing steve did so God blesses us too!” You are very gracious with your assessment that “God gave them a religion so He could win them out of it.” And since it says in the bible in places that God told them to do it, I see your point in playing it safe. The more I look into things, the more I believe that God didn’t give them religion to win them out of, or place himself in a box for a bunch of years, or that he required blood sacrifices to “go through symbolic motions” in order to cover over sin until a perfect sacrifice could be made which would satisfy him so he could remove the “death and suffering penalty”. Because while the religion was attributed to God, at the same time, song writers and prophets were saying things about God which were contrary to sacrifice, offering, ritual, and feasts. I think it was humanity who did not know the true heart of God (I want to make you a nation of priests who all come to me directly) and didn’t want to know (just tell us what to do and we’ll do it), and the beautifully loving and MEEK heart of God went along with the child’s play, and worked within it at the same time he was sending prophets to speak to his true nature and his true character and his true love and his true requirements. He let them believe in the tooth fairy for a time while at the same time He was growing them up in His truth. Looks to me like the entire OT is a contrast or war between mans religion and God revealing his heart through prophets and those who were keen to know Him and which would look and listen for Him.

    What is the church that Jesus is building? How, and with whom?? Look at what was recorded of his life: he was called a drunk and a glutton, and a friend of sinners. Friend…let that sink in a bit. Not a guy who targeted sinners as a ministry and humored them long enough to put a hook in their lip and try to reel them in. Friend. Do people even know what great friendship is?? Friendship which is blind to faults, which is not critical of behavior, which loves because it loves and not because it is loved first, or continues loving when it is not. Are we those sort of friends? Probably not. And more than likely it is so because we are still bent on trying to exercise our ‘rights’, and follow rules and rituals and the tooth fairy for kids, rather than becoming grown-ups and having something awesome, like love and friendship written on our hearts, into our hearts, by close, personal, often, and independent interaction with the One known as Love.

    The church Jesus is building is like playing baseball on a ball team. It is very much a team sport but it is also very much an individual sport. Each individual needs to have a desire to be great, paying detail to their individual game and not the performance of the others. Each one needs to focus and practice and take heed to coach’s instruction and give it their best, and when this is the prevalent culture of the team, individuals play the game well and the team is successful as a result. In that order. The team is successful as a result of a collection of individual dedication. Our job is not to worry about the team. Our job is to be individually dedicated to our position.

    The evangelicals have all the reason, all the knowledge, and all the resources to do church well, but in my experience out here in the wild is that it is the ‘sinners’ who are actually doing it and they don’t even know it. I don’t know where to put that after so many years of TRYING to make it happen in organized religious gathering and getting no where for long. At this point I would say that this is very much an organic thing which CANNOT be organized, and that organized is just a way for people to try to harness and control a premeditated goal. So what is the goal? Is it personal or corporate? I believe it must be personal with the result being corporate success, but we need not think further than personal. And I think that’s our biggest problem. We have the horse in front of the cart by having corporate attempting to drive personal along.

    Just my thought’s

    • Ruby Neumann August 29, 2018 at 10:28 am - Reply

      “The church Jesus is building is like playing baseball on a ball team. It is very much a team sport but it is also very much an individual sport. Each individual needs to have a desire to be great, paying detail to their individual game and not the performance of the others. Each one needs to focus and practice and take heed to coach’s instruction and give it their best, and when this is the prevalent culture of the team, individuals play the game well and the team is successful as a result. In that order. The team is successful as a result of a collection of individual dedication. Our job is not to worry about the team. Our job is to be individually dedicated to our position. ”

      I like this analogy Kevin… great perspective. Thank you for sharing

      Ruby from Calmar, Alberta (Not Iowa)

  3. Randy Smith August 24, 2018 at 5:33 am - Reply

    Tha church is us, PEOPLE, who try to obey Jesus’s simple words to Love God with all their hearts and to love others as we love ourselves.
    Let’s face it, any time we get together with other people we risk the chance of being hurt. It doesn’t matter if it is in a church building housing thousands of people, a home meeting with a dozen people, or sitting with a friend at your favorite coffee house.
    One thing is very important in all these relational situations, if we get hurt, don’t allow unforgiveness, bitterness, or resentment to grow within our hearts. If they grow they will lead us to withdraw and then cause us to judge others. We should always repent and have the Lord cleanse our hearts so we can then enter into loving relationships with other Christians and non believers wherever we may find them

  4. Ruby Neumann August 28, 2018 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    I like this excerpt you chose. Seems to sum up the whole purpose of the book. It takes a lot to change out the pronouns we use. From “It” to “She”… A big difference. One is a thing… lacking life…. an “It”. But “She”… This picture’s a living organism.

    I enjoyed connecting with the U-Church gathering in Calgary. I had a “wish” that I verbalized to Jesus, that I wouldn’t mind “bumping into someone” I knew, on Sunday, being surprised, not expecting… just “bumping into”. I often find when I “bump into” people that I haven’t seen for a while, the conversation flows easier and I am not trying so hard to have a fruitful dialogue. I “bumped into” someone that was part of a close knit community I was a part of almost twenty years ago in Calgary. We not only talked about our past connection, but also struck up a conversation about current events and our journeys . It was one of the highlights of the day. I knew I wasn’t going to make much of an effort to connect with “strangers” that day… because I live three hours away from most of them. But it was a treasure to connect with an old friend.

    Ruby from Calmar, (Alberta, not Iowa)

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