I thought some of you might be interested in this exchange with a brother today from Australia…
Quite seriously Wayne I can see your point of being the church no matter where we are or go without being committed to anywhere. But extend that premise to the extreme with no one committed anywhere. The Church would lose its presence in the earth, it would be over run. There would be literally no good works being done by corporate bodies who can with all due respect do far more than a lost of disgruntled fragmented people?
I’ll take your challenge and imagine the extreme in a moment. But first, don’t you think you set up a false dichotomy here? On the one hand you see people who meet in building to be committed and doing good works, and those who have taken distance from such gatherings as lost, disgruntled and fragmented? Is that really fair? Even some of the most passionate folks I know who embrace our institutional structures admit that only 10% of the people there do 90% of the work and contributing to let them happen. And the folks I know who are living outside such structures are incredibly active in their pursuit of God’s life, their relationships with other believers and their passion to make God known in the world. According to George Barna’s book, Revolution, they give more in time and money on average than those who attend. What’s more they have connections across broad spectrums with other believers, and many have pointed out that the gatherings in buildings on Sunday mornings make it the most fragmented hour in our culture by age, race, and economic status.
But let’s take it to the extreme as you suggest. Let’s say today everyone stops attending our Sunday (or Saturday) morning institutions. Would the Church lose its presence in the world? I don’t think so, and in fact I think you could argue that it would have both a greater and more effective impact. Admittedly there would be some chaos with so many support staff out of work, and dealing with buildings that would be difficult to sell, but once we got through all of that, I am convinced the church would take on a GREATER presence in the world. Our world wouldn’t have a daily reminder driving down their streets how fragmented Christianity is into its various institutions because people simply wouldn’t learn how to love each other they way they are loved by God.
Those who really love Jesus would find themselves liberated from all the machinery that consumes a huge amount of time, energy and resource and find their lives in more spacious places where they would have time to get to know and love their neighbor, their colleagues at work and people they pass on the street. Admittedly that wouldn’t be everyone’s response, but the reason I don’t fear people not being ‘committed anywhere’ is that they will get to find out just how committed to Jesus they really are. And that’s good for them and good for the world. Many Sunday-attenders have no idea they are missing out on what it means to be truly committed to Jesus. They think that attending a service and dropping some coins in the offering basket validate the depth of their faith. Yes, some would end up disgruntled and fragmented, but they wouldn’t be mistaken for those who really ‘get’ this journey and live in the increasing reality of being transformed by Jesus.
To survive, people would have to become more active in their faith, seeking out opportunities for growth, for relationship and for sharing God’s life in the world. They would lose the passivity that allows people to sit through a meeting on Sunday and live unchanged the rest of the week. New believers would be taught to know the Lord in small groups who share the life of the family together, rather than as cogs in a big machine. And we would have so many more resources to do whatever God might ask us to do, like reach out to AIDs patients, build hospitals in third world countries, feed the poor or host an outreach in a local park where others might come to know him. Leaders would emerge not by their education, vocation, or ability to draw a crowd, but because they have a gift to help people grow and live hospitably so that they actually come in contact with real people.
In summary, the Church would take on a greater presence in the world just because of the number of active believers scattered throughout it every day to make him known. And it would be more authentic as well, since it would be Jesus demonstrating himself through transformed lives, which I think is far more powerful than ornate buildings, spurious TV preachers, or the excesses and failures of our institutional leaders today.
So I guess I don’t agree with your premise, neither would I be so hopeful as to every think even a majority of people will ever give up their Sunday morning custom. Too many people find comfort there, and there’s quite a financial industry now based on its perpetuation. And yes, God will continue to use it to work in the world, because he is gracious to use whatever we give him. But at some point the value of it is overrun by its liabilities, which are many and vast. This life is so much easier learned in the joy of a spiritual family, rather than the rigid programs of an institution.
I think Jesus saw it that way too, which is why he didn’t leave us with the institutional instructions.
Or so that’s how I see it…