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Our Pre-occupation To Buildings And Meetings

Thirty years ago I was invited to speak at a local church one Sunday morning. I felt my message was relevant not only for this particular congregation but for the church at large. Now three decades later Iím convinced my message is more relevant than ever.

I asked the people this question, "if you had no church building and no regularly scheduled meetings, would you still have a church in this location"? Many would ask me why Iíd even ask such a question because buildings and meetings are a key ingredient to church life. Maybe they are to the modern church, but Iím not convinced they are to New Testament thinking.

Assuming you accept the validity of my question in the first place your answer to my question would probably be "yes". Of course youíd have a church without buildings and regularly scheduled meetings. My experience tells me differently. Without a building and regularly scheduled meetings most congregations would soon disappear. Why is this the case? Because we in North America have an unscriptural dependence to buildings and regularly scheduled meetings.

I know this will sounds overly simplistic but our attachment should first be towards Jesus and each other, not towards buildings, self serving programs, and organizational structures. We have organized and complicated church life to such an extent that I feel weíve lost the fundamentals of what the New Testament teaches concerning the church

The church should revolve around relationships between believers and their Lord, not around buildings and regularly scheduled meetings as it often does. Thatís an Old Testament concept. The centre of Jewish culture and religion was the Temple and what took place in it. But as you and I know the New Testament temple is you and I with Jesus in our midst. The relationships that you and I should be building should create a sub-culture, a counter culture, an alternative culture of people dedicated to following Jesus. We should be recognized as Christians not by what building we go to on a Sunday morning, but by the quality of life we live each our of the day.

If you ask a non-Christian where a local church is, he will most likely point to a building down the street, but thatís not the church. It is however the worldís understanding of the church, and sad to say, they got this notion from us. It would be nice if the non-Christian would answer this question by saying he knows some Christians who live in this house or that house. Who the Christians actually are and where they live should be more important than when and where they meet.

We in the church build relationships with one another for mutual encouragement and to provide a format for personal and corporate ministry that spreads the gospel and the Kingdom of God in our locality and beyond. We do this as representatives of Jesus because He is no longer here to represent Himself. We therefore donít represent an organizational structure. We arenít Baptists, Pentecostals or Methodists. We are a group of people spread all over who follow Jesus, working hard at representing Him to others. This is not always the case. At times in the past Iíve represented and promoted my church more than Jesus. In the 1970ís I said such things as, "come to our church. Youíll really like it. Weíre different. WeÖ" At times I spoke more about our church than I did about Jesus.

I know structure is important to church life, but we have more structure in our North American church than what the New Testament teaches. The New Testament teaches that there is "a group of men called elders" (not one man in charge) who cares for people. They have helpers called deacons. Within the church body there are individual ministries such as apostles, prophets and teachers. Thatís it - nothing else. Thereís no board to hire and fire, no denominational structure that demands conformity, no advertising and promotion committee to promote the distinctives of our organization - and no lots of other things as well.

I know buildings come in handy too. Iíve personally spent many hours setting up and tearing down sound systems because of meeting in a rented room. Iíve been the first to arrive on a Sunday morning and the last to leave, all because things had to be put back into place the way we found them. Iíve thought at times, "wouldnít it be nice to have our own place so I wouldnít have to work so hard". Yet, I know thereís people with financial need in churches today that canít be helped because the church needs the money to purchase and maintain the building. People should come first, even if that makes me work harder so others can hear me play my guitar with ease because of a sound system.

Iím also not suggesting that we forsake getting together. Iíve personally been in about 10,000 church meetings in my 55 years of life. Yes, Iíve counted. You could count too. Iíll give you the formula upon your request and I wonít even charge you for it. I wonder how much better of a Christian I am because of these 10,000 meetings. Really, Iíd prefer doing something in the name of Jesus instead of sitting in a meeting. Weíre all pretty good at "sitting in the name of Jesus".

This is only my thinking, and I know I donít have the whole truth and all the answers, but I think we need to simplify our church life. Put Jesus and people first. Thereís lots of ways of doing this, and its more Biblical at the same time.

I know of late many of my articles have been concerning the state of our church as I view it. I guess it has been on my mind because of certain things Iíve seen of late that are quite disturbing. But I am a teacher at heart with a prophetic edge. I strongly believe that the North American church has something to learn from what the New Testament teaches about church life. I see a need and the prophetic side of me feels the importance to address this issue with what Iíd call sound Biblical teaching. It appears to me that third world churches are in better shape than ours, more Biblically based, and more people friendly. Maybe thatís why some of these churches are beginning to send missionaries to Canada and the United States.

I once heard a pastor from Africa addressing a group of American pastors say, "bring us Jesus, but leave your North American culture and church life at home". I think that man saw something that we have a hard time seeing.

I feel we need to de-emphasize buildings and regularly scheduled meetings and put the emphasis on Jesus and people. This is sometimes hard to do when we have huge budgets to meet and a structure to support. But I believe if we donít begin to rethink the direction of our church life, Jesus may rethink it for us, and if He does that, it may not be a pleasant experience. Read what He says to the seven churches in Revelation. He had some pretty stern words for them if they didnít repent. Yes, He used the word "repent". These same warnings apply to us as well.

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