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
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
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
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.