A great small group ice-breaker is, “When was the first time in your life you remember thinking about God?” That is an easy question for me to answer. My first memory of God comes from church. While my parents were not fully-committed Christians they did make sure that my brother and I went to Sunday School and church on a fairly regular basis. I also remember attending Sunday School and worship in the summers at my grandmother’s little country church. Those times were wonderfully enjoyable for me and I know without a doubt that was when I had my first thoughts of a personal, loving, just, all-powerful, and all-knowing God. I also remember that very early on, I learned that this great God is revealed to us in His Son Jesus Christ.
I suspect that most of you reading these words can point to church as the place(we will be reminded that church is not a place) where we first heard about or met God. Even if your experience of God goes back to a friend or family member, chances are that they got their knowledge of the Lord from a local body of Christ. And almost all of us have grown in faith through the church.
So, church is important! Yet I have seen a distortion of what I believe God’s plan for the church is and I have witnessed many unbiblical and unChrist-like expressions of the local church. I confess that I have sometimes contributed to this false church by sinful, selfish, and sloppy behavior. Yet, through the scriptures and in my own personal prayer time I have seen a vision for what this bride of Christ can be. I have also seen how God uses the church, in all her imperfections, to demonstrate Christ to the world and to draw people to Himself.
I was watching a Christian singing group one time that I knew a little something about the members. One was a former convicted felon; one worked in a beer factory; another was divorced . These people were ministering beautifully and were pointing to Christ in their words, music, and demeanor. The Lord was using them despite their imperfections. So does He use His church. We truly have a Treasure in these earthen vessels.(II Cor. 4:7)
There are some common errors that strong Christians and pastors commit on a regular basis. One is statements that refer to the church as a place. We all know that the church is not a place. There is nowhere in the New Testament that describes the church as a place or a building (except metaphorically). Yet we continue to say things like, “Let’s meet at the church.” Or “My church is on Elm Street.” This criticism may seem like nit-picking but our words eventually show our theology. This misconception of what the church is can affect everything we do as the body of Christ. The church becomes something to maintain—something static rather than dynamic.
A corollary to that misconception is the one that refers to a Church building as the house of God. I hear it almost every Sunday from pastors, deacons, elders and committed laypeople. Yet the New Testament clearly states that the church is not a building and a building is not the Temple(Acts 7:49). What this error does is tell us that God can only be found in this or similar buildings and that He is not in other places or He only visits other places but lives in the “sanctuary”. So we better be “reverent” in the church building but we can be more free elsewhere. I think you can see where this leads.
Before I am accused of contradicting myself let me say that church meeting places are important and special. But they are special because Jesus is there when believers meet there (Matt. 18:20) and He also dwells individually in each believer (I Cor. 3:16, 6:19, II Cor. 6:16). A church meeting place is holy, only because God’s holy people are there, when they are there. I have warm memories of church, early in my life, but it is the pastors, Sunday School teachers, and other adult believers who influenced me about the Lord, not the bricks and mortar.
So let the church be the church! Let’s not just go to church, let’s be the church.