Tuesday, October 21, 2014

“Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not go to Church, let’s be the Church.” — Bridget Willard

I have served as a pastor in some very beautiful churches if you judge them by the buildings and their architecture and setting.  I have served in churches that were very popular for weddings of people who never worshipped there because of the beauty of the sanctuary.  But the churches I remember best are the ones where the people WERE the church in the community.  One church didn’t even have a true sanctuary but made do with the fellowship hall—for decades and they are still doing it.  Most of us think of a building when we hear the word “church” which came from the Scottish word “kirk” back in the fifteenth century.  The word in the Bible that is translated as “church” is the Greek word “ecclesia” which does not mean a building.  Ecclesia means the people called out for a special purpose—called out of their homes and businesses to do things that would benefit the entire community.  It is this word that really means church and has nothing to do with walls and pews and stained glass.  Here we have 24 churches and only six of them have buildings and three of those are just mud blocks stacked up with a thatch cover.  These mud churches are often destroyed during the rainy season but the members cheerfully rebuild them as soon as the dry season begins.  We have an expression in Swahili here we use for church which means “praying under a tree.”  We need the tree for shade because of the heat.  In the picture of the church in Muranda at the right you can see how the people try to sit in the shade and only the children have to suffer the sun.  Christianity is growing faster in Africa than anywhere else in the world.  In the U.S., studies show that about 60% of people join churches because members invited them.  About 30% join because of the building.  Pastors shouldn’t have big egos because only about 6% join because of the pastor.  Here, almost 100% join because the church is where they hear about God, Christ, love, hope, and forgiveness.  They are very happy and sing God’s praises for most of the service.  Many have to walk at least five or six kilometers (about three miles) just to get to church.  We started a church at the village of Kabainja with one tree and five tarps to make shade.  One of the members had been walking almost twelve kilometers every Sunday to attend at a nearby village and begged us to begin a church in his village.  He promised us that people would come.  We went out on the appointed Sunday and even had to use GPS to find the spot as no roads were in existence.  There were over 100 people waiting in the shade of one tree with the tarps tied to it and to poles.  I personally baptized 82 new Christians that day, and after being baptized, each one went over to Karen who would lay her hands on them and bless them.  It took a long time but was well worth it.  The church now has about 160 members and still is meeting under the tree.  The church here exists to serve the community through its members.  I think that’s always how it was supposed to be.  One small church I pastored in the U.S. was voted church of the year for its size one year because of the amount of time and money the members spent on others.  The food pantry they established that year is still operating over fifteen years later and has expanded.  If your church is defined by its walls and architecture, it is not really a church.  If the people in your community know of your church because of its service to others as well as its own—that’s a church.  Any church, no matter how big or how grand can become outreach centered and driven.  That’s not a decision the pastor makes, that’s a decision the members make.  If your church is not living for others, it is probably dying.  Sadly, every year churches are closed and the buildings sold, but the true church can never be sold because it is living and breathing in the hearts of those who love Christ.  Take a good look at the church in the picture on the right because it is not the tree or the cornstalk temporary walls that make it live—it’s the people, old and young who meet Christ under that tree and carry him to others in their hearts.  It is the way “things sposed to be” to quote an African/American preacher I once knew.  
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