I have been in church all my life. In my 36 years I have been a regular member at only 2 churches. The second church I was at for 17 years. Including my employment at churches I have been a part of 7 churches. The two I grew up in and 2 that I interned for during summers and then the 3 churches I have worked for as a full-time minister. I say all of that to say this: Church is extremely important to me. Let me say that even more specifically: The LOCAL church is extremely important to me. The significance of the church comes from a deep rooted faith, a faithful and consistent church-going family, authentic faith relationships with other church members, intellectual study (including formal Christian education), the word of so many church fathers, the Bible, and my personal experience as a member and minister with the local congregation. I love church! I may not always agree with what a church does or even always like church. But I have a deep, unconditional love for the local church. I believe in the church. I believe in it when it is flawed and I believe in it when it inspires beyond its perceived ability. So I want to take this blog to share some thoughts on church.
Second, I can only speak with confidence (and competence) of the local churches (congregations) that I have personally joined through membership or employment (for me I place membership even at the churches in which I have been employed. That may not be true of all ministers). I don't intend to offend or draw an inaccurate picture of church. Any time I talk about the local church I am simply painting the picture as best I can from what I have seen and experienced.
Lastly, I can only speak of church because of the divine trinity, the wholeness of God. Any church can be a church and have nothing to do with faith, God, or Jesus. We probably wouldn't call them a church, but nonetheless what we do inside our buildings and outside for the community makes us the church because of our faith and followship of God, Jesus, Spirit. Some think that when you focus something (a sermon, a blog, a class, a book, etc.) on the church that you are placing it and its ideals above God himself. That's kinda ridiculous. The church just doesn't truly exist without the Trinity.
My vision for the local church is to be a body of people who believe in Father, Son, and Spirit and allow the movement of the divine to change their physical world through a deep intimate relationship with God that draws those who choose Jesus Christ and His gospel and allows the push of the Holy Spirit to turn followers into disciples that make it their mission to extend mercy, grace, and love to ALL people repeating the process. Wow, that's a long sentence and needs to be unpacked. One day I will come back and do that.
For now this is basically what I'm saying. I want the church to be the place that encourages, teaches, and challenges people to live for God, one another (other Christians), and for ALL others. I want the church to see that through giving of themselves for the sake of others is walking the same path that Jesus walked. I want the church to understand that helping those on the margins isn't some ploy or strategy to get more people in our buildings but is a response to our world because our salvation is overflowing. I want the church to desire knowledge of God, but not allow that to overshadow a relationship with God and other people. I also want the church to live out the gospel because they are drawn to Jesus Christ and because He has entered into their heart it is changed to love more like Him.
I know this is all a tall order. But we were created in His image and I'm confident that the journey of these things is more important than reaching some finish line or goal. God is a creator and as He shapes and molds us, we wait for the day when He will do His ultimate Re-creation when Jesus is called back and all of creation is restored to it's rightful existence: Perfection. And while we wait for that great day, we are a piece of the restoration of all things...WE, meaning THE CHURCH.