Saturday, June 7, 2008

Church Re-Imagined

Is it realistic to think the church culture can change not only its image (which would be a great thing), but also fundamentally change the way it does church? I am concerned that if it doesn’t we are not only going to lose the numbers game but more importantly miss the whole point of the kingdom of God. The point as I understand it being to love God and love others. I want to live an open and honest life that is full of adventure and full of Jesus.

Some recent events and conversations have brought this once again to a heightened level of concern for me. Yesterday, having lunch with my oldest daughter who has (along with her husband) blessed us with two grandsons, she began sharing her views and feelings about church. She doesn’t like church; although she grew up in church she has little interest in its present form. She said that at church she got a picture of an angry God and a God who is distant from her, but growing up at home she had a very different view of God. Home gave her a sense of God’s love and acceptance, which of course made me feel good. By the way, her husband holds similar views. And her 22 year old brother feels the same way about church-life as experienced on most Sundays. They all love Jesus, but they are not overly drawn to the church scene.

If you read at all in today’s Christian environment you will know that this is not an uncommon point of view among the “twenty somethings” of the church world. Look around your local church next Sunday morning and see how many young adults in their twenty’s and early thirty’s are in the pews.

And then there was last nights cave meeting at my local church. (There’s a story behind the name “cave” for our meetings, but it would not interest most of you.) For the last few years (five or so) a group of guys anywhere from 5 to 15 of us meet together to share life in Christ. It is probably the closest thing to New Testament Christianity I experience on weekly basis. There are no sermons and no ties allowed. Just open sharing on how we’re doing and we discuss whatever we feel led by the Holy Spirit to discuss or we will make up something to talk about. It’s great and I try not to miss it. But last night one of the guys shared that we tend to dance around some of the more serious issues that we as guys face on a daily basis. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to know what those “issues” are for most men, but here’s what struck me as interesting. In the cave we attempt to be transparent, honest, and open about our struggles and yet even this group experiences difficulty truly loving one another at a level that fosters disclosure and confession. We are all afraid … of something. We are still hiding from God and one another just like Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3.

This is not church as it is supposed to be. To borrow a phrase from Larry Crabb, church is to be a safe place. It should be a place for broken people to come and find grace, mercy, and love. It should be a place of openness, acceptance, and genuine authenticity. Not a place where sin is overlooked, but where the sinner/saint is embraced, forgiven, and challenged to live in their new identity.

The Scripture most often describes the people of God as family. I can’t help but wonder if the “twenty something” crowd experienced church as family and not a business, or a formal event, or whatever makes it irrelevant to them if they would not be drawn back to it. Jesus is not building an institution, He is growing His kingdom and it looks and feels like family. Church is all about relationships, not positions and programs not even sermons and lessons. What if Jesus was serious and we really are not to run our churches like businesses and corporations (Matthew 23:1-12, Mark 10:41-45)? What if the church were to become more and more organic and less and less organized? I believe I can build a solid biblical basis for such a view of church as contrasted with what is in place today.

It is said by change agents of our time that only 3% of the population can envision something different from the way we have always done things. That being true, it will take guts to challenge the status quo of present day church life but the potential results, at the very least, will be worth beginning the conversations. And hopefully, we can move toward an experience of church life that will release the priesthood of all believers, engage one another in kingdom love, and become attractive to a generation seeking acceptance and relational connections.

Marvin Eskew
International Director of Christian Education
Church of God of Prophecy

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