I Don’t Believe You

“But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:24-26).

I think every church I’ve ever attended for any considerable length of time has made the claim (through a pastor, leader, or pamphlet):

“remember, the church is not a building.”

I would venture to say that it’s possible every single church has had that phrase uttered inside its walls, at some point or another. We are reminded that the church is a gathering of believers. We are reminded that the church is where Christ’s hands and feet are moving. We are reminded that the church cannot be contained. We are reminded, mostly, “the church is not a building.” And for my my whole life, I believed those people who said that. I nodded and agreed. For my whole life, I met with other believers in a contemporary, western church-building, my family tithed, and I was actively involved in church events and volunteering. And as I did those things, I heard hundreds and hundreds of times,

“remember, the church is not a building.”

But here’s the thing.

I don’t believe you anymore.

Let me straightaway clarify: I know perfectly well that the church is not a building. But I no longer believe that you believe that, when you say that to me. I don’t believe it anymore, because my life circumstances have changed. Because now I’m on the “outside,” even after always being told there was no “outside.”

Only a year ago I re-located back home after graduating college, where I’d been for two years. During my college time I visited churches regularly, but never settled down and claimed a church as “mine.” I had no car. I had no plans of staying in the area. I welcomed times of worship, prayer, scripture, meditation, and post-sermon conversations with friends. But I put down no roots; I did not seek a long-term church family – other than the one that formed naturally around me through my community of schoolmates and teachers.

When I moved back home, I came back to an awkward situation. I had never intended to come back permanently to the church I had been attending before moving to school. I felt a peace about attending there for a season while I attended community college and worked at the restaurant, in large part because I was an active volunteer. That was a situation of being blessed and of being a blessing, but I never planned to stay there. In fact, since my family moved states when I was almost twelve, I have never felt “at home” in a church I’ve attended consistently.

At least, not a church that was considered a “real” church.

Over the years I’ve participated in many things that were church, for me. I’ve met weekly, sometimes daily, with a strong and uplifting peer group of theatre students, where the concept of drama was absolutely second to concepts of Christ, fellowship, worship, and love.

I participated in a longstanding bible study, a gathering of friends and acquaintances, that was saturated in the Scripture and committed to constant prayer.

During those years, where the “regular” church I attended felt distant and the small home gatherings felt like church, I wondered so many things about biblical church. About how the first Christians really worked, and about how Christ told us to interact with each other. I read a book about home churches. I examined the modern standard of tithing 10% as an accepted rule in church. I thought about how people always said, “church is not a building” and how the Bible says “do not give up gathering with other believers” and many other things.

When I came home from school, it took my David and me some time to figure out where we stood about church, and what exactly we were going to do about it. We visited a few churches. I went sometimes with my family to one or the other church service. {And my, were my parents concerned.}

After a little while, we came together with some local young people in similar life situations (transitional, seeking, hungry, sometimes jaded, sometimes eager, sometimes doubting) and made a community. This community meets once a week, prays with and for each other, often eats together, worships when we can get our few instrumentalists organized on music, and participates in the Lord’s Supper every so often. We don’t have a building – just our respective living rooms. We don’t have a pastor – we take turns sharing what the Lord is teaching us, or sometimes we meet to pray and open ourselves to the spirit without a message prepared beforehand. Sometimes we dedicate nights to checking in with each other, or interceding for difficult situations.

That’s my church right now, mostly. Those are the believers I meet with, mostly. Not exclusively, by any means. But you get the idea.

And even when people know about this group, even when my parents found out we were starting this group, there’s that obvious hesitation. You see, we didn’t (and don’t) call it “church” amongst ourselves. We have given the group a name, Vessel, and refer to it as such. I often refer to it as a “small group” and some call it a “Bible study.” And so many people then proceed to ask,

“Oh, well, where do you go to church right now?”

Innocently, to be sure. But it’s there – the acknowledgment that something we call “small groups” are on a lower spiritual notch than something we call “church.”

Because those words are all about a shared jargon, really. I call it a “small group” to people because we’re not a 501c3 and we meet in apartment living rooms and there’s no pastor and no collection of offering. When we heard the word “church,” today in modern America, we picture: steeple, pews, hear a sermon, say “good morning!” or “peace be with you!” to a lot of people we don’t know and then pile our family back into the car and go home.

The thing is, that’s never seemed, nor felt, much like Church to me. This is Church:

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:14-16).

” They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:42-47).

No church is perfect, no matter what kind. Big or small, living room or pristine chapel. But I believe it’s about being a body with Christ as the head, with all members giving and loving and learning to work together and know the will of God.

But many would count me among the “nones” – among the mass exodus of young millennials who are leaving the church. Many would look at my life and urge me to attend a more recognizable sort of church, and they worry for my pride and rebellion.

Thankfully, not everyone thinks that. Thankfully, I am in good company. I know this, and am grateful for it.

What about you? When you say,
“the church is not a building,”
do you truly believe that?

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