Church-going or Church-being?
Do Christians “go” to church? What does a Christian do when church is “over”? These are questions I’ve been pondering lately. I’ve noticed how many fellow Christians talk about the church and their relationship to it. We use phrases such as “going to church”, “church-goer”, “church-going”, “when church begins”, and “when church is over …”.
It seems to me that the way we talk about the church is an indicator of how we perceive it. The language of “church-going” conveys an understanding of the church as a place, a thing, an inanimate object. “Church” is a place to go to on Sunday morning. It is an activity that we do for an hour each week. “Church” as place has very definite boundaries defined by the walls of the building or the property on which the building sits. “Church” is also bound in time. It begins when we step onto the property and ends when we get in our car and go home.
“Church” is what Christians do on Sunday morning; and perhaps Sunday night and Wednesday night. It is the place to go to have needs met. Christians go to church to be served by their pastor and, if it is a large enough, the church staff. The members pay their “dues” by putting money in the offering plates on Sunday morning. In return they expect basic services such as worship services that are relevant and well-performed, activities for the children, Christian education, weddings, funerals, and other pastoral services as required. After all, if we pay our dues we deserve good services for our money.
Is this a Biblical image of “church?” Is such a way of “doing” church what we find in the Baptismal Covenant? If you study the word “church” in the Bible you will find that every place the word appears (ecclesia) it references a community. Paul speaks of the church as a living, breathing organism: “the body of Christ” (52 times). The Biblical understanding of “church” is that of a community centered in the life, death, resurrection and coming again of Jesus Christ. This community is defined by faith, hope, and, most of all, love. It’s mission is to proclaim and model the
The Biblical depiction of the church helps us shift our attitudes and language from “church-going” to “church-being.” Scripture and tradition, along with the popular hymn, help us to see that “the church is not a build, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.”
The buildings we call “churches” are simply the places where the church meets for worship, teaching, learning, prayer and living its mission and ministry in the world. The church gathers to worship on Sunday and, when worship ends, the church scatters to witness to Jesus Christ in the world and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The "church-going" paradigm treats the church as a commodity to be used and consumed. It is a place Christians go to be served by professional ministers. The "church-being" paradigm treats the church as a living, breathing organism. The people that comprise the church are clear that their mission is to serve with Christ in his work of redeeming planet Earth and preparing it for the coming reign of God.
I'm weary of the "church-going" church. I long for a church that seeks to be the Body of Christ in and for the world.