Rethinking Church: Why are many lost inside?
If an average believer in this generation is asked to say what the church is, majority will point you to a building that they attend once a week, to sing and listen to a “man of God”. When you search online for the word “church”, what comes up is a building with a cross, sound systems and a podium. The seating arrangement in many church services is distinguished by two sections. Leaders who dress as “clergy”, sit on different kind of chairs and have their own reserved seating section. And other “members”. These are some but a few common elements that most Christians would identify as basic elements of a church. But does having all these plus large crowds of church members guarantee salvation and a slot in the Book of Life?
So really, what is the Church? I have been on a journey of really understanding and discovering what the Church is. Partly because I was once lost in Church and because I see the need to leave the next generation with a better understanding of the New Testament church. If we can’t define the church well, then it is impossible to be and model the real church.
It is not strange to be lost in church in these times. I know of people who just show up for church services just because it’s a Sunday. They are following programs and are trapped in the system. They were born there and found things as they are and continued without ever interrogating to find the truth for themselves. It will not be a wonder to find such people who are even not born again but attend church meetings consistently for many years without fail. I was one of such people, I was really seeking God, I wanted to experience Him but I didn’t find Him in “church”. I moved to a different church in a town hoping to find a different environment there and to my disappointment, I found it similar to my village church. I have since learnt and grown spiritually as God placed people on my path of discovery, people who have discipled me more holistically.
On a mission trip to an unreached area some years ago, I visited two local churches. These churches seemed different and very strange to the kind of churches that I had known back in the city. They were not like those that I grew up in. And all I could do is marvel at how simple church is. I thought to myself, why do we complicate everything back where I came from?
In the area where I currently serve among an unreached people group, church gatherings are very different as we try to make it as simple as possible. We don’t put much emphasis on systems, buildings and equipment. In such a setting, these things can sometimes complicate things and hinder people from really experiencing God as they should. If a Muslim visited a church meeting as we are accustomed to doing it today, he or she may feel very confused. They would find it difficult to enter the door with their shoes on and sit on chairs. The most heartbreaking part of it would be when such Muslims are sent to join a small group to be taught church doctrines or “new believers class” instead of being offered a chance to study Jesus in a contextually relevant manner. Our small church in my current location worships with locally composed music. We use local musical instruments and do most of the things in a way that the locals are comfortable with. However, the biblical standards are exercised in all areas.
I know of people who don’t attend church. They opt to stay home and worship from there. I have been in this position before and I understand it’s not safe at all. It is not recommended unless in areas where followers of Jesus cannot gather freely. But even then, fellowship can be done in other ways other than gathering in a building. However, considering the experiences that some people in the church have gone through while in a quest to know God, it is not far fetched to see why some people would decide against attending an assembly of believers.
I belong to the category of the people who believe that some things we do as church leave little room for those outside to actively identify with the church. They find it hard to engage with the church as we currently pattern it. This begs the question, is the church supposed to serve the people who are still outside the faith or it is the people who should adjust their ways to fit into our idea of church? I believe there should be no unitary way of doing church. This is because some of these practices and traditions are scattering the precious harvest. I believe the church should be locally based, in terms of language, dressing, building, music and systems. I have been to cultures where women and men don’t sit together in church. And places where dressing has to be different.
If we are serious about bringing in the harvest, we have to return to the basics of what a church is and discard or de-emphasize other things that currently take up our focus. Only then can the church enter the community and influence those who are outside.
****Peter Kale (not his real name) is a missionary serving among an unreached people group in Northeastern Kenya