Betrayed by the culture we’ve created…

I work at a church… I get paid by a church.  That’s my full-time job.   Within me there is a growing uneasiness over the confusion about what this word means.  We use it in several different ways in our culture… 

Is ‘church’ a place you go, or something you are?
Is ‘church’ a building or a community? 
Is ‘church’ a business or a family? 
Is ‘church’ a gathering to attend or an identity to be embraced?  
Our culture has defined the word as a religious institution or business that offers a service to the community: specifically weekend worship gatherings and programs designed to teach people the beliefs of the church.  
I think the issue that I have is how different the biblical definition of ‘church’ is.  It came from the Greek word ‘ekklesia’ which literally means ‘called out ones’ but the common meaning of the word in the ancient world was a community of people that gathered or assembled in devotion to a deity or a cause.  They had lots of different ‘ekklesias’ that were devoted to different gods.  They also had “ekklesias” organized for political causes that people would assemble to discuss.
It wasn’t a building, a business, or a organization.  It was an assembly of people that included similar assemblies in other cities.  It was both local and universal.  
I see so much confusion the way pastors and Christians use the word ‘Church.’  I hear pastors use it in both ways, almost in the same breath.  I hear people say this all the time: ‘the church has to be run like a business.’  Really?  Is ‘church’ something that has to be ‘run’?  Is corporate America really now the model for ‘church’ leadership?  
The way we organize reflects what we really believe about Church.  This guy said it better than me: that the “Church” is a gospel community on mission, but in order for communities to accomplish a mission, they need to be organized.  How we organize says much about what we really believe about ‘the Church.’  In other words, the allocation of resources either supports or betrays our aspirational values and theology.  What ‘the Church’ calls its officers or leaders reveals a theology behind what the Church is supposed to be in the first place.  Where ‘the Church’ spends the most of its resources reflects an understanding of what it believes itself to be.  
How we spend our money reflects what we believe about Church. What does the fact that the vast majority of local congregations spend MOST of their money on one hour worship ‘services’ every week?  What does that reflect about what the “Church” believes itself to be?  
The language we use reflects what we really believe about Church.  What about the language that people use talking about pastors: they are ‘called to ministry’ as if a call to ministry isn’t a general call for all followers of Jesus?  And the same thing with “feeling called to missions work,” as if it was a specialized calling for a select few?  As Erwin McManus says “an honest evaluation of the dramatic number of callings that the church has created would reveal that we have found extraordinary ways of describing the overwhelming amount of Christless living in the church.”  
Sometimes I wonder if the Church has abandoned devotion to the Savior who died for it and traded that for an institution.   Do the solutions to our problems lie in business principles?  Is the Church something I should get a paycheck from?  Is that all the church is, at best, a ‘healthy organization’? 
Have we chosen ‘organization’ over life?

8 thoughts on “Betrayed by the culture we’ve created…

  1. To be honest I have struggled with these thoughts for years. I literally grew up in church. We went to the building at least five days a week, I even had school classes at my church. Then when I was 17 the pastoral staff at my church all changed, including the youth pastor. My family ended up leaving as well to find a new church. I had graduated early and was starting college, and to be honest I was done with church. After I went to Uganda in 2009 something changed in me. I think after experiencing the deep connection that Christians have, even when from totally different cultures, I began to understand "church" for the first time. When I got back from that trip I started attending regularly again, but I still didn't get involved. I don't think I ever experienced how wonderful it is to truly operate as a church family until I lived in Hungary. Since I have been home I have been searching for something comparable, and to be honest it has been a discouraging search. Right before I read your blog, read this post from my friend ( think a big part of the problem is that we have mixed our culture and the American dream with what a true church is supposed to be about. So this comment has turned into a mini blog post of it's own, so I had better end it. I think that the moral is that the "church" we have indeed created distracts us from the very thing that church should really be.

  2. Hey Callie … wow it has been forever since I have seen you! Sounds like you've had some amazing adventures since the last time we talked. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and I resonate with some of your frustrations. I hope I didn't come across as negative… am only trying to be critical and hopeful at the same time.You said : "the church we have created distracts us from the very thing that the church should be." I'd be interested to hear why you believe that and what specific things do you feel are a distraction… I'd also be interested to hear about what you think the Church ought to be! Hope you're well, and glad to hear you're back in the Valley. 🙂 Thanks for the comment. –Luke

  3. i'm still processing this post, but i couldn't agree more with your views on the evolved state of the church. i suppose evolution suggests positive progression, but i can't help but reading acts and thinking that we've strayed from our roots. lately, i've been thinking quite a bit about the idea of ministry, and how every single one of us is called to ministry, and how so many people fail to recognize that ministry doesn't have to mean working in a church. we're slacking, but i think we live for a god and a cause that's worth the discussion. :]

  4. You said : "the church we have created distracts us from the very thing that the church should be." I'd be interested to hear why you believe that and what specific things do you feel are a distraction… I'd also be interested to hear about what you think the Church ought to be!—————————–What are the distractions? Gadgets mostly, I think. Faded lights, fog, words on a screen…essentially churches put on weekly productions, meant to attract and stir something inside us that we like to confuse with the Holy Spirit. Please don't misunderstand, I certainly do not believe that the Spirit does not ever move people in these services, but I do know that many people confuse these things with worship. I have known more than one person who prefers large churches and big bands and light shows because they "can't" enter into worship without those things. That begs the question "is it really worship?"Why do churches have these things in the first place? Most would give the very spiritual answer of appeal. If it gets people in the doors and keeps them interested AND they hear the word of God as a result, than aren't the thousands of dollars being spent worth it? Maybe, if the church actually gets around to speaking God's word. It's a question that I can't answer, but I can say this; I am VERY glad that I do not have the spiritual responsibility, before God, that a pastor has for his congregation. It's a very heavy one and aught to be viewed as such. However, I believe, we are meant to GO OUT and reach people for Christ, AND THEN bring them back with us to our churches, teaching and discipling them in following the Lord. The strategy should be going out to people, NOT drawing people to us. I say "should be" with confidence because this is both what Jesus modeled for us and commanded of us. It is also the example of the early church. We should not care about being appealing to the world. We should not become a "Christian version" of modern society. We are called to be set apart, different, misunderstood and hated…with that as our calling it's no wonder that we mess up so easy.

  5. Callie thank you for your thoughts. I share your skepticism with large 'worship' experiences … a lot of times in our pursuit of having excellent production, etc, we unintentionally distract people from what its really all about. Thank you for your thoughts my friend, and I hope you are well! –LW

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