the weblog of Alan Knox

Where do you go to church?

Posted by on Dec 15, 2007 in blog links, definition | 11 comments

Joel at “the double edged sword” has written an excellent article called “The Church – A Who or A What?” In this post, Joel suggests that the church is a “who” and not a “what”. He then examines how our language should change to reflect the nature of the church. He explains how our use of the word “church” will affect our understanding of the church:

Perhaps our nonchalant use of the word [church] actually truly defines how we see it – a building, a structure, an organization. Or is it even possible for modern day, positional Christianity to envision church without buildings, endless programs and services that play out like clockwork each week?

From my experience, it seems inevitable for the conversation, the drive, the focus to switch to new structures and building projects. Homeless outreaches have to wait as new mortgages are paid. Spiritual widows and orphans are pushed to the side because the parking lot has got to be blacktopped and painted to accommodate the influx of new arrivals. After all, more volunteers are needed now to make everything run smoothly. I’m telling you folks, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve been in church staff meetings where NOTHING that relates the eternal Kingdom of God is brought up… NOTHING!

I’ve tried to change how I use the word “church”. It is very difficult because viewing the church as a building or an organization has been ingrained into me. However, I’ve found that adjusting my speech has affected my thinking towards the church. I now look forward to seeing people when we meet together. I’ve also found that adjusting my speech has caused some very weird looks from other people, but this has also led to some interesting conversations.

What about you? Do you think its important to use the word “church” to refer to the people only and not refer to a building or an organization? Have you attempted to change your speech and/or thinking in this area? What are the results?


11 Comments

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  1. 12-15-2007

    Since I am a “tent-making” elder working a secular job in a health care profession, my patients always ask me “What do you like to do for fun?” to which I say, “I enjoying ministering to and spending time with our church family” and it never fails that they always come around to asking, “WHERE is your church?”

    My response is usually something like this: “Our church is scattered throughout the greater Greensboro area.”

    I get some pretty weird looks because they have confused an organism (namely, the church) with a physical structure (a building) and I’m not assuming their cultural standard. However, this is s great because:

    1. I get to explain the difference between a group of people congregating in a religious building for “worship services” vs. the Spirit-borne ekklesia manifesting itself locally any time 2 or more are gathered together in the name of Jesus.

    2. I get to use this entire experience to either meet another brother or sister in Christ (thus securing more fellowship and exhortation opportunities) or I use it as a witnessing opportunity.

    Either way, its a God-created opportunity for fellowship or evangelism. As to evangelism, it naturally occurs day-to-day without having to rely upon what is often seen as slick “door-to-door” salesman evangelism techniques. By simply using a person’s question as an opportunity to clear up their confusion, you’re already doing the work of the ministry in the *secular* workplace, and THEY asked you the questions vs. it being “forced” through certain questioning techniques that are designed to beat-around-the-bush so as to eventually get to the gospel.

    So, this one question “WHERE do you go to church?” has actually provided me by God’s grace the opportunity to meet wonderful Christian brothers and sisters as well as witness to oodles and oodles of people! And this is all done without evangelism programs or small group meetings!

  2. 12-15-2007

    Even though the sign on our rented building states: “Meeting Place of Living Hope Bible Church”, people still don’t get the difference between the building and the church. Dusman is right when he calls this a cultural standard, but I think it is a standard that has been defined by the church itself. Maybe it has happened because it is easier for Christians to relate to bricks and mortar (which we design and control) than it is to relate to the Holy Spirit, who desires to control us according to His design.
    For some reason, believers seem to be attracted by the contents of the church, while believers often get hung up on the packaging.
    Why?

  3. 12-15-2007

    Oops! I should have proofread my comment. It should state that unbelievers are attracted by the contents, while believers get hung up on the packaging.
    Kat

  4. 12-16-2007

    Dusty,

    Yes, I’ve been involved in similar conversations. I’ve been amazed at how God can use a simple explanation of the church to open up the conversation to the gospel.

    Kat,

    I agree that Christians are responsible for continuing the misunderstanding of the word “church”.

    -Alan

  5. 12-16-2007

    ” . . .unbelievers are attracted by the contents, while believers get hung up on the packaging.”

    Sad but true. This is why it is helpful to continue teaching the truth about the nature of the church both within, and (as the Lord provides opportunity) without the church!

  6. 12-16-2007

    Alan,

    I try to use the term “assembly”, or “congregation” rather than “church”.

    Besides being Biblical the words do clearly indicate a difference between the building or organization/institution.

    The results are more often than not, a quizzical frown, and an opportunity to begin a conversation as to the reason.

  7. 12-16-2007

    Dusty,

    You said, “It is helpful to continue teaching the truth about the nature of the church.” I really think this is key. It takes continual teaching by word and example.

    Aussie John,

    Yes, I’ve encountered some of the same quizzical frowns, which led to some of the same conversations.

    -Alan

  8. 12-18-2007

    Alan,

    This is a very good post. Leah and I have been trying to adjust our own language in this area for some time. We have taken to saying something to the effect that “First Baptist meets for corporate worship in downtown Durham” rather than “FBC is in downtown Durham,” the latter of which is, strictly speaking, only true a couple of times a week (regrettably). We also are trying to say things like “we are on our way to join with our church” rather than “we are on our way to church.” But old habits are hard to break, especially in a “brick and mortar,” program-driven denomination like the SBC.

    Back in the old days Baptists referred to church buildings as “meeting houses” instead of “the church,” and many of the meeting houses were public buildings rather than the church’s property. I think the trend toward adding extra facilities for things like social halls, youth buildings, education space, recreation (you get the point) played–and plays–a large role in us talking about our buildings (or activities) like they are the Body itself.

    Again, very good post.

    NAF

  9. 12-19-2007

    Nathan,

    First, congratulations, Dr. Finn! Yes, I agree that this is a hard habit to break, to quote Chicago. I think it is benefical to speak more precisely about the church. Thanks for sharing how you and Leah are changing the way you use the word “church”.

    -Alan

  10. 5-23-2011

    Jason Dukes, pastor at Westpoint Church in Orlando,FL, wrote about this in his book “Live Sent”. In this sample chapter from you book he points out that it’s not what you teach, but what you emphasize. Many pastors will say “The church is not a place or an event. She is a who. The church is people.”, but then they turn right around and let these messages be communicated within their group in some form (signage, websites, handouts, etc.):

    Such-and-Such Church…a place where you belong.
    Invite a friend to church!!!
    See you at church Wednesday night!
    Who’s missing from CH_ _ CH? U R!
    GOAL – 900 in Sunday School. 1200 in church.
    Church Campaign Fund: $70,000,000 (and this is for more buildings on a central campus)

    In addition, with regard to scheduling, the tendency is to put something on the calendar for people to be a part of every night of the week. Now granted, in some cases, there is not an expectation that you be there for everything. But in other cases, there is this unwritten expectation that you are there for everything, and if you are not, people think you might not really be committed.

    You can read more from this sample chapter here: http://livesentresources.wordpress.com/sample-chapter/

  11. 5-23-2011

    Jonathan,

    I agree completely! The way we live and act teaches far more than what we say.

    -Alan