Last week, my good friend Eric from “A Pilgrim’s Progress” wrote a post called “Not Looking for the Perfect Church. Just Looking for the Church.”
In the post – and as the title suggests – Eric explains that he did not leave “the institutional church” in order to find “the perfect church.” Instead, he says, he was simply looking for church.
At one point, Eric wrote:
Many of the things that pass as the church today are not the church. I can list a few that we are all familiar with: the building, the worship service, the clergy, the tithe, the youth group, the sermon, etc. It is for many of these reasons that we left the institution never to return. We weren’t looking for something better; we were looking for something qualitatively different.
In response, a commenter by the name of “die” (I’m assuming that’s the German definite article…) asked the following question:
Can you list the distinctions between “The Church” and its less ideal institutional counterpart?
Eric pointer the commenter to some of the blog posts that he’s written in the past on the topic. But, Eric’s post and the commenter’s question swirled around in my head for a few days.
Like Eric, people have often suggested that I’m “looking for the perfect church” or that I’m “angry with church leaders” or that I just want things my way. Interestingly, none of those are true. Like Eric, I know that no group of people – however mature in Christ they may be – will be “perfect,” at least, no in this age. Also, looking back over my experiences, I’m not angry with any church or church leader or denomination or anything like that. Finally, the group that I meet with does not do everything “my way,” so that can’t be it either.
So, why do I prefer to meet in a way that is different from the way most traditional churches meet? Why do I define the church in a way that is quite different from the traditional definitions? Why do I seek to share my life (fellowship) in a way that crosses boundaries normally erected by “local churches”? The answer to all those questions is the same: maturity in Christ.
The things that Eric lists above – building, worship service, clergy, tithe, youth group, sermon – and other things like those are often considered to be part of the nature of the church. In fact, many could not imagine the church without many of those things.
But, to me, those things are usually distractions that hinder the growth of the church. According to Scripture, several aspects of our shared life with Christ and our shared lives with one another facilitates our spiritual growth and maturity: fellowship and mutual (“one another”) discipleship/edification.
It’s never my desire to separate from my brothers and sisters in Christ – even if they want to meet in traditional ways that I think are less healthy to they spiritual growth. Unfortunately, when people’s identity as the church is tied up in those activities that I consider hindrances, it limits our ability to share our lives with one another. So, while it may appear at times that I’m “leaving the church,” it’s really a desire to leave the distractions, never the people themselves (who are the church).
[By the way, in the image attached to this past, the line of text at the bottom – which is difficult to read – says, “Distractions can seem important at the time, though later you realize that it was what was around it that was important…”]