We’ve been encouraging people to stop going to church.
Something happened in the history of Christianity where the assembly of Jesus’ followers fell in love with buildings. The building became church. The building became something we went to and often quickly exited so we could move on to brunch. The church became a destination that could be left behind.
I appreciate having a building where people may gather to worship and praise God, where Bible studies may be held, and community meetings may happen. We are blessed to have a beautiful facility and we are seeking more ways to use it in the community. But, there are challenges to a building beyond the harsh climate of Southeast.
When we talk about the church, we are talking about the people who gather to remember what it is to follow Jesus and then they scatter to actually seek to live that out. The early language for church referred to an assembly of people, followers of the way of Jesus. In other words, we don’t want people to go to church; we want people to be the church.
We need to gather so we can be renewed in God’s spirit and reminded of what forgiveness and love look like in a world that is often hell bent on retribution and destruction. We need to scatter so we can live that out in the world. On fifth Sundays at Shepherd of the Valley, we have “church without walls” and head out into the community to “be church” instead of gathering in the safety of a building to “do church.”
I can’t help but notice that there are lots of buildings for the church to gather in around Juneau. There are actually around 50 of them. I wonder sometimes what all those walls and buildings communicate to the community around us about the nature of the church. Are we people who live in the locked upper room? What would it look like if on fifth Sundays (and maybe every Sunday if we’re feeling really wild and maybe even everyday if we really want to walk of the edge) we all stepped out of our walls to be the church together?
We have different styles of gathering, we have some different teachings, but do we really need all the walls? I don’t sit well through a worship that is much longer than an hour and I know many a Pentecostal who wouldn’t do Lutheran order well, but that doesn’t keep us from serving our community hand in hand. So I’m proposing this summer that we stop going to church, and start being the church.
• Stage-Harvey is pastor of the Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.