*Part 3 of 4 in a new blog series by Matt Bridges
Okay, So What?
I believe limiting church to a location or an event in time ultimately allows people to hold their church and their relationship with Christ at arm’s length. It allows people to fall into any number of unhealthy categories of how to approach a faithful life of following of Christ: episodically (unhealthy) versus continually (healthy). Any definition of “church” which has limited the word to a geographic location (or locations) or an event in time like worship will weave in too much identity with a location or event rather than in a healthy relationship with Christ, and thus turn it into a faith lived out episodically. In terms of sharing this faith and identifying as a believer, these assumptions of and this mixing of meanings has become unhealthy evangelism if our goal is to tell others of the good news of Jesus Christ. Our evangelism then becomes episodic and very limited as well. It is limited to an invitation to a place or event.
But What About the Children?
If we raise our children up in the mentality of “going to church” as though their ecclesial identity is linked directly to a location or a worship service, well, no wonder they feel lost and don’t connect as they progress in their lives of faith. No wonder they grow more distant and don’t relate until feeling like this identity with Christ is simply irrelevant? I am reminded of the phrase I used above making a distinction about “Big Church” and “Children’s Church.” It is little surprise when I encounter people who feel lost when they can’t find an exact replica of the identity they were taught was “church” because their church identity is too entwined with a place or event. Also, their identity is any number of models of children’s church and being told explicitly and implicitly for years that they weren’t relevant to the “big” worship space. If all of this is woven together and called church, then it is right to feel disillusioned with the church. If we send our children out into this world and expect them to have a healthy idea of faith and a healthy idea of their relationship with Christ; and if that idea is based on the identity of a very narrow view of how that faith and life are expressed, they will fall away and their views of faith as relevant will degrade as well.
When I reflect on my own experience and how I am seated in multiple generations of Christianity in the 20th and 21st century (I’m 35), I grew up “going to church” with varying degrees of willingness. I didn’t realize that until my late teens that I had grown up identifying my faith almost solely with a building or events in time like “worship,” “youth group,” or “choir.” If I identified myself as “the church” or “part of the church” and it was a reference strictly to a people or my relationship with fellow believers, it was only implicit, or an afterthought (or that catchy hymn at the beginning of this post). In many conversations over the years, I know that I do not write this as an isolated and self-serving case study.
Upon this revelation for me (it was a revelation for me) of the word “church,” I am much more intentional in my usage with my congregation, with my child, with my family, with everyone. My faith has been changed, and I’ve had powerful conversations with parishioners, unchurched, de-churched, and atheists with this change in, and approach to, the word. I no longer go to the church to work.
I go to my office, at the church building, to work. I don’t go to church on Sunday nor do I prepare throughout my week for church on Sunday. I prepare sermons, music, prayers, orders of worship, all for the sake of sharing the gospel and doing my part to be the church. I sit with the church next to hospital beds and offer prayers, encouragement, and communion. I cry with the church in loss, and I shout with joy with the church in success.
My faith and work simply cannot be episodic now that I embrace this shift in meaning. I try to show distinction inside and outside of worship. I have a running joke and “test” with the youth group and they have fun correcting me, and being corrected. “Me: Hey __________, are you going to church tomorrow?” “Youth: Haha, no Brother Matt, I am the church….and I am going to the worship service tomorrow.”
*Stay Tuned for
Part 4 Nov 22 “So What Do We Do?”
Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled1001 Times (and counting) I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It ThatWay Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.