One of my favorite TV shows is Mythbusters. I love the way Jamie and Adam take a well-known idea and apply testing to confirm whether it’s true or just a myth. Without question, there are a lot of myths that exist within the modern church. One such myth is that the church is just a building, a structure, so to speak.
But in Matthew 16, when Jesus told Peter that he would “build his church” he was not talking about any kind of structure. He was talking about the founding of a group of people, called for a specific purpose. Much has been made of the Greek word Ekklesia, but the simplest understanding of the word is an “assembly or congregation.” Here are the biggest challenges Christians may have when they perceive the church as a building.
When the church is a building, the property becomes more important than the people
Whenever someone tells me, “Phil, I’ll meet you up at the church” I respond, “Yes, I’ll see you at the building where our church meets.”
Frequently, I get eye rolls.
Yet, if we don’t get this right, people will place too much importance on the structure–the steeple, the pews, the pulpit, and so on. Historically, this has lead to arguments about the silliest things. I’ve heard of congregations spitting up just because they couldn’t decide on the color of the carpeting in the sanctuary.
Plus, it can lead into an expensive capital campaign, causing the members to place all or most of their finances into building a structure rather than allowing the people to spend their dollars within the community where help is severely needed.
It might seem like splitting hairs but it is drastically important. See, Jesus didn’t die for bricks and mortar. He died for the people that fill the building each Sunday and during the week.
When the church is a building, it becomes stationary and still
Almost every church body holds at least one weekly gathering. Most of the time this is on Sunday. So, for one or two hours the people are being the church. But, the people should be the church during the 166-167 hours when they aren’t gathered together as well.
Joel Hunter, the pastor of Northland Church in Florida, said it best, “the church happens not so much when we gather, but when we scatter.”The church happens not so much when we gather, but when we scatter. -Joel HunterClick To Tweet
Jesus said that we should “go into all the world” and share all that he had taught us (Matthew 29:19-20). Certainly, a weekly meeting of souls is part of that directive, but it’s not the sum total.
For many, a cool weekly gathering, filled with powerful music and an uplifting message is the first experience they may have with Jesus. But it can’t be the only place they experience Christ. Many people will never venture into a church building…ever. By calling our buildings “the church” we unwittingly place the task of reaching the lost on the staff of our churches and on Sunday morning.
When the church is a building, it becomes an organization and not an organism.
The church is people, plain and simple. It’s a living and breathing organism. Every time someone new joins the congregation the body changes a little. It absorbs and takes on the new personality of those who are a part of it. We’ll miss that if we place too much emphasis on the organization and not the organism.
Pastors are often guilty of missing this point. I’ve said it myself, “I have a church to run.” You don’t run a church, you run an organization, a business, or an enterprise. If the church is full of people it should operate more like a family, not an organization.
So let’s remember that we are part of this great thing called “the church.” It’s a group of people who belong to something amazing, something ancient, something living.
“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Romans 12:4-5