By Jeff Goins, Editor
Church is such an amorphous term these days. Is it a home group, community, mission activity, or a worship service? Of course, we know that we are the Church, the body of Christ. But church – or, perhaps, better said, fellowship – means something different to everyone. However you do church, the fact remains that we need corporate worship. As members of this cosmic family, we can’t really do with out it, so that leaves us in a bit of a quandary… because, frankly, sometimes I can hardly stand church.
Our culture, especially twenty-somethings, esteems individualism far too much. Whether we can afford it or not, many of us live on our own. Those of us who are Christians believe in biblical principles, but almost equally so, we believe in our independence. Private faith. Private worship. Don’t interfere, or we’ll call you “dogmatic.” Nonetheless, we are all looking for something to give our lives to.
Am I willing to die for church? A building? A potluck? Lately, Ive grown critical of the whole institution, and I’m learning that I’m really the one to blame in all of this. As I’m lulled into apathy, I become resentful at the church when really it was I who chose to let church become a passive activity.
A year ago, I took a fifteen-day trip to Mexico. I like how Mexicans do church. I like that I was challenged. I like that we sang the same worship song, incessantly jumping up and down, for at least eight minutes. Im told that the average limit to a song in American churches is about three and a half minutes. Otherwise, people just get bored. I think that they already are.
In Mexico, by the time the preacher went up to preach, we were all sweaty and disgusting and didnt realize that an hour of the service had already passed. The sermon did not have three points; there was no Powerpoint or fill-in-the-blank bulletin; and it did not stay in the 30-40 minute window. It was long, passionate, and sloppy. And ten people got saved.
While we in America are debating about the “age of accountability,” Jesus is transforming lives in Mexico.
So, I got back from my trip to Latin America and fell into the familiar slump of seeking to be entertained at church. It wasn’t doing life together, and it wasn’t a celebration. It was my opportunity to pick apart other people and pretend that I knew whether they were being authentic or not. This spirit of judgment did not just surface in the church building, but in daily encounters with other believers.
As good Westerners, we’re trained to be critical, aren’t we? And church is no exception. If you live in the Bible Belt like me, it can even be a frequent topic of Sunday afternoon conversation.
For those of us who are cultured, we call it an appreciation of “good art” and justify all kinds of nasty thoughts regarding our brothers and sisters in Christ. The truth is, I’m not looking for good art. I’m not looking for a great show or even an inspirational sermon. Sure, there’s the temptation to “grade” my pastor or measure up other Christians, but what I’m really looking for is real fellowship.
Because deep down inside, I know I’m fake. Spending a church service in a seemingly disingenuous environment exposes my own selfishness in worship, my own religiosity in corporate prayer, and my convoluted desires towards God. And I don’t want to be that way. I need to be amongst a group of believers that will call me out of my starvation for truth and into authenticity.
It was a breath of fresh air when I started visiting the Hispanic service at my church. I admit that I was attempting to relive my experience in Mexico by surrounding myself with the culture – at least, for a couple hours each week. At this church, everyone brought something to share. I even played a song on my guitar. Let me say that again: everyone brought something to share. This may not seem novel to you, but this was it for me. Church, with a big “C” or a little one.
When the Body of Christ comes together and shares its different talents and unique abilities, God himself is glorified, and his children are grown. You see, this is how the Body was meant to work – how it was meant to function. We’re not supposed to come together and take a passive stance, being talked at and taught, so that we can store up clever cliches and acronyms with little practical value. Worship is work. The strength of corporate worship is actualized when we work together – not looking to our pastor to referee the show, but each doing something to get the Body’s blood flowing. And the only way to make that happen is to move some parts.
We’re supposed to gather and share. Really share – everything from our money to our possessions to our talents. Last time I was at the Hispanic church, it was a short testimony, an a cappella hymn, and a poem being read aloud. It wasn’t eloquent or well-orchetrasted, but it was fellowship.
And I’m hooked.
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Jeff graduated from Illinois College, a small liberal arts school, with a degree in Spanish and Religion. He lives in Nashville, TN. He works for Adventures in Missions, edits this silly little magazine, and loves to do new things. He just got married.