About the Church and Thinking Outside the Steeple

the-steeple

I was browsing a thrift store recently when I spotted a pair of ceramic geese. I had a visceral response—part embarrassment, part nausea. Those geese brought back memories of a time when my kitchen was saturated in them. Theme decorating was a trend then like burlap, barn wood and chalkboard paint are today.

My geese years coincided with the breakup of my marriage and a tough walk raising my three children.  The memory of geese canisters and geese candle holders and geese napkin rings and geese salt and pepper shakers and geese curtains and geese dish towels and the geese welcome sign on my front porch also mark a time of disillusionment in my Jesus-following.

I had adhered to and been sorely disillusioned with certain dogmatic church trends and practices that, like decorating fads, came and went. I wish I could take space to describe them here.

As I throw down the words to this post I realize I have an unintentional series going on—it’s this thing about church that I’m wrestling with and trying to figure out. I suppose we could consider this Part 3 in a series of Who-knows-how-many-and-hopefully-this-is-it-for-awhile!

Speaking of throwing down words, there are numerous experts on the subject of church reformation. One of the beauties of not being an expert myself is that I get to offer ideas for discussion. If those ideas happen to spark curiosity in you, Google could be your best friend!

Speaking of friends, a good friend commented recently that she wished she could find a faith community like the one I am part of.  I’ve been there. Her comment started me thinking and questioning:

  • Why can’t we start an organic faith community simply by meeting with a few like-minded believers?
  • Has the traditional church model conditioned us to be spectators, leaving us needing  permission to function as the body of Christ portrayed in Acts?
  • Have we developed a false-notion that only certain people can plant communities of faith—that only credentialed people can grow the church?
  • Have we become a little consumer-minded with regard to how we view faith gatherings—that we have to go somewhere to get what we are shopping for?
  • Are we intimidated by Church, Inc. and fearful of its criticism?
  • Are we afraid we’ll be labeled radical, rebellious, deceived, or contentious?
  • Are we too lazy, too private, too afraid to go all-in for what our souls really desire and just so happens to be what God has called us to?
  • Are we terrified of failure? Are we steeped in apathy?

It’s commonly known in Christendom that the church in China has flourished in the house church setting. Persecution and government controls drove them underground, out of the building and into homes. Years ago I remember hearing stories from missional visitors to China  that went something like this:

“They don’t have Bibles, only pages of scripture they conceal and later copy by hand—which are then passed to the next house church. They memorize whole books of the Bible for fear what little scripture they do possess will be confiscated. They don’t have musical accompaniment in their worship or convenient church schedules. They gather, often after long work days, and crowd into small spaces, choosing fellowship with other believers over food and rest. They have no freedom to assemble and when discovered are beaten, fined, tortured and imprisoned.”

Fortunately, government controls in China are relaxing. In some places believers are allowed to gather outside the confines of the governmentally controlled registered church system. Though not available for purchase in the open market, Bibles are more accessible now—many obtained electronically.

You’ve heard stories about the way the church is expressed in other parts of the world. The church is flourishing among believers who have substantially less freedom, significantly less wealth and selectively fewer educated church leaders.

Can we North American Christians think outside the steeple

and be the sent-out ones? 

Can we shift our paradigm? Can we follow the Spirit’s lead as the life and will of Christ are expressed through us, His body?

It’s dangerous and terribly unproductive to enter into an excessive debate about how to be the church. (2 Tim. 2:23) The moment we think we’ve ironed out enough theological wrinkles to assert a definitive conclusion and formulate a recipe, another shift appears on the horizon—a new move is on the wind.

Debate, schisms and polarization have always plagued the church. Two thousand years ago the apostles adamantly opposed Gentile inclusion—they were rigidly stuck in the law of Moses, unable to recognize what God was doing among them. The Roman Catholic church considers itself to be the only true church, stuck in piety, power and control. Throughout the centuries countless denominations have sprung up, composed of people lost in dogmatic zeal, fear and rigidity.

After the geese came the cow decor. After the cows came my Americana era, Country followed, then Shabby Chic, then…. You get my meaning, right?

I have included scripture references at the end of this post that describe some aspect of the church, either in form or function. Let me offer this reminder about the church:

The church is God’s possession —

“…Which He obtained by His own blood?”  (Acts:20:28)

The Lord builds His church 

“…I will build my church and the gates of hell with not prevail against it.”  (Matt 16:18)

We are the temple (building) God dwells within 

“…For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”  (1 Cor.. 3:17)

As we humble ourselves in this search to understand what God is doing in and through His church, can we cultivate a motivation and response born of love for Him rather than our love of being right?

Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it!                   Ps. 127:1

If I am pursuing depth in God and submission to His headship, then my main concern about the church should be whether or not I am contributing my part, in love and faithfulness, with intention of bringing glory to Him and furthering His kingdom.

As long as we have a biblical world view, we never need the permission or parameters of another human or human institution to dictate if or how we are allowed to be the church.

Grace and peace!


• Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV • And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

• 1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV • What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

• Ephesians 2:21 ESV • In whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

• Colossians 3:16 ESV • Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

• Romans 12:5 ESV • So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

• Ephesians 4:16  ESV •  From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

• 2 Timothy 2:22 ESV •  But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart.