Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Making a Church

Recently, I've been watching a couple planning to move to a new city. They are taking their small family with them and are excited about all of the opportunity that awaits in a new place to call home. But they have also made clear that when they get there, they won't be looking for a local church. Rather, "after much prayer and consideration," they've decided to move into town and start their own church - a small, intimate fellowship in their own home. And they've already given it a name. Before they have even arrived.

It's one thing to come into a new place and find it lacking, which would necessitate starting your own thing. It's one thing to look around and not find what you're looking for, so to then go out and create it. But this couple, sight unseen, have decided that not one of the dozens of churches in the area to which they are moving offers them the kind of solid Biblical teaching and real sense of community for which they are looking. So instead of investing their time to join the movement of Christ already afoot, they're just going to do their own thing. And they talk not only like this is better, but like this is good.

That's a hard sell.

We don't see any examples of this in the New Testament. What we see in the New Testament is a growing, thriving church in any number of areas. What we see is a group of preachers going around and preaching to the same churches in the same places, to the same groups of persons. When Paul goes into a town, he doesn't say that the church doesn't need him and go out to start his own thing. He doesn't say that the church is flawed and not worth his time; he invests in correcting and growing the church that is there. We even see places where there are deep, deep divides in the church and tremendous conflict, and the advice is it out. Not to separate into two fellowships. Not to go off and start a new thing.

Here's the reality: someone who is unwilling to invest themselves in the messiness of coming into a new community is likely going to be unwilling to invest themselves in a messy community at all. That means that when their home church becomes unfaithful, when it's harder to get families to show up, when disagreements arise or their teaching is challenged or the kids have a spat, this small family is more likely to simply stop meeting together than to do any real work of fellowship and community. What they are looking for is not a church; it's an affirmation group. A place where they will have the authority and won't have to submit to anyone else.

Oh, they won't say it that way. In fact, they don't. What they say is that they want to devote themselves to 'real' Bible teaching and to mutual growth, but what that really means, in practice, is that they have certain things they believe and certain behaviors they've justified, and they want to be beyond reproach. The only way you can be in a community without accountability is to make everyone else subservient to you. It's to elevate yourself as leaders of the community and then, if anyone dares to try to make you better, you can just tell them this is probably not the community for them.

It's just a whole lot easier than investing yourself in real fellowship. It's a whole lot simpler than finding a bunch of other broken persons to join.

If you're troubled because you're sure that the local church is going to get things "so wrong" and fall "so short" of everything you know you're looking for, and you haven't even looked yet, then what you have is not a heart set on God. If you already believe your way is better when you haven't taken the time to see how anyone else is doing it, you're holding the heart of a Pharisee. If you believe your interpretation is so right that no one else could ever come close to getting it as right as you do, you're not looking for a fellowship; you're looking for an audience.

This whole thing about coming into a place and saying, "after much prayer and consideration" and officially naming your little small group and maintaining your distance from the broader fellowship and calling yourself a "house church" when you have no connection to the greater body of Christ in your area - and don't intend to - it's just a shield, in Christian language, to keep yourself from having to commit to the messiness of real community. If you're moving to a new place and refuse to plug in to the work already ongoing in that place, then that community is not your home and never will be.

I'm not saying it's wrong to ever start something new. I'm not saying it's wrong to want to start a home church or a small group fellowship or to grow something organically. The trouble comes when you're willing to say that there's nothing in a place for you, when you haven't even looked. The trouble comes when you condemn what's already happening as lesser when you haven't even experienced it. The trouble comes when you step out and say that you need something new when you haven't even had something old. The trouble comes when you think yourself better than the fellowship of the faithful who's been doing it together for thousands of years, when you rush into a new place not knowing anyone and have no interest in getting to know them.

The trouble comes when you enter in with the heart of a Pharisee, 'knowing' without any evidence at all, that no one in this new place is getting it right and refusing to commit yourself to making any of them better, but hoarding your gifts and talents and callings into a small place you're already comfortable in.

More on this tomorrow. And maybe the next day. Because there are a lot of important things here. 

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