I frequently struggle with the way the western world does church, and I use the phrase "does church" very loosely. The definition of church as far as I can see defined by Scripture is the body of Christ; a gathering of Christians. A whole bunch of Jesus followers in one place. The multitude of saved and redeemed saints coming together collectively to celebrate Christ. It frustrates me then that even Google defines "church" as a building used for public Christian worship, a hierarchy of clergy and an institutionalised religion. What church isn't can be put quite simply as not a building.
But my frustrations don't just end there. Inside the building you will find all manner of politics and rivalry that doesn't look unlike any worldly corporate ladder. Positions are raised above people, growth goals become the focus, and appearance literally is everything. Oblique phrases are used to justify volume, lighting, media, stage, preaching, emceeing, and fellowshipping such as worshipful atmosphere, contemporary, relevant, captivating, dramatic, connection, pursuing excellence. What happened to the early century church that met in homes with fellowship over meals followed by unaccompanied singing to the Lord?
Before I am labelled a hyper-conservative that believes we should meet in a park and that instruments in a worship service is of the devil, don't get me wrong: I love well orchestrated, well led and artfully performed worship songs. I'm a multi-instrumentalist and a passionate singer with an ear for music besides, so I appreciate excellence when I see it, and am not backward in coming forward about commending it. I am also a graphic designer who has dabbled in media production, so a professionally crafted flyer or quality media does not go astray for me. A speaker with a sense of humour that is true to themselves and unafraid of making a pertinent movie quote is something I am definitely a fan of. I don't wear a straitjacket. I can enjoy a sense of fun and lightheartedness in a service. Yet where is the line between what we do and where our focus is? When does the pressure to perform erode purpose?
I don't really know where this line is. I have felt the weight of position, juggled politics, and bit my tongue to perform for things I felt were nothing more than a prop, rather than the real deal. Yet at the same time I know that God is a God of order, and without leaders and direction, congregations fall apart for a lack of drive and vision. Whilst I have felt my soul soar on the heights of emotional swells from a full stage of musicians, I have also experienced the quiet peace that entered my spirit when singing quietly with a few friends without accompaniment. I've experienced the restrictions of guidelines that strangled the willingness and creativity out of me, whilst at the same time seen the chaos and disorder of a group trying to pull a service together by being solely "Spirit-led". It's a pendulum swing I can't seem to get to stop in the middle.
I've spent a lot of time mulling this over, and will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. There are so many different Christians who see "doing church" so differently from one another that we're never going to nail it universally. However I think one of the keys to unlocking this debate is simple: the church doesn't need props. The church needs Jesus. Whenever we come to a place where we find ourselves saying that we need a certain media, a certain lighting, a certain type of music, pew, altar, stage, sound system, or else, we've strayed. When a material item becomes a priority, we've lost our first priority. When we care about a task getting done more than we care about the people doing it, we've failed. When loving Jesus and loving people gets replaced with anything else, it's only a matter of time before we turn into an institutionalised machine that steamrolls people and destroys relationship.
If the Gospel needs lights, volume, and media to be effective, it's not the Gospel. If the Gospel needs to be free from a building, holding no trace of worldly influence by way of art or music, and be full of traditions to be effective, it is still not the Gospel. If Christ alone is not enough to draw people, maybe we are preaching Him wrong. Jesus never had a publicist, a stage, or a media team yet managed to take the world by a storm in three short years which history has never forgotten. I love the fact that God still chooses to use us as His church despite the boxes we've climbed in. Praise God for His grace in this! However I for one am not content to stay here. I hope for the day that the church lets go of its crutches and walks free: free from props, and free from the different hats it has tried to wear in order to fit in. Let's fit out. Let us be a church that carries the Gospel to the world in His power that doesn't need anything we bring. Let Jesus be the only requirement. Nothing more, nothing less.