Thinking Outside the Room: Part 2
The continuation of Jesus’ priorities and a break from the OT temple model took place in the early church. The church, once outside the room and connected to the Spirit’s leading and power, well, it exploded. It continued to flourish and multiply like wildfire.
That’s what can happen when the large building is perhaps a part but no longer the pivot of being Christ’s body, the church.
But then the church made a mistake. We moved the pivot of our being church back into “the room,” back into the building.
It was early in the 4th century, as many of you may already know. Emperor Constantine meant well and all. Making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire sounded like good news to the early believers struggling to be accepted and to avoid persecution. Their relief, however, came at the cost of accommodation. The church leaders adopted the priority of a large central meeting place and copied the building style of Roman god temples. Services in such places were likewise led by professional priests.
The ways of the Old Testament temple resurfaced with new skin on.
People began to associate church with being in the room, in the building. Some say that was the beginning of the end of the church’s vital presence and witness in the world. At the very least, something crucial was compromised and the direction of the church took a strong turn off the road of God’s best intentions.
In there and now of the 21st century, I am not suggesting an immediate or automatic whole sale abandonment of the church meeting in a larger than home building once a week. Not at all. However, I believe our full commitment to a once a week all play meeting in a larger building is, as with the nurses spoken of earlier, taking up an inordinate amount of our time and resources. What would happen if we again moved the pivot of the church outside the building, freeing up time and resources to be directed to empowering disciples in the places where they live, work and play?
The purpose of this piece is to raise the question more than provide answers, but allow me to raise one possible scenario of moving into the hallway.
Imagine lead teachers and pastors, paid and volunteer even, choosing to once a month broadcast their sermon and their service, and from their living room couch instead of their studio or the church sanctuary. What if on that day a group of 4-15 people gathered to hear and participate in someone’s living room? After the on line service, the small group would, right then and there, move to sharing, exploring, committing to action together there in that home, in that hallway of life?
What greater impact might our Sunday sermons and our worship now have? How would people in the pivot of this smaller setting find themselves drawn in more deeply into the Jesus way for his people?
If the primary goal of church was simply attendance, centering church in a weekly meeting and a central building is a very efficient approach. But deep down we all know that the primary goal of church is not simply attendance or to be efficient. There is a both a gift and a danger in gathering weekly as a large group, isn’t there?
If the goal is to become more like Jesus in every way over a lifetime (i.e. to be a disciple), we ought to be as frustrated as the nurses at the above hospital.
Perhaps then the gift of this season is that we are being forced to consider how church can happen outside the room. Sure, many of us who are gathering for church online are seeing that our fellowship is not limited by entering a particular room once a week. It must be more than that.
With programs laid to rest we are being forced to “fast” from our buildings in an unprecedented way, and what is that revealing?
For one, despite all the complaints of zoom fatigue, the priority of smaller settings and conversations seems to me to be a welcome corrective to decades of over emphasizing programs and larger groups. Connecting one on one, face to face or on a screen, matters and makes a difference, and accomplishes something that programs, good as they are, cannot.
Many of us are seeing that acts of service to the needy outside the room are life giving and making us all grow. What if our neighborhoods and community became the pivot of the church more than her building?
Friends, let me sum up and try to be clear and not misunderstood. I believe the church was moved back “into the room” centuries ago, and that God intends we move it out to pivot from the hallway of life. Is there still a place for the building we call “church?” Certainly, just as patients should have their own rooms in our hospital. But most of our life takes places outside the room, in grocery stores and coffee shops, in the parks and sidewalks and cross walks of our community. God has given us his spirit to extend us, release us into these places as His body, as participants and members.
Winston Churchill after World War II to not waste a good crisis. The goal of course is not to get back to “normal,” as if the winds of change would allow it anyway. The goal is to let the Covid 19 disruption accelerate the question of how we can be his Salt and Light in a world that needs us to shine outside the building.
May we never be the same.