How often are we told that the hope of the world is to be found in the local church? Bill Hybels is a proponent of this view and as an idea it’s become currency certainly in the church I attend. For me its is true when Christ is found in its midst and people encounter God not in the words but in the everyday lives of those gathered – people see that the church isn’t out there but in their back yard – local.
When I recently heard the idea at the church I attend I had to pause as I didn’t feel the gathering I was in was very local to me. It certainly was a church gathering I am a member of – I was connected to the people in worship and the town is admirably served by the church members. I reasoned that maybe the village I lived in, the people I worked with and the places I walked came to encounter hope because through me they might come to be in this gathering and experience the various ministries offered.
Looking at myself, I saw how in the fragmented society we live in- the age of the nuclear family and ease of travel, I had selected a church I felt comfortable in without thinking about its locality. Its teaching was largely sound, its works were wholesome and its worship was usually to my taste. To begin with it was also important that our children were served. The decisive factor though was that many of our closest friends were part of the community. But is my attendance rebellious and self serving? The teaching’s effect on me was to make me feel disconnected.
The reason I was being challenged in the first place was because the teaching was about discipline and how some avoid this by flitting from gathering to gathering and not committing to the local church. It was used again to justify where my money should be going. Written here that looks awful; it makes the church out to be a place of control that wants your money. It was actually advocating that people are able within the safety of a well ordered church to form relationships that matter and to which we are able to be accountable within a framework where individuals are released financially to serve.
I see this but is it a bit like the tail wagging the dog? Didn’t I often see poisonous relationships you couldn’t walk away from because they were institutionalised and money being squandered propping up dubious ministries.
The place I have seen growth in my life has been in the free relationships I have formed not bound by the church I go to, the meals I have shared and the frank discussions I have had whilst on walks with people committed to seeing me prosper as a person in God. I have seen growth in my faith through the relationships where I have been able to express frustration and commit to change; where I have known encouragement and the speaking of truths.
The medium this message was being carried in- the organised church, I have to say doesn’t ring true. I wonder if the organisation of the church is a wrong framing of the truth of the hope the church offers and inappropriate.
Surely the medium of Jesus’ message was in himself, the three or four disciples he was close to, the Apostles and in the fact he sent out all those gathered to him in twos. Jesus says where two or three are gathered then he is present. This is the unit of the local church, like the tissues of a body, made of individuals who are the cells, whose DNA is Christ, each individual being the dwelling place of God.
Each person embodies God and in twos and threes present Christ in their midst through love. We need to have confidence that an encounter with God and an infilling of the Holy Spirit equips the individual to be a seed of hope, a focus for growth like yeast in dough. In a body, cells form tissues, tissues form organs and organs form the body -each distinct.
I do worry that maybe we have lost sight of the fact that Jesus entrusted his presence to the twos and threes. Surely the glory of the gathered church is in the quality of the individual relationships within it and this is what makes the wider church winsome. The winsomeness of friendship in Christ is at the centre of the local church not its size or organisation. The health of the body depends on the health of each distinct member.
For me the church has come to be focused in the gatherings of the two or three in Jesus name and not an institution whilst remaining embedded in an institutionalised church. The seed of growth and renewal is in the twos and threes where life in Christ is evident in the love and draws others to it and then…
1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 1,2
1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3
1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4
1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 12; 1,2; 1,2
1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3;
1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4;