Growing up in and around traditional church in the 1980’s and 90’s I remember people talking about those who were at church every time the doors were open. Our family probably fit that category at that time. It was like a badge of honor we wore. If there was something going on at the church building and we didn’t have work or school, we were there. It was a great time. Things were simple back then.
Reviewing my activity this past weekend had me thinking back to those days. I can say I participated in 6 – 7 expressions of church in four days (not a typical 4-day period for me), but only two of them happened in a building that we traditionally call church. This doesn’t devalue our traditional expressions of church, but simply recognizes the need to expand our ideas of what is church activity for those who seek to follow Jesus in this contemporary culture.
- Thursday afternoon a group of us served our neighbors through volunteering at the local school’s food pantry. The people we serve were not merely clients, but many have become friends has we seek to show the love of Christ through our actions. This was an expression of church.
- After we were finished at the pantry, a number of the volunteers and other people connected with our missional community gathered on our back deck for a cookout. We laughed together. We talked about life. Near the end, a few of us talked about more spiritual issues and ended with a time of prayer. This was an expression of church.
- Friday evening I gathered with others at our home church’s building to listen to a young man speak on his own life experience and how it has given him insight into one of the major challenges faced by many in the church today. His presentation applied to so many areas of life. It also reaffirmed the need to think outside the walls when seeking to bring Jesus to many in our world today. This was an expression of church.
- Before and after that meeting Tina and I individually stopped in to check on our neighbor who had been the victim of a violent crime the previous day. We listened to them talk about their feelings. We prayed for peace and protection to reign over their home. Tina arranged to bring them dinner the next evening. This was an expression of church.
- Saturday morning I went for a bike ride with four other men from our home church. Conversations happened along the trail and over coffee at the turn-around point. Some were light. Some were more serious in nature. One group member expressed how the bike ride was not what made this time important. It was the relationships being built. This was an expression of church.
- Sunday morning we attended our regular worship service at of our home church. We worshipped together. We read scripture together. We prayed together. Many listened to the teaching upstairs while our family helped with the children’s ministry downstairs. This, of course, was an expression of church.
- That afternoon I went along with four friends to partner with a new ministry that brings food and other necessities to several of the tent cities near downtown. We assisted with their physical needs. We listened to their stories. We listened for opportunities to help them take small steps out of their current situations. In those we served I could see the face of Jesus as we helped some of the people he cares about most: “the least of these.” We prayed for their needs. We had great conversation about mission in the van between camps and on our way back home. This was an expression of church.
In some ways, all these various ways to think about how we experience “church” are not really new. They’re grounded in some of the earliest experiences of the followers of Jesus. The end of Acts 2 gives a picture of what church life was like for the first century believers and it parallels much of what I experienced over this 4-day period:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42 – 47 (ESV)
Perhaps it’s time to expand our thinking about our idea of what it means for the doors of the church to be open. If we listen to the Spirit and open our eyes to the places He may lead us, we may find that He is opening many more doors than we originally expected and we have the opportunity worship and serve Jesus in settings we may never have thought of before.