It has been about three months since my wife and I left the church we had faithfully attended and been a part of for the past twenty-two years. When I say church I am not referring to a building somewhere that we no longer frequent—we separated oursleves from a group or people that we had met with over the years.
One of the first words that I learned when I became a Christian in 1979 was “Ekklesia” which literally means:
a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly—in a Christian sense
(1.) an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting—the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth.
Like most of us, I had grown up going to church. What that meant was that on Sunday morning, no matter how nice it was outside, you would get dressed up, get in the car and travel to a big building somewhere downtown and listen to a choir sing songs and a preacher talk about things that you could barely understand. As a child you sat by mom and dad and tried hard to stay still and not get the pay attention look from one of them.
As I grew older, it was Sunday school and bible stories and a snack. We heard about Jesus and Moses and Noah and David and Goliath. Skip a few years and as a teenager it was confirmation class and bell ringers and activities in the church social hall.
A few years later, in an attempt to reach a generation that didn’t want to be reached in one sense, the leaders even had me teach a youth class where, as my grandfather said, I brought the anti-christ into the church. He was a conservative Mennonite, I a liberal Congregationalist. I was as far away from being born-again as anyone could be yet was encouraged to reach my own with whatever means I had at my disposal. In class we talked about Bob Dylan and John Lennon and the hippy movement and what-have-you. I guess you get my drift.
The blind leading the blind—been there—done that.
That was church—a big building with a sanctuary, classrooms and an odd musty smell if you happened to stop by when no one was around. It was a different time altogether—they even left the doors open most of the time and never had any graffiti adorn the walls.
So, back to the present almost. You can imagine what I felt when I found out that the church was not the building but the people who were gathered together in Christ’s name. How liberating this was to the young boy inside myself who showed up from time to time during my many travels and adventures.
I was the church or a part of it—a member of the body of Christ.
And even though I have left the “church” I belonged to for all those many years, I am still a part of the church universal.
It is interesting to note at this point in my wandering discourse, how long we as human beings tend to hang onto things and structures that are not functioning properly or lacking in fullfilment. Even though I knew something was broke in my church, I kept hoping that whatever it was would get fixed and things could go back to being normal—even though normal was only a term without a hope of ever being realized. Normal was so far away that it had become virtually unrecognizable.
So, where am I today, having said all of this: out of the box and into a new day.
I like the advertising that Stihl chainsaw company does in the USA Today newspaper. In a full page ad, with large two inch tall letters at the top of the page we read, “You Will Never Find Stihl In A Big Box” or something like that. At the bottom you see a picture of the saw and underneath it the explanation. In essence what it says is that these saws and other stuff they make like weed-eaters, etc. are only sold in small independant dealerships fully assembled and not in Lowe’s or Home Depot type “Big Box” stores.
The meaning is that you get personal attention and service after the sale and that is what buying a piece of equipment is all about.
The body of Christ is bigger than any big box store yet more personal than any small dealership in the world. Each local fellowship has its own flavor and that is what makes the American chruch unique. To say one is better than another is probably a mistake you should avoid making. Some will be more in tune with what makes you click and when you find that type of chemistry hang onto it.
That is unless you begin to feel not as valuable or appreciated. When things start to get complicated and you can’t remember the last time you felt happy or fullfilled. I am not saying that church should be all about you or me—that’s not the point—it’s about a relationship with God through his Son Jesus.
But He did come that we might experience life and that more abundantly (not redundantly).
It is hard leaving something that you have been a part of for almost a quarter of a century—but there comes a time in life when the only way to attain growth is to find some different soil—soil where there are the right kinds of nutrients for the type of plant you are to flourish.
When this happens, your roots feel naked, it seems a little cold and all you want is to be warm and fed. There is life after that church after all.
But no more big boxes for me—the best days of our life really can be those which lie ahead.