Churches from 2 to 2000

The church and I go way back. On the day I was born, my mother was sitting in Bible class when her water broke. She was a very young preacher’s wife; they were in their first church at the time. A fellow class member drove my mother home where she called the doctor and waited until my father finished teaching his class and preaching his sermon. Then they headed to the hospital and I was born that evening. My father preached in six congregations over the next 12 years in varying sizes and locations. He then preached off and on in nearby small towns throughout the rest of my time at home. I cleaned church buildings, sniffed the mimeograph fluid as I folded church bulletins, played church, rode Joy Buses, attended week-long gospel meetings, and visited hospitals and nursing homes. I know about church. I know the good, the bad and the ugly.

The church is the collection of the hearts of people committed to joining God in his mission of reconciling the world. And there are a myriad of expressions of the church: the traditional institutional church, less traditional institutional churches meeting in a variety of less formal settings, house churches, and other emerging communities of faith lacking any institutional tie. In each of these, both within the institutional setting and without, are good-hearted people seeking to usher in the Lord’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Compassionate, loving hearts looking for the best ways to be kingdom bringers. I have been blessed to be closely affiliated with folks choosing to express their faith in a variety of ways, from churches of 2 to 2,000, who have challenged me to open my heart and mind. I am hopeful for each of these groups to join hands and hearts to challenge and encourage one another as one body. We have much to offer one another.

I have heard much talk lately about the bad and the ugly of the institutional church, without much accompanying talk about the good. And there is much good. Ignoring that good is wrong and paints an incomplete picture of the kingdom. I want to share some typical good stories with you.

This week I will preach for a community of faith that meets weekly as part of the outreach of a big downtown church. This group also comes together for a tasty and filling lunch three times a week. They are a supportive and cohesive group of God’s people, helping each other walk in a difficult world.

A small Baptist church in my neighborhood has purchased an abandoned school building nearby. While the members wait to discern the ways it can be utilized fully, they host activities and events there, warmly welcoming the neighbors to join them. They are especially gifted at welcoming neighborhood children and youths.

I know of a small congregation outside of town that has been gathering as a community of believers for many years. They are proud of their church and its building. Having a place to come together to meet and worship and commune and share life with one another is important to them. It is ordinary life, but it is sacred as they do it together: worship services, Bible studies, potlucks, baptisms, weddings and funerals.

Perhaps my favorite expression are the members of local churches who faithfully show up on Sunday mornings and in the middle of the week at area nursing homes to worship and fellowship with the saints who are as best I can tell among the nearest to the margins. I join them as often as I can.

I have a favorite church-planter friend, whom I often refer to as my hero. He is supported in part by a large church in town. He and his wife recently relocated to a mobile home park on the edge of town and are building community within the park and planting a church in its midst. And they are doing good things and having too much fun loving their neighbors.

A dear friend of mine pastors a mid-size church that has decided to be intentional about being good neighbors to the community around them. They have worked alongside neighbors to build a beautiful community garden and are actively involved in the life of a nearby elementary school.

A tiny church in my neighborhood is offering a free soup lunch to the neighbors two Saturdays a month. They have taken in a young boy living across the street who wandered over one day and found himself in acolyte training from a sweet elderly gentleman who knew it was important to make this young man feel a part of things.

Church looks different than it did that Sunday over fifty years ago when I was born. New expressions of church are everywhere. I think that is a good thing. Many of those committed to the institutional church are seeking ways to better connect with people. Many of those disillusioned with the institutional church are seeking ways to better connect with people. More people better connected to one another and their Creator. I KNOW that is a good thing.