Here is the church, here is the steeple…
I have subscribed to the worth of many different church forms in my life. In college I thought if every church could just have energized singing (what I then referred to as worship) we’d all be okay. Then when I got partway through seminary I decided that churches weren’t reaching young people (which overall they weren’t and aren’t) and the only solution was to start new churches for young adults within existing churches (so I sort of did that by creating a separate ministry for young adults in an existing church that didn’t have much intentional connection with the larger church). The good reason for this was some connection remaining with other age groups–the more banal reason being that there was someone to fund it. A few years into that I became convinced that church structure was in need of more massive revision. After all, the early church probably didn’t own buildings and have “Sunday services.” So we needed a form that was more “organic.” Something that at least approximated a house church (though we should not limit the meeting place to a house). We helped lead an effort at this kind of church for two years. Still largely believing in that more organic approach to church structure, we were called back into a very traditionally structured church.
As I have reflected on all these experiences, and have figured out what it looks like for me to be a pastor in a traditional church, my views on church structure have morphed again. This time, however, it doesn’t have to do with the validity of a particular structure or form. What I’ve come to see is that there are inherent benefits and liabilities in any structure–some probably with a few more liabilities than others–but the faithfulness of a group of believers (a church) does not come from its structure. A house church can be a powerful kingdom force, or it can be an ingrown group of people who are totally detached from the mission of God. A megachurch can be a hub of deep engagement in the kingdom of God, or it can be a center of watered down Christianity. A little church in the city can be a light in the dark parts of our world, or it can be a fortress where the “saints of old” hide from the world around them.
Whatever church structure we find ourselves in, there are some things I believe are important.
- Be discerning and honest about the benefits and pitfalls of the structure.
- Be more committed to Jesus Christ, his kingdom, and his mission than your “church form.”
- Focus on faithfulness in following Jesus and helping others do the same.
- Be understanding of those who choose to pursue “church” in a different form than you do. There is only one church–the church of Jesus Christ–so the house church and megachurch Christians are family (whether they like it or not).
It’s funny how the debates on church structure (based on its appearances, not its outcomes (the outcomes based debate has much more validity, I digress)) can make it seem like Jesus sought to establish an organization–whether it is eight people in a house or ten thousand on a campus–when the reality is that he established a people, a mission, and a hope. All of us who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord would do well to focus on that.