I've noticed something lately. Church has changed. And I don't mean in the Emergent kind of way where intellectuals gaze at their navels asking, "Is Jesus really the Christ? Is He the only way?"
Yes, in case you're wondering. Unequivocally yes.
My observation of the Evangelical Bible-believing church is we've become about personal expression rather than God encounter.
Let me explain. I was recently sitting in our church's leadership meeting, looking around at folks I love, listening to our wise and steadfast pastor talk about our Simple Church model, and I wondered, "Why would any one want to come to here, to our church?"
We offer corporate prayer, home churches, children and youth church, and a Sunday morning service. We don't have a choir or drama team. No book club or weight loss meetings. We don't offer art or exercise programs. The women's ministry is a monthly Bible Study. The men's ministry is a bi-weekly Saturday morning gig.
We don't have a video or multi-media team for the techies to join. No financial ministry, marriage encounter or grief overcomers, or a group for those who want to support the troops (though our congregation does), no bi-lingual ministries. . .
And it's not that we don't care about these things. We do. But we are too small (200) to support such diversity. So, back to my original question: "Why would any one come to our church?"
Church has become a place where we expect to express ourselves, to get our needs met, endulge in the Christian version of the Saturday Night Playhouse for those who love drama, the Coffee House with Christian Rock Bands for those who love music, the more spiritual versions of recovery mininstries like Alcoholics Anonymous or Overeaters.
We have none of these things. No coffee house, no drama team or choir, no rocking band other than the worship team. ;) Where are the artists, singers, dancers, actors and teachers supposed to go? We have no ministry to support their gifts?
I envisioned a new family coming into our sanctuary and pursing the bulletin. Youth and home churches on Wednesday. . . Sunday morning meeting. . . prayer three mornings a week, but hmm, he's not into prayer and "intercession" is not her gift.
There's no scrap booking night, or wood shop, or a kid's orchestra for twelve-year-old Lila.
What they expected when they entered our church is what they've been conditioned to expect in the past twenty years: a place to express themselves.
But what they should have demanded, no, yearned for, was a place where they encountered God.
The one offering besides Sunday morning where they might meet with Him and others, morning prayer, was dismissed. While I fabricated this story, the scenario comes from very real situaitons.
Yet, I can't remember the last time I walked out of a Sunday morning service and overheard the people lamenting, "I just didn't encounter God today. I so wanted to meet with Him here. I need Him, I need His kiss on my heart."
Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone KNEW God was there? I have. Not enough, but I have a few times and it's pretty incredible. The love I felt universally is the room had only one source: Jesus.
Corporate gatherings are for edification and encounter. There's nothing like the Body of Christ worshipping together. I love corporate worship and prayer. There's a deepening and dynamic that doesn't happen when I'm alone.
If you and I have an alive, awakened heart, our personal expression of dance, music, woodworking, scrapping booking, whatever, will find a home, "out there" in the world where we can be salt and light.
When I worked for a corporation, the Lord said to me, "Welcome to your mission field." Through prayer, worship, fellowship, ingesting the Word, I remained focused on my journey.
If you love acting, why does it have to be in church dramas? Go to your local playhouse and join up. Serve. Love. Be humble. If your town doesn't have one, start one!
If you love to build things, start a group or look for elderly people who need work done around the house. Be salt. Be light.
We have something non-Believers don't have: access to God through the blood and Cross of Jesus. God literally ripped the veil that kept the Jews out of the Holy of Holies as a sign to the ages to come: "You can freely enter in now!"
Before Jesus, only a sanctified priest could enter the Holy place. He alone could encounter God. But Jesus made the way for you and I to stand before Him, sanctified, called, loved, just as the Jewish priest of old.
We can and must encounter God on our own as well as when we gather for corporate meetings. We must leave different than when we came in. Thirty minutes of worship and forty of preaching must not easily satisfy us. We should yearn and hunger to encournter God when we meet. The lame must walk, the blind see, the hurting healed.
I want my church experience to be about ENCOUNTER! Not about Rachel finding personal epxression. I want to worship beyond myself and see God.
I don't want church to be a laundry list of ministries. Beloved, if we encounter Jesus on a regular basis, we won't need so many ministries because lives will be changed!
Church is about loving God and loving others, serving one another. Until we're doing it well, let's set aside all the distractions. Focus on prayer and the Word, becoming empowered lovers of Jesus. Maybe we'll be blessed to be like the Twelve who encountered Him and turned the world upside down.