(##Edit/Disclaimer: Ok, I got a little carried away with this post, none of the other ones in the series will be this long. Seriously...just a lot of ground to cover in this 1st one.)
1) Examine what it truly means to be a church
Pic mostly unrelated. I just thought it was awesome.
I think the best place to look for what it means for the church to be the church is to look at (yeah you probably saw this one coming) the book of Acts. Acts 2....of course. Everyone's favorite "what a church should do" proof-texting source.
But for real, Acts 2:42-47, NLT (parenthesis mine):
"They (the new believers) joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord's Supper and in prayer. (43)A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. (44)And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. (45)They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. (46)They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity--(47)all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved."Ok, there's about 8 years worth of things to talk about in that 6 verses...so here's a quick bullet point gleaning:
-Devotion (v42): People devoted themselves to 2 things: The teaching of the apostles and to fellowship. Or to put it in other words, to learning more from people who had something to teach and to living their lives in community with each other. This was important, they were devoted to it.
This is where the teaching, the preaching, the miracles, communion, prayer, the 'churchy stuff' happens. In the fellowship. In the every-day. As a BYPRODUCT of living your lives with each other and being invested and devoted to other people. It just flowed naturally.
You don't live your lives with the people you see 1 hour each week on Sunday morning, or 2 hours in a small group. That's not living your life together, that's an artificial environment--which leads directly to...
-Meet Constantly (v44 & 46): This is mentioned several times, as if it's being deliberately emphasized that the people met together all the stinking time. Verse 46 says they gathered in the Temple each day. Each day! Crazy! Yeah, meeting together each day with people is kinda living your life together. They go hand in hand. It's very hard to build relationships with people when you don't spend your time with them.
And what did they do when they met? They worshiped God, fellowshipped, and they gave to each other...
-Shared everything they had (v44, 45, 46): People even sold their stuff and gave the proceeds with those in need. They also shared their meals with each other. The Bible says they did these things with great joy and generosity while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of ALL the people. Not just believers. This is important. This is ALL the people.
You'd think that maybe if we did something similar, if we focused on sacrificially giving to those in need, that perhaps the church would receive some equal levels of goodwill from ALL the people? From those outside the church? That perhaps if we acted in the same fashion, that we'd experience something similar to the end of v45 of "the Lord added to their group those who were being saved?"
What if we really focused on that need? What if we focused on it to a point that there was not a single person in our church who had a need? If everyone gave internally to each other so that all needs were filled?
What if instead of measuring attendance, small group participation, mission project percentages and other metrics to see how "healthy" our church was; we instead measured how needy our church is? What if it was our goal that nobody in our church was going to be in need of anything?
And what if we expanded that to our communities? What if we looked at homelessness, poverty, hunger, etc and measured our success as a church by how much of a problem these issues are?
We have several homeless shelters in town, I know they have very long waiting lists for people to even get into them. What if the church measured its effectiveness by how empty those homeless shelters were? If they're empty (nobody NEEDS to use them) then we're effective. If they are all full and have waiting lists a mile long, then we are hideously ineffective.
Talk about rebuilding the church's reputation!
You think that those outside the church would be talking about the judgmental, anti-homosexual, overly political, hypocritical nature of the church if a church basically eliminated the need for homeless shelters/soup kitchens in the city it was in?
I sure don't. But I digress.
Looking over those main points: Devotion, meeting constantly and sacrificially meeting needs by sharing everything--I get a larger picture in mind.
People like to say that church isn't the building, church is the people. And I see what they mean by it. They mean that the people are the body of Christ, that is the actual "church." But I'd take it further than that.
The church isn't a building, the church isn't the people, the church is a lifestyle. It is a dramatic refocusing of priorities to where your life no longer looks the same that it did before.
Church is where you go, what you do, who you are, it's all of those things. I think it's that lifestyle of constant devotion, constant community, constant giving that is at the core of what it truly means to be a church.