Play a game of word association with the word church and what springs to your mind?
A building – with pews, organ, minister and Sunday services?
A group of people gathered to worship God?
Or perhaps the first word to spring to mind is ‘boring’ or ‘irrelevant’.
At the moment I am struggling with the whole concept of church. For a minister that perhaps is quite a statement. Yet in some ways ministers are one step removed from commitment to a traditional view of church. For many people who regularly attend church they have been members of one or two churches (whether in person or on paper). Their chosen church is more often than not chosen on location as opposed to theology or worship style for unless you live in an area with a plethora of choices you may well be stuck with the ‘incumbent’ (the charming name given to the minister in situ at the time).
As a minister I don’t have the same loyalty to a church as the congregation member. I can move theoreticallyat any time to another church. I enter a church community once it is established and when I leave the church will continue and take on another ‘incumbent’. As a Christian I have a very mixed background – Church of Scotland affiliation through Sunday School and a biblical primary school upbringing. As a teenager I became very involved with The Salvation Army followed by another Church of Scotland in my university days. And now it is with the Church of Scotland I exercise my ministry. But as far as I am concerned I am God’s minister, fulfilling His call on my life, and the Church of Scotland provides me with the extras I need to be a minister in this day and age.
But that still leaves me with the question “Just what is Church?”. For me the church is the people not the building. The building is important because it gives us a focal point but if the church building ceased to exist, would we still be a church? Of course we would. Whenever you read the stories of the Old Testament you find God living in a tent, on a mountain and in a temple. In the New Testament you find Jesus preaching and teaching in the desert, a boat, the synagogues and the Temple. God doesn’t need a focal point. God needs the people. It is the people who need the focal point.
In today’s culture church is not synonymous with the Christian God. Rarely when you mention church in a word association game will God be the first word of the tongue. Today I drove past St Mark’s Unitarian Church – a Church for people with diverse beliefs and encouraging the development of individual spirituality. Media, movies and news have led people to believe that Church is boring or irrelevant. And this is a mantle that the Church community struggles to shake off. After all this is not a new phenomenon. Research marks 1963 as the year the Church community started dying…and it is now 2010 and what has changed?
Now I would hope you would come up with some positive answers. In the main the Church is community is more welcoming, more open, more confident and more able to deal with questions of faith. We have removed many of the barriers that stop people finding God and certainly within my own church community this has been a very important development over the generations. But how do we get passed the years of negative teaching about church – that we are boring, irrelevant, inflexible, authoritarian and living in the 19th century at best? Answers on a postcard please (or put a comment to this blog).
And something else to throw in the mix – fear. Yes fear. Through recent events I have noticed fear – fear of what I will say or do. More often or not there is fear when a ‘non-church’ family contact me for a baptism, wedding or funeral. Will I judge them or make them do something to prove their worth before they can invite God to their event? And sadly people want less and less God stuff in funerals because they have no relationship with Him – they just don’t know who else to ask for help.
In Forth St Paul’s we are trying to work out what it means to be a church community. And the answers are many and varied so we are trying to find out what God wants us to be. It is a difficult journey because some feel threatened by this and others are excited.
As you read this I hope you have formed some idea of what church is to you. But remember the overriding important element of church is the fellowship you get with like minded people who are united by a common aim to worship God and do His work in the place where they find themselves.
I would love to hear your opinions on what ‘Church’ is to you. Please respond to this blog, send me an email, or come to our Vision Explorers group, meeting approximately fortnightly on Mondays at 7:30pm in the Church building. The first meeting is 14th June. We will be using bible passages, prayers, and reflections to help us reflect on God’s plan for Forth St Paul’s. It is open to anyone so if you are local and a member of another church feel free to come and explore because our issues are quite likely to be similar to ones in your church community. And we would love to have you.