Is Church Essential?

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I’m not sure there is a way to discuss this without it becoming a polarizing issue except to NOT discuss it. I’m also aware that those who disagree will have much to say about it…and me…but it’s not the first time a post written with loving intentions had me certainly damned to hell by well-intentioned Christians.

Those who disagree are welcome here, too.

Enough about that. We’re here to discuss if church is essential. Many Christians says so. Savior Trump says so. Must be so.

Is it?

Let me make a simple distinction at the get go. One that I think is wildly important.

There’s a difference between a church service/institution and THE CHURCH. I think we’d all agree with that, right? As Christians, we know we are THE CHURCH. The Body of Christ was put on this Earth to love and serve and bring His kingdom to others. (Which was, in fact, Jesus’ mission as well.)

I am THE CHURCH. You are THE CHURCH. God wants to use us. Desires to use us. Has gone so far as to commission us to BE His Church.

Still with me? Good. Cause here’s the part that I’m going to call into question.

Is a church service essential? Frankly, is the church as an institution essential? No. I don’t think so.

But Holly what about Hebrews 10:25??? What about Acts 2:42??? I’m very much aware of those references and am in no way suggesting anything that is contrary to those verses. What I am suggesting is that it doesn’t look like the Sunday morning service the masses are convinced are essential.

Throughout this season of social distancing and quarantine I have been bewildered by some Christians desires to “get back to normal”. As if normal has somehow been working for us. This could be it’s own blog post, but I wonder if God has been trying to use this time to shake the Church out of it’s stagnancy and CHANGE THINGS UP.

Whenever I have BIG questions like whether church is essential I go back to Jesus. I look at His life. How he was doing things during His time on Earth and then try and use that to answer my question.

If we were to go the traditional route, there are a few times in the Gospels where Jesus was explicitly at the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the hub for Jewish teaching and was the center for celebrations and holidays. We know Jesus’ family visited the Jewish temple and participated in these holy days. In Luke 2, we read about how as a boy Jesus got left behind at the temple because He was busy listening to the teachers and asking questions.

Jesus also tore up the joint (John 2, Matthew 21) because the temple had become a place of profit. Hmm. I’ll leave that one alone.

We also know Jesus taught in the synagogues “as was his custom” (Luke 4:16). One of my favorite examples of this can be found in Luke 4 where He stands up and reads from Isaiah 61, rolls up the scroll and goes to sit back down. All eyes are on Him at this point because they realize what He’s just alluded to and then plainly states– that He IS the Messiah. Uh, mic drop.

So, what if the temple had been closed for two months? Would this have halted Jesus? Would He have been in an uproar to get the doors re-opened? 

I want to take us back to the story of Mary and Martha. Not so we can look at my woman of faith doppleganger, Martha, but Mary. We are told in Luke 10 that Mary was found at the feet of Jesus listening to His teaching. Mary wasn’t the only one in the room. Yes, Martha was pissed off in the kitchen prepping for dinner, but the rest of the family (neighbors, friends) were listening to Jesus, too.

It’s kinda what Jesus did. To echo 12-year old Jesus’ words, “Didn’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?”

He went from place to place hanging out with people. Eating meals with them and giving them the literal Word of God while He lingered there. He did this with Zacchaeus and even big time Pharisees and Jewish leaders, too.

It was this meeting people along the way kind of ministry. The kind of ministry that met people at water holes, along roadsides, in cemetaries (hello, demon possessed naked man!) and in open fields.

He was not shackled to a building, but rather a mission. 

And I get it, we’ve tied the mission of God to a building for so long it’s been uncomfortable and shaky for many when that building (crutch?) has been taken away. 

In a very real way, I understand that meeting together can be encouraging. How praying with one another and worshiping together can usher in the presence of God. I would never deny that, but maybe our church buildings have become precious little idols.

I wonder that because when it’s taken away (even temporarily) a spirit of fear rose up. “They’re denying us our freedom!” “We’re being persecuted!” In Sunday School, we are taught early on that an idol is anything that takes our focus off of God and onto something or someone else. So, again, I just wonder if a building/service/institution has become our focus.

I often wonder if Jesus would be impressed at our big fancy buildings that take up city blocks or old strip mall plazas or would He remind us that it is just a tool. One of many that can be used for His glory. If it gets taken away tomorrow His mission doesn’t and will not end because He’s bigger than that. 

Please hear me. I am not trying to be edgy, clickbaity or controversial. I’m just like you– trying to figure out the heart of God in a world that is constantly changing. I don’t want to miss something He has for me, or US, because I was so busy focusing on one thing when He had something better and BIGGER in mind.



One Tough Mother

Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. (1 Thess. 5:14-18, The Message)

This past week, I had the opportunity to be a camp counselor to 8 of the most amazing girls I could ever meet. Other counselors may try and convince you their campers were the best, but they are wrong. I’ve heard it said before (in regards to Mission trips mostly) that you go with the intention, the hope of being a blessing, but in reality you are the one being blessed.  That’s what happened to me this week. I went thinking I’d be the one giving of encouragement and love and even though that did happen– what I got in return was nothing short of a beautiful revelation.

Did this revelation take place in a chapel service or during a time of prayer or bible study? No, it happened in the middle of a game…correction, in the midst of torture.

You see, at Camp Judah we participate in a camp wide Special Event each day in the afternoon. The directors concoct games that over 150 people (campers and counselors together) can participate in– cabin verses cabin and team against team. For those of use who are severely competitive this is a very SERIOUS event. Chants are shouted as the teams gather at the specified meeting point. The environment full of athletic energy and team pride.

One such “game” we participated in this week was lovingly dubbed the “Tough Mother”. It was a scaled down version of the Tough Mudder competition, which I now know I will never sign myself up for. Our Tough Mother was less than a mile long, but full of obstacles and stations that you and your teammates needed to complete together. Your team in this type of event is essentially only as good as your weakest member. And for my team, that member was me.

No, really. I was the weakest link.

But, the directors said counselors would be participating and who am I to back down from some good competition? So, there I was at the starting line wondering what I had signed myself up for– would I even be able to complete the race? Would I let my girls down? Where among the course would I be throwing up my turkey sub from lunch? I gave my girls a quick pep talk, giving them some last minute pieces of advice. Letting them know I might bark orders at them at some point along the way. With a final high five and “We’ve got this!” the horn sounded and we were off.

I made it across the pool, alright. I scaled the fence (scale may be too graceful of a word). More like, I flung myself over a fence. We stepped inbetween tires. Climbed up a wet, tarped hill. Pushed a tractor tire through a maze. Climbed down a steep ravine wall. Ran through a creek. Up another hill. Jumped into a canoe and paddled (with our arms) across the length of a pond. Crawled on our bellies under a tarp while being whacked with foam javelins. And in our second to last station cared a log up a hill.

It was in the middle of the hill that I had my revelation that I referenced earlier. By this point, my body and mind had been stretched in ways that it had never been before. I wasn’t just exhausted, but I found myself very literally unable to breathe. And I stopped. I was done. I couldn’t take one more step. And in that moment, my girls rallied around me in a powerful act of support. Each one telling me how proud they were of me and how we COULD finish. We WOULD finish.

I placed my arm around the log and made our way to the top of the hill. We had a carpet race to complete and then the final leg to the finish line. By this point, I still couldn’t breath, but found myself literally connected to one of my girls. She had grabbed my arms and put them around her and she kept me moving as the rest of our girls placed one carpet square in front of the other. We inched our way across the parking lot and had somehow managed to pass the other team. We ran down the last hill, hand in hand, in triumphant glory.

We had not only finished the race, but won it.

I became a pastor’s kid when I was adopted at the age of 13. Needless to say, I’ve been in church a lot. Sundays. Wednesdays. Conferences. Missions trips. Summer camps. There’s been things, people, circumstances that have hurt me and over time my heart has hardened towards the Church. I’ve always loved Jesus, but His people, not so much. I’ve seen people change churches for petty reasons. Spreading gossip and slander. Holding offenses. People taking instead of giving. The more I saw, the more my disgust grew.

And for a long time that’s how I felt. Disgusted with the Church, with His people. I’ve read and studied my Bible long enough to know this wasn’t good and that I needed a change of heart, but that’s kinda where it ended. I didn’t pray and ask God for help with that area in my life because I preferred to be secretly angry and offended. It was EASIER that way. (See my previous blog titled: Easy vs. Simple)

A few months ago, God started gently working on my heart though. I had agreed to attend a special camp meeting with my friend. The pastor shared bible story after bible story about how God would take something or someone broken or seemingly insignificant and bring about victory. It was a powerful message, but at the end he asked us to get into groups of 4 or 5 people and to pray for the Church. It was in that little prayer group where I could see God gently nudging me. Not in a “Holly, get your crap together and love these people that I’ve asked you to love”, but more of “I love these people, Holly. They’re not perfect, but I love them.”

That short time of prayer started something in me…a softening of my heart. And it was during the Tough Mother where things really came to light for me. In the midst of a VERY difficult physical situation, at the very end of myself, I found myself encouraged and carried by a group of girls who loved me. Who cared more about us finishing as a team than winning a race. They didn’t belittle me for my lack of strength or my desire to give up, but spoke life and encouragement when I needed it most.

That’s what we are called to as the Church. As the verse in 1 Thessalonians exhorts us to do: encourage stragglers, reach out to the exhausted, and pull them to their feet. My girls lived that out for me in one of the most practical, tangible ways possible. And it makes me want to do that for those in this race with me. I want to be the type of woman, the type of Christian, who comes alongside someone who is struggling and inches away from defeat and tell them, “It’s ok. You got this. We’re doing this together!”

Let’s focus on finishing this race as a team instead of pointing out each others weaknesses, shortcomings and imperfections. Let’s speak life and encouragement to one another offering an extended hand to help pull them along.