You probably don’t know me. If you do, there’s a good chance you don’t know my whole story. I’m not shy about it, but neither have I been terribly public about it. But the truth is, my “story” is a part of who and what I am today and has been a major contributing factor to my current journey.
My journey is my own. I know of many people who are walking a similar path and many who will never set foot anywhere near it. I’m not saying that my way is the right way and your way is the wrong way. I simply want to give context so that maybe you will have a better understanding of where I’m coming from.
As of the writing of this post, it’s been a year and a half since I formally requested a release from the church I had been a part of for over seven years. In those seven years, there wasn’t an area of ministry I had not been involved in in some way or another. From janitorial and building improvement, to kid’s and youth ministry, men’s and women’s ministry, small groups, corporate prayer, graphics and media, worship, and even preaching, I had done it all. I did it for years without question. That was how I’d been raised. But then something changed.
I started to read my Bible—not so different from what all of us who profess to be Christians should be doing, but I wasn’t just reading it and putting it away, I was reading it looking for something to take with me as I went about my day.
The change started slowly. It was (and still is) exciting. I was seeing the Bible in a different way and making connections I’d never seen or heard of before. And while I was making connections on one hand, I was seeing a disconnect on the other hand. The Church of the Bible didn’t look much like the church I was so busy “doing.” I’d read about what Jesus was doing and how He was teaching His disciples, but failed to see how that had been translated in to what I was doing for the church.
Let me be clear, I am in no way knocking the local church. I believe there is a place for it, but I also believe that we all need to take a close look at our part in it and why we do what we do. Most of what I was doing for the church had little or no biblical foundation. Before you get all riled up, I strongly encourage you to look into this for yourself. Forget everything you think you know about what church should look like and go to the Gospels to see exactly what Jesus said He would build. If you’d never been exposed to church in your life and read the first five books of the New Testament and then walked into a church building, would it meet your expectations? Be honest.
The first week after leaving church was strange. I’d never intentionally skipped out on a Sunday service a day in my life. The next week was even more strange, as was the next. I eventually settled in to a new routine and actually found myself able to relax on weekends instead of spending Saturday preparing for Sunday and spending Sunday doing everything I’d prepared for on Saturday. There was no rest for me on the “day of rest.” Without “doing” church, I found rest. I felt like I could breathe again, never having realised I’d stopped doing that somewhere along the way.
Why do I put “doing” in quotes? I think there is a massive difference in going through the motions of church (activity in a local organised body)—the doing—and being the Church (the global body of Christ).
Before COVID hit, I’d attend a local denominational congregation every once in a while. After spending 20 years as a worship leader, I missed corporate worship. I also met on a weekly basis with several other people who found themselves on a similar path. We were all in need of fellowship and encouragement to help with the healing process.
Fast forward to today. I’m part of a local small group with no church affiliations and I’m also part of an online small group with a church affiliation. Both groups are family to me. If the lockdown ever ends, I have no plans to join another local congregation.
Most people would rather forget 2020. I don’t. 2020 was a year of immeasurable growth for me. I learned so much that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’m learning to forget what I thought I knew and open my mind and heart to what the Bible actually teaches. Verse-by-verse, I’m exploring what it really means to be a part of the Church Jesus said He would build—and I don’t have to be a part of something men are trying to build to do that.
Being a part of the body of Christ is not the same thing as being a member of a local church. The two are not the same thing. I’ve known of people who were involved in a local church that never made a commitment for Christ and I know many strong believers who never darken the door of a church building.
I think this pandemic has offered churches (and their members) across the globe an incredible opportunity to redefine what it really means to be a believer. Many leaders are embracing this time and are re-evaluating and redirecting so that when they are allowed to open the doors again, nothing will be as it was. It’s my prayer that believers everywhere, in establishing a “new normal,” also take this time to re-establish themselves, not in a local church, but in Christ.