When I was younger, I used to think that the church was a building people go to on Sundays. I adhered to this belief until I went to the mission field. As a missionary, I traveled to South Africa, Mozambique, France, Spain, and the Middle East, and after traveling to all those places, I quickly discovered that church is not a building, it’s us.
When I was in the Middle East I was working briefly with an organization that helps local refugees, and the leader of the organization said something that I will never forget. He said (paraphrased), “Recently a pastor asked me to take over his church and he offered me the position of ‘lead pastor,’ but I declined.
Being the pastor of a church is not my calling. If people want to go to church on Sundays, that’s great for them, but what I do every day in my house with my team, that’s my church.”
When I was in Spain, I was working with another organization in which the leader has been a missionary for over twenty years. When I asked her why she doesn’t go to the local church on Sundays, she said (paraphrased), “I’m not called to go to church on Sundays, I’m called to be the church to lost people everyday and everywhere I go.”
Hearing experienced missionaries say these things completely shocked me because I’d never heard of a healthy Christian who doesn’t go to church on Sundays. It took a while for my brain to process what the missionaries were saying because it was completely opposite of what I was taught “church” supposed to be.
At first, I was slightly offended by these comments because I thought, “How can missionaries not go to church on Sundays??” Since I’d been taught to believe the church was a building my entire life, it never occurred to me that maybe church isn’t a building people go to on Sundays, but it’s who we are as followers of Jesus.
In Haggai 1:8 it says, “‘Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,'” says the Lord,” and in Philemon 1:2 it says, “also to Appia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier– and to the church that meets in your home:” The Bible has examples of both a building and a house being places where the church can meet.
Not too long ago I was on a train and struck up a conversation with a woman who has a Catholic background. Once the woman knew I was a Christian, she said, “Oh, so you’re religious? Cool. I don’t go to church on Sundays even though I know I should.”
Then I replied with, “Well, I believe there’s a big difference between religion and relationship.” Religion is about following rules and doing things out of obligation, but when we have a relationship with God, it’s out of an overflow of love that we have for Him that compels us to share His love with others who are hopeless.
The church isn’t a building we go to on Sundays, it’s us. The reason we go to church on Sundays is so that we’re so full of Jesus that we’re ready to bring the church to the streets, the night clubs, to the drug addicts, prostitutes, etc. Most of those people will never set foot in a church on Sunday, and that’s why we need to go and be the church to them.”
After I shared that, the woman was shocked and excited, and then replied, “Wow, I’ve never thought about church in that way before.”
We are the church, and when we step into that reality, we’ll see the works of hell destroyed and people stepping into their God-given identity. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matthew 16:18).
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