Yesterday I was a presentation on Re-Formation in the church that is occurring during the Spring Academy at Gettysburg Seminary. It was a great presentation that a friend gave.
In it she asked the question – what is church?
In other words, how do we define it?
Is it just the bricks and mortar? Is it the people? Is it a way of life? A mission?
I had to think about this a bit. I wonder if the answer will depend partly on the context. In some cases the church is the building. In others, it certainly is not.
In some cases it is the people, a way of life, and a mission.
But really, what is the essential essence of church?
I think it is based on relationship. I think it is our relationship with God, with one another, with ourselves, and with the rest of creation. But I think it starts with relationship with God and spreads out to the other three relationships. This is what makes it unique and different.
Maybe this is too broad though. Maybe we need more boundaries on the definition.
But I think church is also a living organism as well. It is living in the sense that to be church means to be dynamic and open to change. To be church means to honor traditions, but not be held hostage to past generations either. To be church is to recognize that the core doesn’t change – just how we go about living out that core depending on the context. Also, how we communicate that core will change with the context as well.
If I had to summarize church, I go back to what I learned from my research on the church in Finland (that I argue also applies to the church in the US) – the church is approachable, enjoyable, and relevant.
The church is approachable in that questions and doubt are welcome, where grace abounds and judgement is left at the door. So is shame. Church lives out the idea that the curtain in the temple was torn – the separation between God and creation was ripped. God is approachable. That’s what being in relationship means.
The church is enjoyable. I’m not talking about entertaining here. In the presentation the presenter talked about worship being like a party. It is something that people are enjoying and people want to come to. We shouldn’t be bored out of our mind with church or worship. Why go, why be a part of something that is boring? Healthy relationships are enjoyable – you want to be around the person you are in a relationship with.
The church is relevant. I’m not talking about being hip, changing things to fit the current trends, or adopting whatever slang is popular. No, I’m talking about this – are we talking about what is going on in people’s lives? Or are we too afraid to do that? The church has the opportunity to talk about the struggles and challenges that people face and offer something that no one else can offer – grace, forgiveness, belonging, mercy, love. There are plenty of people who struggle with addictions (drugs, sexual, porn, workaholism, alcohol, medical addictions, exercise, food, etc.) and yes, even people in the pews of churches around the world. If we can’t talk about these struggles with the people who are living with them, and do it with grace and mercy (and no shame), then where are we going to talk about them? The answer is no where.
So, what is church? I say church is an approachable, enjoyable, and relevant relationship between people, creation, and God.