As part of the Apostles’ Creed we confess in many churches that we believe in the holy catholic Church. Some protestants and non-denominational folks get upset because they say, “but I am not Roman Catholic.” But that is not what that means. It means that we believe that Christ’s Church is wide and diverse and that that there is more to Christ’s Church than our congregation or even our denomination.
But that’s not what I want to write about! It has become increasingly the norm in church today to say that we are all about making disciples for Jesus and we are not into “church building.” I surely understand where that thought comes from. We can build up an institution where no one is really learning about Christ, drawing closer to Christ, or following what Christ taught us to do. We can be “Christians” in such an institution in name only. Hence, we try to put the emphasis on winning people for Christ which may or may not build up congregations.
But I still believe in congregations. I believe in churches with the little “c.” I want to see them succeed and I want to see them grow. I do know that some churches get far off course from who they are supposed to be. I do know that churches are filled with sinners and not saints. I do know that churches are often stuck in the past and are missing the context of where they are ministering and are prone to old ways, old technology, and even old theology. But even with numerous examples of all these and other problems, are we really ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater? Do churches (collectively) have more problems than value? It’s not even close in my book.
If we “win” someone as a follower of Jesus but they have no congregation to be a part of, no place to learn of the Bible, no clergy person, no place to be challenged to work with others (and more importantly to love others) – then what exactly have we won them over for? Do we win them to be solitary monks or nuns (if not in their physical life, in their religious one)? Do we win them over to revere Jesus’ name but not face any of the joys and challenges of being a Christian in a community? Do we say that someone’s growth in their faith is just their personal responsibility (as if we would accept that in anything else we truly value in life)?
Churches do need to make sure they are teaching the teachings of Jesus Christ and helping to grow people’s individual and communal relationship with him. We do need to have a prophetic voice and be more than just “nice people.” We do need to be more about teaching God’s Word and not just about fellowship and fun. We do need to set the example of good behavior (instead of highlighting bad behavior). But if we, in churches across our land, do not begin to value church more and its function in our faith and in our community – we are going to see them keep getting smaller. If we don’t find ways to make church compelling for young people, there will be few to gather together in the days to come.
Church growth and church sustainability should not be such negative words. We should care about the institution of the church, especially it being there for future generations. I cannot say, “Oh, I am following Jesus but the church might die in the process” with any sense of fulfillment. And for those of us of a particular denomination, we should care very much that our theological heritage is not lost to future generations.
My belief in church doesn’t trump my belief in Christ’s Church universal (the holy Catholic Church) or especially in my belief in Jesus. But I unashamedly say I do believe in church (little “c”). And I’m sure you may think that I think this way because I am a pastor. But no mater whether I am a pastor or not, I will raise my children in one, worship with my spouse in one, and hopefully see children married and grandchildren baptized in one in my life to come. And I hope this not just for myself but for all of my neighbors as well. So much that has changed (for the better) in the last 2000 years began in churches.
With Pentecost before us, and with Presbyterian churches across the presbytery starting or being engaged in a process called, “New Beginnings”, I hope the passion for not only personal evangelism and communal mission, but for building up Christ’s many congregations starts again on the upswing. It is important for today. It is important for tomorrow.
What do you think?
Until next time,