For a long time we thought church was supposed to be our source of spiritual growth. For a long time we based our opinion of our current church in how “fed” we felt, how good the worship or the word was, how entertaining the children’s ministry, how well-spoken the pastor, how much Scripture was in the sermon, how like-minded the people, how available the Bible studies and small groups, how much outreach was done, how friendly the people were to visitors, how trendy the paint colors, how strong the anointing was.
For years, we assumed that this is how you gauge the health of your church, and/or whether or not your church is beneficial and right for you.
We were wrong. Or maybe immature is a better word. We were immature and uncomprehending of the actual purpose of church in our lives. Or the purpose of US in ITS life. We approached “church” as consumers.
Which is kind of weird when you think about it, because church is no more than people. It’s not a location, a building, a method, a denomination, a production, a program, or an institution. Not church as God designed it, which is the only kind we are interested in.
A living organism. A collection of living organisms, like a family, or the human body, or a grove of aspens. Connected, breathing, growing, alive. A synergistic sum of a synergistic sum of parts.
For years we had church in the wrong seat on the bus. Then something happened. Or maybe it was several somethings. Some weird seasons of spiritual drought. A lot of disappointment and frustration. Some adventures. Some new understanding. Some painful humbling. Some churches that we liked a lot and some that we didn’t like at all. Some grueling growing-pain seasons where we had to shed all the superfluous in order to keep running, or we would be sure goners. Distance running does that, even “spiritual” distance running. It forces you to name and protect priorities, to set boundaries and get very honest with yourself, about yourself, for the sake of economy. And survival.
A change began to take place. We developed some muscles we never knew we had. We started to become spiritual distance runners. Discerning prayer warriors. People who could bloom and flourish both in season and out of season. It was as though we were being watered elsewhere, and our spiritual lifesource was coming from an untouchable place. We were fresh, hopeful, joyous, strong, creative, more and more enduring, confident about steps of faith and obedience, and full of the spirit of (His) adventure, and it had nothing to do with “church”.
During those years, we learned four valuable lessons:
1. Jesus is our Source for spiritual growth. Time spent with Him, a personal relationship with Him, which mostly happens at home, privately, and is only enhanced by corporate worship. Not created by corporate worship. Also, He is pretty much the Source for everything else we need in this life: identity, love, hope, provision, purpose, direction, wisdom, revelation, friendship, beauty. People can only enhance these, and add to what is already there. They simply are not equipped to be our source for any of them. (This can be a painful lesson.)
2. We are the church. This is far more profound than it seems.
3. The prior ignorance of these lessons is (mostly) why we were always disgruntled. Because people/church/methods/cool songs and paint and preaching simply cannot fill us up. Square peg, round hole. Only Jesus. The actual Person.
4. The realization of these lessons brings joy and freedom, the ability to give and love unconditionally without strings attached, the wisdom to guard one’s heart against offense and disappointment and not give too much power to people, and to encourage/help/lead without hypocrisy.
We still have to remind ourselves of these lessons sometimes. We can slip back into spiritual consumerism and start to criticize from the wrong heart, get disappointed over the wrong things, withhold grace and perspective and patience, and love with ulterior motives. We have to say it out loud to each other, that “the only real indication of true spiritual health in the Body of Christ is the unity of her individuals walking closer and closer in a personal relationship with Jesus.” We have to ask the Holy Spirit again and again and again, to recalibrate our vision. To come. Fill us with Your Spirit and breathe on Your Word. Give us love and power and self-control. Be our Source all over again today. Help us run our miles well, with endurance and pace and balance and skill. Help us to be the Church.
And give us a love that comes straight from Heaven.
“Oh, the awesome depths of communion that we can find in the secret place – not to mention the ingesting of delightsome spirit food! When we properly find these things in the secret place and lead our families in these things, then Sunday morning gatherings can fulfill their proper role in our lives: a place where God is glorified and ministered to, a place where we can encourage and support others, a place where the vision for our collective body is articulated, a place where our unity is built,
a place of corporate prayer, a place where the young and weak are strengthened and encouraged, and a place where seekers can come to Christ.” -Bob Sorge