I was thinking about church this morning. Nothing specific. Just church. Such an innocuous sounding word yet freighted with meaning. Some days it’s a sucker punch and others a bear hug.
I’m not even sure of the definition . . . a place, a people, a concept, a way of life. It’s a very messy label. Like registration stickers on a car—layer upon layer of color peeking out from years gone by.
Maybe that’s why I have to fight the urge to qualify it: my church isn’t like _____, not all churches _____, my church doesn’t _____. Funny my qualifications are always based on what or who we aren’t.
And it is “we,” isn’t it? It’s the people.
When I hear the word, the initial mental flash is faces. Stories. Memories. Some colored by pain; others awash in safety. But it’s always people.
When it comes right down to it, the programs and the styles don’t mean much. The org chart and facility use agreements aren’t very important. When I’m flailing in an ocean of fear and doubt, it’s a hand, a hug, an ear, a word of truth I need. And when I’m floating in gratitude and peace, I need community just as much.
Theology matters. Statements of faith and church constitutions matter. They do.
But pieces of paper are not a church.
The church is the collection of people.
The Word came in flesh. God came. To people. To us. Emmanuel. God with us. That’s how He designed us, His people. To be together with Him.
We are the church. Collectively. One body, many members. We each need to give and take, serve and be served, share and receive. It’s “and,” not “or.” I cannot soak in without being wrung out; I cannot give what I’ve not received.
Why do I cringe and throw up semantic smokescreens over church? We are as imperfect en masse as we are individually—and we each layer on our own contexts and histories—but how marvelous we have one another to cheer us, to carry us, to teach us, to comfort us, to challenge us to hold unswervingly to the faith to which we were called.
The God who knew we weren’t made to be alone gave us not only Himself, but each other. I can live in that church.