Today, we see another phase of our journey closing off as Ling and I visited one last church before settling in to our new church. And what a great way to end this chapter!
We visited Churchlands Christian Fellowship and were really impressed by the worship: very Spirit-led and engaging with a “mosh pit” full of older people expressing their praise to God. It was simple, yet we sensed the reality of God’s presence in that place. And we were blessed to hear a message by Ned Davies who had returned to Perth (after 20 years in Sydney including at Hillsong) to lead the worship ministry at Churchlands. Ned Davies wrote the song “Awesome in this Place”, amongst others.
But that’s an aside. Over this week, I want to round off with some thoughts about our journey to find a new church home before announcing which church we’ll be joining from the first week of March.
One of the things I want to explore is the concept of the local church as family. This was something we grappled with as early as three years ago leading up to the time we left our church at the end of July last year. When we first canvassed the thought of leaving all that time ago, one of the things which people said to me was: “you can’t leave the church. The church is your family”. (No wonder people argue so much and get into conflict: because the church is a family!)
But what our counsellors were really saying was that we were so intertwined with our local church, to leave it was tantamount to breaking familial bonds which will never form again anywhere else. It was kind of like divorcing your wife or emancipating from your parents. The local church, in effect, was your family for life and you couldn’t go anywhere else.
I used to think this too, but I now see some problems with that line of thinking. For example:
- What happens when you relocate interstate? Why is it that you can go to another church and belong to a new family then?
- What about if God calls you to simply move to another church in your city?
- What if you no longer feel like you are growing? Or what if the church you attend doesn’t have a particular ministry you feel called to serve in?
- When do you ever get to choose your church? If there is a permanence to being part of a local church family, why don’t they tack an extra bit to the end of the sinner’s prayer to warn you, such as “now that you’ve received Jesus, you’d better think carefully whether you will attend this church because you will be stuck with us for life”.
I think this concept of church as family is a major hindrance to the purposes of God in a city because it actually makes it harder for the local churches to be unified in the city. It leads to pastors becoming extremely protective of their flock so that people movement between churches is seen as taboo and therefore to be discouraged. It creates tensions between churches. And yet, when you think about it, there is absolutely no net loss to the kingdom of God! In fact, there is just the same number of Christians around except that instead of fellowshipping in one place, they have moved to a different place.
Now, I definitely believe that to be effective in the Kingdom of God, Christlike character is best formed in community, particularly in a local church. However, that shouldn’t make that one church a life sentence.
We should really look at the local churches in the city as one church, comprising of many congregations. Then we don’t really have to worry which local church people move to, as long as they remain vitally connected to God and the body of believers and keep serving Him.
So by all means the local church is a family, but only in the sense that we share in community with fellow believers; we encourage one another; we speak into one another’s lives; we admonish one another; we correct and reprove one another; we build each other up.
If we are able to see the church in the city as one big family, then the possibilities are limitless. Imagine local churches reaching across institutional/organisational boundaries to share resources; imagine the churches in a local area partnering together to deliver meals to the poor; imagine their standing side by side to host worship events or evangelistic crusades; imagine their transforming their communities together, rather than on their own. There would be synergy.
God was concerned about wicked people being united in the common cause of the Tower of Babel. In Genesis 11:6, God says “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”. But now, imagine righteous people, speaking the same language of brotherly love, executing a common God-given vision. Would it be impossible for them to transform their communities?
In the last 7 months, I have learnt that the family of God is so much bigger than any one local church. In fact, we have connected with people in the different churches we have visited; we have friends both in our old church and those who have moved on to other churches who continue to speak into our lives and (we hope) us into theirs. We have served together with people from other churches to advance the Kingdom of God. And we have come to see that we have lots of family, located in different congregations, all over this city.