In recent years, the idea of getting outside the church walls has become the mantra of the millennial church goer. There’s this open air tension between traditional vocational pastors and the new (actually been around forever) “trendy” house church leaders. On the house church side you have some leaders that insist that the idea of a church building is wrong and that we need to get back to the Acts 2 church, which consequently gathered mainly in homes; mostly because they were a new religion and didn’t have a building. Oh, but they did actually go to the temple, which is THE building, so they could worship together. On the traditional church side you have leaders becoming defensive and feeling the need to justify the fact that they meet inside of a large, high-tech, church building. The argument is silly and for both groups saying, as often as they do, that “they aren’t saying their way is the right way, just a way,” they seem pretty adamant that their way is the right way. So they argue back and forth about a building
In reality it has little to do with not having a building. Very few churches don’t have some sort of a structure. If you meet at home, you have a building. In a community center? Building. Movie theater? Building. At the Krispie Kreme? That’s a building. In the public restroom of a city park? That’s gross; stop doing that. You get the point. But in truth, it’s so much less about meeting in a building and so much more about what focus you give the building as part of your ministry.
In the church my friends and I just started, right now our building is our homes; which actually means we have two buildings. We’re only a couple months in, but we’re already talking about where we’ll meet for larger gatherings. The most obvious and cost permissible way is the elementary school in our neighborhood. We’re not afraid of having a building. We’re not even afraid of what happens when we do move into a building. We’re actually so confident in the call that God has placed in us that we’re excited for the time that we get to meet in a larger group.
I think one of the biggest confusions with churchies (shout out to my girl Sheri) is what the word “ministry” actually means. There’s an assumption that ministry only happens behind the walls of an actual church building. It’s almost like there’s some secret method to conducting “ministry” and only a select few have the ability to administer it. In reality, when you “minister” to someone, you’re simply “attending to their needs” or “giving aid or service to” them. It’s by that definition that we are called to be ministers of The Word. And just so we’re clear, everyone’s “need,” whether you’re a believer or not, is Jesus. When we minister to each other and others, we’re attending to our need for Jesus. In our church, we’ve made a very specific distinction about what type of ministering happens in which place. For the sake of this article, we have two spaces: The Communal Space and The Open Space.
The Communal Space
The Communal Space is for the believer. Inside the communal space, we will gather corporately to attend to the needs of the believers that are part of our community of faith. We will gather as a body of believers and equip each other for the work of attending to the needs of those outside the communal space. We’ll minister to each other until we have attained unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God; until we all reach mature manhood and womanhood and grow into the fullness of the character of Christ. (Eph 4:11-13) We will gather with other believers to celebrate all the good things that God has done, is doing and will do. We will gather together to seek God in prayer. We’ll gather to grieve our losses, as one body. We’ll gather to encourage those that struggle. We’ll gather to worship and sing God’s praises. We’ll gather to break bread and participate in Holy Communion, that we might remember our Savior’s sacrifice and imminent return. We’ll gather to make much of Jesus and in doing so, minister to each other’s continual need for Him, so that we’re able to minister to others’ need for Him, so that they may make much of Him.
The Open Space
The Open Space is for the unbeliever. We live life in the open space with both believers and unbelievers. This is where we do life. Inside the open space is where we allow others to see how messy and un-put-together our lives really are. This is where the glitz and polish of “I’m great and just keeping busy” turns into the bedraggled mom that’s told her 5 year old one too many times to put their shoes on or the dad that has a bad day at work and instead of leaving it there, takes it home to his family in the form of shortness and snappy remarks. This is where others get to see that being Christian doesn’t mean you have it all together, but that Jesus is strength in our weakness. It’s where other see that following Jesus isn’t about perfection, it’s about progress. The open space is where you get to be the love of Christ to those that don’t know Him. In the open space you get to be with others to celebrate and to grieve loss. You get to be with others to encourage and counsel. You get to be in real life with others, without exception to who they are. That means we be with them regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, economic status, or religious belief. We do so without placing expectation on them, even that they might be “saved.” You hope they come to know Him, but it isn’t a contest of conversion, it’s a long walk of revealing Him, in hopes that they meet Him. The open space is where we get to love God by loving others and we get to love each other so they know we’re His.
That’s how Bucknell Neighborhood Church has decided to minister to each other and others. There is value in gathering corporately with other believers, in a building. Right now, because there’s like 12 people in our church, we attend a corporate gathering at National Community Church. They have 7 campuses and the lead pastor is Mark Batterson. We love it, but eventually we’ll start our own corporate gathering and stop going to NCC. But, all the value that corporate gathering brings equals nothing if it doesn’t equip you to operate in the open space. That’s where Jesus sent us. That’s where the command to “make disciples” was intended to be acted out. We gather together with those who depend on Him, to be in life with those who need Him, but don’t know it yet. In that, we are Him, to them.
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