Monday, October 04, 2010

"Where Do You Go to Church?"

Where do you go to church?

It’s a normal question, and I’m not offended by it.  But in the year since I stopped going to conventional church, I have yet to figure out an easy answer to this question.  I see the horror in friends’ eyes when I tell them I don’t go.  We’ve all known people who walked away from fellowship with believers, or who become apostate to the faith.  There is pity and skepticism if I tell friends I’m still looking.  And when I explain what I’m doing as a matter of practice without going into the reasons, it sounds apologetic.  I’m not sorry for my choices.  I believe in them.

So why do I not go to a church?

Five years ago I led a Bible study on the spiritual gifts.  We looked at what the gifts are, examples of people using them, how they build up the church, and how other believers should respond to them.  In that study I, at least, became convinced that not only was my church broken – but the whole model for “church” that I was familiar with neglected the body-participation and Spirit-ual power and guidance described in the New Testament.

For four years I studied ecclesiology – what the Bible says about the gatherings of believers.  After I’d worked out an idea, mostly based on 1 Corinthians 11-14, of what a church meeting should be like, I discovered some websites about house churches.  My favorite website was New Testament Reformation Fellowship.  On their site are articles about the exact points and questions raised by my study.  The men who contribute to NTRF are from several countries and about ten congregations.  There are people really practicing church like you read about in Acts and the epistles.

But though I was gaining conviction on these things, God was not releasing me from the church I had attended since I was 15.  Church is about God and people, God’s purposes in people.  I am not (even now) released from loving those people or even from fellowshipping with them as I have occasion.  My church was broken, more than its model and more than a church has to be broken (consisting of redeemed sinners).  Many people attending that church were trying to stay to help, to heal, to influence towards the holy and faith-ful.

Finally in 2009 conflict came to a head at my church.  I prayed hard.  God taught me a lot about love.  The result for the church was essentially a split.  For me, I was released from my commitment to that body and that authority.  My family also left that church.  We were then faced with the question of what to do next.  As a family and independently we visited several area churches, without finding any to belong to.

A group that had met for fellowship and Bible study before they left the church continued to meet and my parents joined, contemplating a church plant.  They met in a house and held Sunday meetings.  Members of that group began to explore models for church that appealed to them.  Family-integrated ideas and house church ideas were blended with more traditional ministry models.

Some wanted to expand out of the house.  Others wanted to stay small.  Some wanted to support a full time pastor and others sought bi-vocational leadership.  There were different ideas about the purpose of church: discipleship, evangelism, worship, fellowship?  Which one is the primary goal?  Instead of seeking as a group what the Bible teaches about church, the families mostly went separate ways according to their preferences.

My family had heard about house churches from me for years.  They decided that they believed in house churches, and also in some associated concepts like co-leadership and family integration.  For my part, I am unwilling to join an institution I don’t believe in; I think it would cause problems for them and for me.  I would still like to find a church that follows the 1 Corinthians pattern for church meetings.  Though my parents still meet with some families from our old church, in a house church format, I am concerned that there is still division about the meaning of church and that their practices are somewhat arbitrary and not Bible-based.  I attend a few meetings a month with my family.

Close friends from Awana – and friends of those friends – had developed in 2008 and 2009 a prayer meeting and Bible study.  It was informal, meeting every week or two to share what God had been doing in our lives, the things we were burdened for or convicted about, and Scriptures God had laid on our hearts to share or that had spoken to us during the week.  We spent about an hour each meeting in Spirit-directed prayer, each praying as led.  Our fellowship before and after was sweet, and we often gathered at other times to do ministry or to have parties or to encourage each other.  This was my support during the difficult church split.  And it continues to be God’s provision for a “church”, the closest meeting in my experience to what I’m looking for in a church.

On the side, I also visit a few friends’ churches on Sunday mornings, about 2 out of 4 Sundays.  I visit Sovereign Grace, Cornerstone Chapel, Agape Bible, and Summitview Community in Fort Collins.  Each of these churches has good, God-loving and Jesus-following people who believe in community and whose theology is orthodox and God-exalting.  When I visit them, I think of it as a sort of worship and Bible conference.  I’m also open to visiting other churches occasionally, especially to see people I don’t often get to see – but also to meet new people and see what God is doing in the lives of Christians all over Colorado.

I have a concern about this church practice I’ve adopted, and it is that I have no pastor.  There is no good example of walking in the Spirit whose gift is to shepherd other Christians, guiding and feeding them – none who knows me and my spiritual state whose authority I could submit to and whose leadership I could follow.  But I have been in many conventional churches whose men titled “pastor” do not fit that description, and so I know that there is no easy way to find one.  A pastor, like so many other things, is a gift from God.  And I’m asking God for one still.

To God be all glory.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Lisa-
Thank you for explaining your reasoning for quitting the "conventional church". While I don't have the same perspective, I appreciate the desire to model the church after that biblical model found in Acts.
I'm thankful you bless us at Cornerstone with your friendship and fellowship on occasion!!! While I'd love to see you, Michael, and the crew more I'm grateful for the times we can worship together.
Lord willing you'll find a pastor who can shepherd, encourage, challenge, care for, love and ultimately point you to Jesus. I"m blessed to have found that in Pastor Sam and Pastor Dorian. I'm going to pray you find that too.
Blessings,
Nicole