A congregation, a religion, a place of worship, a church.
While these are all ways to describe the physical dwelling that the church may embody, they miss the mark on one very critical element, us. Church is not just a place, a sermon, or a duty that we do to be right with God. Church is us, the people, the followers that wake up each day, choose love and step out into the world. Church is when you serve your neighbor, when you take a friend a meal, when you speak up for injustice. When Paul spoke about the church, he gave us the visual image of the body. Church has a head, Christ, who was, is and always will be who leads the way. Church has limbs, us, with many moving parts and functions. We are the eyes who see a need and reach out to help, the ears who hear the cries and wrap our arms to comfort, the feet that can walk and the hands that can hold. We, who all carry different gifts are set out to serve and to love, to be this church body that Paul spoke of.
I feel like we, me included, often make church too complicated. We make it about what we will get out of it. We make it about serving on Sunday and singing in worship. We make it about a 30 minute message, that we get once a week and then feel that we are good to go. I have recently joined the Women’s Ministry team at my church, Gateway in Austin. As a 7 on the Enneagram (The Enthusiast), this places me in perfect territory to dive all in, plan fun things and ramp up some excitement. This is my happy place. But I have to be careful, not to do too much, too quick. Not to start a million projects that may go nowhere. Not to treat this role as a checklist that needs to be completed, but a journal that I get to dialog in along the way. Ministry is anything but a sprint. I am finding that the prayer I often asked for, patience, is now being shown to me in a whole new light. I first realized God was granting me my wish, of more patience, as I became a mother. I was learning that I had to breathe, relax and have a plan B. I now see it again, in ministry. While my intentions may be good, rushing to start something new is not always a good move or necessary one. It may be with your best intentions to start a new group because you have heard the requests and needs, but after exhausting yourself to create them, few (if any) even show. Now don’t get me wrong, if even 1 person shows, it’s always worth it. This is not me placing a quota on what good ministry looks like. This is me allowing myself the space to sit back, be still and listen. Listen to the prompts being placed on my heart. Listen to the people being put on my heart. Listen for the ministry I am being called to. Don’t serve to stay busy, serve to display the gifts and purpose you were created for. No one else has been called to your specific calling, no matter how many others may fill the same “role”, you are unique and there is plenty of space at the table for all of us.
The church is so much more than we give it credit for. The church is what we do the minute we leave our Sunday service and step our foot out the front door. I am pretty obsessed with the church. I love all of it. I love the congregation, the pastors, the music and the space. But what I love the most are the desires placed on my heart. The feeling or thoughts that I get during a message that tell me to reach out to someone that has been on my mind. The prompt to apply for that role or position. The push to start serving, in my church or my community. These prompts are not just flukes that you get while hearing your pastor speak, that is God, speaking directly to you. That is Him whispering in your ear, filing you with confidence and giving you permission to go, be the church.
The worst thing so many of us do is stop. Stop listening, stop waiting, stop doing. We hear the message, we get the thoughts, then we do nothing. We walk out the doors and instantly go back to our life. We may be thinking about where we are going to eat or how much time we have before naps. We stop hearing the prompts, we stop having the thoughts, we stop being the church. I know I am guilty of this very act, I am learning new ways to nurture my growth of what God is trying to do inside of me.
I ask questions. This often looks like asking a simple question to the person I am with that day or maybe someone I see in the social space after service, “what did you think about today’s service?”. This simple question keeps the juices flowing and thoughts coming. It allows me to hear another perspective, offering additional wisdom and reflection.
I go to the connect spot. This is where my church has the next steps, books, resources for us to dive deeper, find out about serving or simply take home some reading material to help keep me on track until the following Sunday.
I Invite others. I find that when I know someone I want to see is coming to church, I am more motivated to go, stay and seek. This builds relationships, grows conversation and nurtures community. We can invite those that already attend our church or just ask a friend who may not have found a church home yet. This is less scary than it sounds and more rewarding than you would think. You never know when God is using you to bring a message to one of his children. And remember, church does not have to be “at church”. Asking a friend on a walk while you invest in them, asking the important questions, can be the church at its finest. This can be as good as any Sunday sermon, if done with the right intentions and an open heart.
So friends, as we start this weekend, lets not just place church on our “schedule”. Lets make church our week, our month, our day to day. Lets be still, lets hear his whispers and lets pursue the prompts placed upon our heart. I can tell you, it was these vary prompts that at one point had me thinking,”that could never happen”, and now have become my reality, placing me in spaces, relationships and organizations that I couldn’t imagine not being a part of. It was his whispers that gave me the courage to write, not because I needed to be known, but because He does. These prompts are not accidents, coincidence or by chance. These are the desires of His heart for you. Trust the visions that you are being shown. Nothing is too big and all things are possible when you have Christ walking along side you. I have seen lives change with just a simple thought.
I leave you now with the words of Paul to the Ephesians….
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Ephesians 1:18-23