Some well-meaning people say that wherever you are going about God’s work… the right people (a group we can call ‘church’) will show up.
Experts in church planting say that wherever you gather the right people together for God’s work… a group we can call ‘church’ has shown up.
Is this the same thing?
I’m not so sure it is.
In the first ‘saying’… the thing that starts it all is ‘going about God’s work’. Does this make a new church? Hardly. If we define church as a community of faith in which people have committed to be together loving God, serving the world, and maturing in faith in the name of Jesus Christ. Mother Teresa was about God’s work… along with a multitude of inspired followers, but I don’t think we can call it a church. Similarly, there are probably millions of folks worldwide who alone, or together in groups, are living out their lives with the sole purpose of ‘being about God’s work’. What is God’s work: justice, service, love, care, healing, companionship, teaching, guidance, and a whole host of other things.
In the second ‘saying’… the thing that starts it all is ‘gathering’. Now, if we gather for nothing more than doing God’s work in the world (as noble and important… and maybe even as MOST important as it is) it is not, strictly speaking, a ‘church’. Churches have the additional charge of holding people together to LIVE out every area of their lives (of which doing God’s work in the world is merely one) together, moving forward along God’s path together, discovering each new day and each new way of following God, together.
In John’s Gospel (13:34-35): Jesus says:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another
Of course this, and other ‘commands’ always point to ‘being about God’s work’… but ‘being about God’s work’, in itself, does not make a church. A church, it seems to me, starts with the commitment to ‘love one another’ and to be ‘members of one another’ (Ephesians 4). This togetherness shows up in every aspect of ‘church’ from worship, to learning, to prayer, to service, to deep relationship, to financial support, to time and effort support… in a way that gives over our whole life to God, God’s people, and God’s work Not just one… not just two… but all… all the time.
If it ain’t all of this… it ain’t all THAT.