An almost conversation I nearly had the other day, but narrowly avoided, would have focussed on "church" and how we use that word still. To be honest I just wasn't inclined to get into a discussion that would go something along the lines of:
Them: "We're hoping to have a church soon"
Me: "By that you mean a building from which to operate rather than a gathered community by the sounds of it."
Them: "Well yes. Oh I know that the church is not the building and all that, but we know what we mean. We need a place to gather."
Me: "Ah, so your group has outgrown your lounge then. Why not start a new group?"
At this point the conversation would follow a pattern where I'd suggest that there are plenty of "churches" already built we just normally call them houses or homes. I'd get called picky or pedantic and then there might be some debate about how would people know where to find "the church" if it doesn't have an identifiable base or building, and so it would go on.
Maybe I am pedantic, maybe I am picky, but it's because I really am becoming more and more convinced that every time we bottle the church and stuff it in a building, we are in danger of institutional crepitus and long term irrelevance. Harsh? Maybe. The problem is that a building demands a purpose and that purpose is usually self serving. It might begin with good intentions, but it can so easily slide into becoming the focus of all our energy and time. We begin running programmes form the building and before you know we are lamenting the fact that people don't come to our building. Except we call it our church, and therefore people aren't coming to our church and the church has suddenly become the building and not the people.
I am no longer committed to serving that pattern of church life. I don't think I've ever been committed to it. In fact, I think a few people believe I ought to be committed because of it! Here's the thing. We do not need buildings to make disciples, and surely making disciples is what we have been commissioned to do. Helping others to become followers of Jesus should be in our DNA.
The longer we stayed attached to the building as the defining characteristic, the further we will find ourselves removed from the people Jesus misses most. exactly how you go about leaving the building and entering the community I don't know. All I can say is that if you ever hear me lamenting not having a building were we can focus our efforts and our worship, just take me to one side and remind of these things. I'll take a building one day if we use in, for and with the community. If all we do is keep it to ourselves and isolate ourselves, then I'm not interested.