I often become involved in discussions with those who’ve recently, or not so recently left the system of religious obligation and its trappings and are wondering what comes next. Common questions are: “How do I serve God now?” “How do I find the fellowship I long for?” “Do you have regular meetings I can attend?” “What is church outside of the institutional setting?”
Most folks eventually discover that serving God has more to do with being than doing, that “church” life isn’t defined by meetings, that fellowship grows when we pursue God ordained relationships and that we grow into the purposes of God as we grow in understanding of his nature. But what would define church in a given area? How do free believers function together? Is house church the answer? Can a church be planted?
If church were a thing, it could be planted. That term evolved from a dysfunctional understanding of how God initiates a local expression of the kingdom, as well as from a miss-definition of what that expression is.
What we do see in scripture reveals that the essence of church life is expressed through community. Authentic community is defined by those who are joined together by love motivated relationship that expresses itself in the “one anothers” we read about. They are led by the Spirit, take care of one another and task together as the Spirit directs. Leadership is among them, not over them, and is there to serve rather than rule. Trans- local gifts are sent out from them and sometimes supported by them. All of the above will change as the God ordained seasons change.
Such a community cannot be defined by where or how it meets, or if it meets regularly at all. Nor is it recognized by any unique emphasis or pet doctrine. There is no blue print or model that can be copied, because the Spirit birthed and Spirit led expression of church will be as varied as are the cultures and conditions that exist wherever it grows. It can’t be contained within a structure of rules, programs or schedules because, as Jesus explained, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Bottom line, I can offer no definition with a handle on what church is. Furthermore, we know it’s not ours to build. We can only hold Jesus’ hand and let him build it as he promised.