In searching to see the Kingdom lived out in the day to day I was stunned to see pieces of it cropping up in the most unexpected places. Spaces that were decidedly, and completely, unchurched. I connected with a group of people who had no affiliation with an organization, but possessed the simple loyalty and faith of believers. To my surprise, many of them shared in my frustration in feeling out of place in the dominant church practice. They were seeking something different but had no idea where to find it. What shocked me even more, is how some who I had considered as having “left the church” had maintained a vibrant faith that impacted with their every day life consistently.
Amongst this group we would discuss deep matters of faith daily. There was room given for one another flaws, sharing on very deep and personal levels, a genuine empathy. I remember moments where entire days or plans were stopped just for the sake of sitting with the pain of a brother or sister in need. In this space I witnessed spiritual growth and awakening take place. I saw people moving by faith, be restored after making mistakes, and I saw it all in a package that was unrecognizable from anything I would have ever defined as church. I walked into spaces that I would have viewed as complete darkness, yet found that many there were desperately seeking truth and light.
At the bottom of it all I would find a sense of being misplaced for many of these people. These individuals felt out of place in traditional church, but still desired growth and to have their faith acknowledged. They couldn’t see a place for them in the big church and would at times seek spaces for their spirituality to be affirmed elsewhere. I noticed a very real struggle in feeling their identity had no real outlet. When my daily worship and gathering in fellowship with others is deemed as not being the “real” church, where can I go?
I have chosen to dedicate my life to this group, the unchurchy church, and I want to use this final article to speak to them:
You are not forgotten by the Spirit of the Lord. Your journey may have brought you away from the common church practice that has worked for so many, but it has not taken you away from the fold. When your life is anchored by the gospel, with Jesus as your King, everywhere that you walk will bring the Kingdom with you. The way to worship that you are discovering is to be shared with others, and the direction you are going you are not heading to alone. There are many, just like you, who are finding church in relationship with other believers that are lived out in the common spaces of life. You don’t have to do this alone, and you don’t have to be ashamed.
More importantly, it is not now your job to turn back and tear down the tradition that has gone on before you. Though you, and I, don’t find a space there anymore, there are many that the Spirit is calling to that exact institution and practice because it speaks to them. Jesus illustrates this very well with the idea of new wine and new wineskins. It’s not that the old is useless, or the new problematic, but trying to mix the old and new can be dangerous. When Paul was moved by the Spirit to minister to Gentiles rather than the Jewish community it was a major shift in his life. But his goal didn’t become tearing down Judaism in order to establish the form of Christianity established by the Gentiles. He became a gentile to gentiles, and a jew to jews. He found a way to life in both worlds without tearing down either. We can still engage the traditional from a place of love and appreciation, even as we are finding the new (though really, it is classic Acts) that God has for us.
Let me encourage you with this: the assignment of spreading the gospel is now in YOUR hands. Just how you have found ways to connect with God, and fellowship with others in an organic space that feeds you, there are many friends you have outside the Kingdom that are desperate for what you have found. This will speak to them far beyond bringing them to a service ever could have. Speak the gospel from your lips, and disciple them into the faith. You will be amazed how mighty your witness is, and how fulfilling it is for your faith journey to simply share it with others.
In stepping back I saw that many of my casual friendships and relationships were primed and seasoned to be church-filled relationships. In fact, many of them already were. But my running from these people to find those branded with the Christian banner had isolated me from the very ones the Spirit was crying out to me from. I missed the point that the church existed right here in this space, in these relationships. These individuals didn’t hate my concept of church because they hated Jesus, or truth, or because they wanted to be unrighteous, but their personalities genuinely did not mesh with the cultural trappings of popular church culture.
What I have come to know is that the gospel and our faith is not a religious thing meant to battle with other religions, but a very real and human need that the Spirit is constantly trying to meet with gathered communities that engage each other with authenticity. When Christ is at the forefront we see the fullness of the Body at work, and there is a yearning in every human heart for this church! A kind of therapeutic community, that spills over into all avenue’s of life and the heart. Here we find THE CHURCH! It has been hiding within people all along.