When is the last time you evaluated your religious activity? It is easy to fall into a spiritual routine.
Read my Bible. Check.
Go to church. Check.
Pray at dinner and bedtime. Check.
We can become mechanical without even noticing.
When we planted HBC we had a plan for what our worship time would look like. That plan was very similar to what we had experienced in our church-going lives so far.
It looked a lot like what most people expect when they attend any church.
Planting a church requires you to ask “How?” a lot. How are we going to make this work?
After about a year we started asking a different question. “Why?” Why are we doing this? Why are we doing this THIS way?
If you’ve never asked why? about your religious activity I encourage you to start. I was surprised how often our answer was because that’s what we’ve always done (or seen done before). Sometimes it was simply “I don’t know.”
Much common religious activity is not specifically outlined in the Scripture. I’m not saying it’s wrong. All I’m saying is that you won’t find a passage that tells anyone to get pews or a pulpit to put in their church building. Many practices we take for granted are a product of Christians before us wrestling with “how?”
Buying church buildings, arranging pews (or chairs), and having everyone face a known teaching area (the pulpit or platform) is a practical answer to the question: How can we teach a growing number of people?
Christians before us asked how? We have inherited many practices that answered those questions.
If we never ask how ourselves then the why becomes simply because that’s the way it’s been done before.
We began a season of serious church deconstruction when we began asking why? We examined everything. I mean, everything.
The Scriptures do not give us a clear direction on what type of building to meet in (home vs. church building vs. rented space from the world). The Bible doesn’t tell us a specific time to start or end our meetings. It doesn’t lay out our entire worship time when we assemble.
What does Scripture say?
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:26 NASB)
Three things stand out to me in this instruction.
- The gatherings are participatory. The worship time was not to be led by a single leader or group of leaders. Each person was to come prepared to participate in the edification of the saints.
- The order is reliant upon participation. Since each one is supposed to be prepared to participate the flow would be somewhat open depending on what each member is being led to share.
- All things are to be done for edification. Not entertainment. Not time consideration. All things are to be done for edification.
This could get messy. Leadership is important to make sure that all things are done for edification.
All things being done for edification and an effort to allow for participation from the assembly requires asking both how? and why? The answers for each local assembly will likely be different.
The best answers for us may not be the best for Christians that assemble elsewhere. Certainly some patterns may emerge. There are probably good strategies for bigger assemblies that are not applicable to smaller ones. And vice versa.
Our quest to deconstruct church wasn’t to tear down. It was so we could do all things for edification. In the process we have had some really great successes. We’ve also discovered some things that certainly do not work for our group.
As the composition of the church body changes the answers to these questions are likely to change, too. Things that did not work before may be beneficial in the future. Things that edify now may become distractions later.
Routine can be comforting. Change can be scary. I think this is why we often stop asking why and settle into a routine that is comfortable and predictable.
I can deal with some failures as long as we are pursuing the right goal with the right heart. I am more afraid of becoming a hypocrite than I am of failing. I want our hearts to be in the right place even if that means having some gatherings that don’t go as smoothly as they could if we simply went with the cultural flow.
And He [Jesus] said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.’ (Mark 7:6 NASB)
I don’t want this to be true of me or my local church. Do you? The prescription for this heart disease is to make sure we are not simply going through the motions. Examining our practices comes after examining our hearts.
We should seek to do what we do in order to honor God from the heart and to edify the saints. We should not seek to go through the motions and check things off our religious activity list.