Recently I came across this tweet, which could sum up pretty much all that needs saying on this topic: "Church is a Spirit-filled family, not a weekly experience."
Assistant Pastor Sanjay Mahtani often puts it this way: "OCC: Community is our middle name!" And I can sometimes be heard to complain, "We don't go to church, we are the church!"
In popular culture today the word 'church' has become to mean several things: a building ("the church on the corner of the street"); an event ("are you coming to church today?"); and an hierarchical bureaucratic institution (e.g. discussions about church and state, or in expressing concerns about the latest abuse that has some to light). (Language geeks might like this map showing Mediterranean language emphasises 'people' while northern European language emphasises 'place'.)
So what is church supposed to be like? In a short series of blogs we're going to explore this theme more: what sort of church God wants:
- A family, not (just) an event - community (this blog)
- A place to belong, not (just) attend
- A church of Communities not (just) Sunday services
- A Spirit-filled community, not (just) organised
- A community for others, not (just) for me
- A place of growth, not (just) of worship
- For the world, not (just) our parish
Back to church as people and family: British theologian Andrew Wilson notes: "A complication, especially in the West, is the tendency to see and organise the church in increasingly corporate rather than familial terms."
In biblical thinking, the word church - ecclesia - is to do with a gathering, an assembly, a congregation - i.e. the people more than the place.
More directly, New Testament (NT) teaching to the new and growing church shows us that God intends his ecclesia to be first of all a family: a family that gathers (yes, in buildings, for events), a family that acts in the world in justice (thereby concerned about institutions) and a family that goes - but nevertheless a family.
In the NT, family language is rife: Becoming a Christian is seen as new birth into a family. We're adopted by God. God is our loving and kind Father. Jesus is our Big Brother. We relate to each other as brothers and sisters, rather colleagues - and that's not supposed to just be trite terminology, but a meaningful statement of the way we love and respect each other as we relate. Leadership is about being spiritual fathers and mothers to people. Mentoring is seen in terms of father-son, parent-child relationships. More controversially today, the relationship between church and God is seen as a akin the relationship between wife and husband.
For us in OCC, this is one key starting point for how we see and do church.
What does this mean for you? Where are you coming from in your presuppositions and habits about church? Is there a richer, church-as-family experience that you could choose to step into? Are there things from your own family-of-origin background that hinder you from taking this step, and God would want to help you with?
Families today are often complex, messy things, and if that's you, we understand that family can be a tricky word. But we'd like to invite you to come on a journey with us, and allow God to redeem family as his plan for human relationships, not just a thing that mankind has messed up.