written by Kent C. Williamson
My next church will not look much like my current one at all, and most likely, not like yours either. It will not look like the mega-church I attended in the suburbs of Chicago, nor the "new" church I visited in Southern California, nor the Presbyterian church I was married in back in San Antonio, nor the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church I loved so much on the Virginia coast, nor the little struggling Baptist Church I joined in upstate Wisconsin, nor the home church a dear friend of mine invited me to in his home state, nor the Bible Church that holds such a dear place in my heart from my youth in El Paso.
No, I imagine it will not look like any of these at all. As a matter of fact it may more closely resemble the non-organized, highly persecuted, low-key, huge impact church in China I recently witnessed first hand than any Main Street, Maple Street, side street, back street, high school gymnasium, or strip mall church that exists today in America.
My next church probably will not have a building (nor a building fund, a building program, or any building aspirations). This will save enormous resources and of course will eliminate any potential arguments over carpet color or pews versus theatre seating, but more so it will mark an enormous shift in ideology. No longer will the church be so inwardly, self-centered in it’s focus. No longer will the church be isolated from the community it claims to serve. No longer will the church be seen as a refuge from the woes and worries of the world… instead by the power of the Holy Spirit we will face them head-on.
My next church will not be about Sundays and Wednesday nights. Imagine if Christ had compartmentalized his life and ministry in the way the church of today does. His example was a 24/7 one, which by the way, is what our current post-modern culture begs for. The church has no set hours. If ministry waits for the doors of the church to open, ministry opportunities will be missed. There will be more living and breathing the Gospel and as a result more impact on the communities in which we live.
My next church will not be about church membership. The goal will not be for more people to walk our aisle, fill our pews, or join our club. The focus will not be on more numbers or others joining us in our sanctuary from the world. Instead it will be about people called by the Spirit of God to join along side one another in action and deed, ministering to a broken people in a critical time. Please do not confuse this with a works-based faith. It is not, but as James points out, a faith without works is dead. And I will add that a self-serving faith, one that is only about our own “spiritual growth” (the trademark of the modern church), is equally as dead.
My next church will not be about "worship services". It will not emphasize corporate worship over life worship. It will not relegate worship to a few minutes of singing jammed in-between announcements and a sermon. It will not negate the power and beauty of corporate worship, but it will focus on an individual’s life as worship. It will enable believers to more fully understand that using our gifts and living our lives is just as much worship as singing can be. Our vocations will become instruments on which we play the hymns of my next church. Whether we are filling prescriptions, fixing mufflers, home-schooling five children, preparing tax forms, or making motion pictures, the attitudes of our hearts will be worshipful, not a worship of ourselves and our talents, but a worship of God for the talents He has given us and the work he performed through his Son on the cross.
My next church will not be about more church programs. Actually it will be the opposite. It will be about less church programs. And in doing less it will do less better. It will not be about more programs for the youth and children’s ministry. It will not be about more adult class options on Sunday nights. It will not be about adding a second, third, contemporary, or alternative service into the mix. The one thing my next church will be intentional about is discipleship. Whether you are 6 or 60 you will be challenged towards becoming a better disciple of Christ.
My next church will not have a denominational title. I’m confidant outsiders will attempt to label it this or that, but in it’s mission and purpose it will be about putting aside labels. It will be about looking at the heart of the individual rather than his pre-given denominational identifier. Will it be void of all doctrine? No, it will be doctrinely sound in regards to the core message of the gospel. But it will discourage argument for arguments sake over the finer points of theology that have divided so many for so long.
My next church will meet in the community. It may gather at a coffee house, a restaurant, or a neighbors yard today, and a playground, a theatre, or a parking lot next time, but the focus will not be on meeting to cloister ourselves from the world. Instead we will meet to spur one another on toward action. And our main action will be, 'loving our neighbor as ourselves.' In lieu of a building, our prayer closets will become our sanctuaries where power will be given to us to enter and engage the world according to God’s purposes.
My next church will actively engage the culture. It will not wait patiently for seekers or the lost to wander through it’s doors. No, instead it will prayerfully seek them. It will not abandon the arts, but instead will actively pursue them, both in creating them and experiencing them. It will attempt to live culturally relevant lives, not to be seen by the world around us hip or in, but in an attempt to become all things to all men so that more may come to know Him.
Finally and probably most importantly, my next church will be about the great commission and the greatest commandments. It will actively pursue making disciples (not merely converts) of all men. It will actively be about loving our neighbor as ourselves. And it will actively attempt to love the Lord our God with all our heart soul and strength. The message of my next church will not change, but it’s methods will. And as a result of these actions my next church will need to be more prepared for persecution. Like our brothers and sisters in China, we will need to be prepared for anything and everything that may come our way. But imagine the impact of the church on our culture if the resources spent making “church” happen were instead spent on reaching out to the community.
My next church is not for the faint of heart and it is definitely not for the weak of faith either. It is not for those who sit comfortably in the pews. It is not for those who are content with the way things are, but it is ready for me… or more so, I’m ready for it.
This article originally appeared in the Food For Thought column on the Soul Survivor Website.
Kent C. Williamson is an owner of Paladin Pictures, Inc., a film and video production company dedicated to the production, distribution and promotion of family-friendly, morally strong entertainment and educational media. He lives with his wife and five children along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Please reference My Next Church when sending comments to Kent at Articles@PaladinPictures.com.
©2004, Paladin Pictures, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Kent – I read your article and all I can say is: WOW!!
I certainly sense the work of the Holy Spirit leading you (and others of us) to “your next church.”
It’s both exciting and scary, challenging and reassuring, all at the same time.
What a fine, provocative piece!
I’ve asked 3 others from Peace to read it, and would like to make it required reading for our leaders. Thanks for sharing it with me,
Pastor John Herman
I was reading a couple of post-resurrection stories from the gospels this morning in my Transformation Journal, and began to see parallels between the disciples immediately after the resurrection and our situation today: a confusing time, with a sense of fear, a lonely sense of being detached from reality as we know it; and yet a glimpse of the way ahead, or a sense of being called to follow without seeing the way, and a longing to believe in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.
I often wonder what faith looked like for the disciples... was it filled up with all the details of "doing church" or were they too busy "being the church"? I lean toward the later.
An excellent statement. I recently joined a discipleship group and am coming to much the same understanding as many of your points about church and about mission. I am thinking about many of the same issues.
A few days ago I stumbled across the phrase Liberation Theology, and have come to wonder what that means, and the word "praxis", and wonder how that fits into whaere I am and what I am doing.
In a matter of months I have gone from being settled and discontent in my faith life, to unsettled but assured.
Thanks for sharing.
Beautiful article that captures the excitement of being the church without forgetting the pain, the struggle, the mission that is our calling to serve our Lord and our neighbors.
I hope I get a reply to my comment even though this post is old. I watched the tail end of your documentary last night on Shine TV here in NZ and despite my baby unwilling to sleep, my attention was captivated.
For a long time - at least 4 years - I have felt lost and alone in feeling frustrated with Church Culture (western anyway) including the structure, format, programmes, focus and so on. Like you, I cannot support Building Funds or even meeting together in a very ugly building that shuts us away from the rest of the world. I feel that we have lost our relevance in our local communities. I feel that we have lost our focus and priority in terms of the Scripture you have mentioned about the Greatest Commandment, and the "second which is like it."
I want to say that in addition to being irrelevant and almost uncaring to the world, community and needs around us - we have perhaps equally been numb to the needs of those in our church. I don't believe that we experience true fellowship in many cases - but in superficial acquaintances. I feel that the programmes and structure often create a barrier to real fellowship. I have such a strong desire for church to be done a different way. To be radically different so that it is real, relevant and genuine - and fulfilling the call God has given us instead of getting totally distracted with other less important things - bit like the Martha and Mary situation.
It was incredible to hear others from half way around the world, articulating how I felt. Despite my discouragement, I have persevered with my local church out of a need for fellowship of some kind, and with no alternative.
I do want to walk over that bridge with you and be part of creating a new church - but where and how do we start and who else out there is being called to do this?
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