RECLAIMING CHURCH

How many of us have seen or participated in placing a hand on the wall of the sanctuary and then saying, "This is not the church." With this act, we are trying to illustrate that it is the people of our faith community who are the church and not the building. Do we have any idea what we just said? If the building is not the church, why do we spend so much time and effort dealing with it? If the building is not the church, why is it so important to us? After we have said, "This is not the church," have we ever taken a far look in the direction we just pointed? What happens when we extend that thought?

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

NRSV Matthew 6:19-21

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

NRSV Matthew 6:24

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?  Jesus said to him, Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.  You know the commandments: You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.  He said to him, Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.  Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.  When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

NRSV Mark 10:17-22; Matthew 19:16-22; Luke 18:18-23

What do capital campaigns and 6- or 7- or 8-digit mortgages (or any mortgage amount) and sanctuaries with high vaulted ceilings and proper acoustic resonance and stained glass windows and basketball courts and dining halls and sculpted altars and carved pulpits and custom-built communion tables and decorative carpet and imported floor tiles and plentiful paved parking lots and meticulously manicured gardens have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do fund raisers and all the accompanying effort and bother and time and finding and organizing the required workers have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do praise bands and church orchestras and bell choirs and octaves of tuned bells and multi-rank pipe organs and grand pianos and synthesizers and adult choirs and children choirs and choir auditions and choir robes and music folders and the search and review and selection analysis and purchase of new music and multi-line PA systems and multi-screen video systems and live broadcasts and recorded broadcasts and hours of rehearsal time and church bulletins and church bulletin art work and church bulletin paper and designer fonts and newsletters and mailing lists and advertising and advertising placement and multi-media web sites and visits by unique IP addresses and the use of and the presence on new media have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do membership drives and attendance numbers and baptism numbers and tithing and bequeaths and endowments and liturgical employees and non-liturgical employees and salaries and benefits and committees and committee meetings and church boards and church board meetings and the consequential and unavoidable church politics have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

Much of what we call successful Christianity and successful worship and successful congregations has nothing to do with living and sharing the Good News.

Once we begin to think of our faith in terms of largeness instead of largess or in terms of measurable success or significant achievements or community stature or statistically significant gains or business models or congregational models or appropriate budget processes or cash flow direction or generally accepted accounting practices or independent audits or administrative requirements or managerial transparency or proper leadership roles and boundaries or membership trends or effective organizational structures or a current and accurate vision statement – at that point, we have become the money changers – we have lost our faith and deserve to be driven away for we are neither living nor sharing the Good News.

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying,

Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?  But you have made it a den of robbers.

NRSV Mark11:15-17, Matthew 21:12-13, Luke 19:45-46

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves,

Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!

NRSV John 2:13-16

What would happen if the church universal – every congregational property, every regional office, every national office, every seminary, every camp – was sold and the net proceeds were used to establish a trust fund endowment to support nutritional, medical, legal, and educational services for the poor, the lost, and the hurt?

When you want a new status quo – a status quo different than the current status quo – you are asking for revolution. When you desire radical transformation – you are asking for revolution. When you are tired of capital campaigns for more structural imagery; nauseated by controversy over who is fit to be a church member, deacon, or elder; repulsed by the aggregation and protection of authority that defines narrow rigid paths to ordination; grievously hurt by the abandonment and refusal to acknowledge congregations who dare to be excited by their proclaiming and living the Good News; or sick of choosing better organization over better outreach – you are asking for revolution.

"Doing" has to be the new definition of faith. A "new definition" will not be statements of purpose/mission/vision or political participation or public stances on issues or styles of worship. It will be specific activities; specific ways of living that are the new definition. Participating in CODA or LifeLine or Habitat for Humanity will not be an outreach activity; it will be what we do and definitive of who we are. Supporting a free clinic or a food pantry or a shelter for the homeless will not be the focus of an annual fund-raising event; it will be part of our continuously active and visible theological and spiritual DNA. Worship will not be every Sunday morning – it will be whenever and wherever 2 or 3 (not 200 or 300, not 2,000 or 3,000, not 20,000 or 30,000) are gathered to live, study, and contemplate the Good News. Indeed, "doing" will be about living and being the Good News, not scheduling it as a repetitive activity on our digital calendar on the same day at the same time that always occurs at the same location and always follows the same sequence. "Doing" our faith does not require capital campaigns; local, regional, or national governing boards; seminaries; or licensing/ordination policies.

"Doing" our faith has to be seen as a radical, counter-cultural, defiant way of living. By its very nature, our faith is not supposed to be institutionalized and not measured by largeness, cultural pervasiveness, or authoritarianism. Our faith is supposed to be personal and divinely humane. Our faithful doing is to be delivered person-to-person, face-to-face, one-to-one – not by an invisible faceless remote committee or collective. “Doing” our faith can be accomplished only with more personal involvement and not with more technology that is better, more pervasive, more invasive, and increasingly remote and detached.

Congregations should be small groups meeting for worship in the homes of different members. Just imagine: Church with no offerings, no church governing boards and no board meetings, no committees and no committee meetings, no rehearsals, no fund raisers, no capital campaigns, no finances, no buildings, no property, no maintenance or repairs or replacements, no employees, no membership drives. Just imagine: Church as only worship, only studying, only witnessing in word and service to each other and the world.

by Doug Sloan

Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Terre Haute, Indiana where he has served as an Elder and Treasurer and currently enjoys being a member of the choir. He graduated in 1997 with a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University and a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University in 2009. Since Fall 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has had articles published in DisciplesWorldand Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons.