Whose Church is it?
Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
“Where is your church?” It sounds like an innocent enough question, right? And, it is one I often hear. And, depending on the situation, I will even give a straight-forward answer and describe our location along A Highway in Marshfield. But, there is more to the answer than that. For multiple reasons.
First, the church is not the building, but rather the people that gather here on Sunday morning (as they are able) for worship. The church, then, is actually dispersed throughout the community, the state, and even the world.
However, that is not the only complication to the question of where my church is. The bigger concern is the nature of the word “your” or “my” when we are talking about church. When I say “My church…” am I saying “my” as a way of identifying with the church, or does it imply ownership?
Up until very recently, I’ve usually understood that phrase in terms of ownership. “Don’t change MY church!” “This has been MY church for the past (however many) years.” While taking ownership is not necessarily a bad thing, there are some negative side-effects.
If I take the idea of ownership too far, then the church is no longer Christ’s or God’s. It becomes MINE and I resist anything that may shape it into something other than what I desire. Even if the force doing that shaping is God. As the church becomes MINE, I am more likely to focus my efforts and energies within the walls instead of focusing outwardly in mission and evangelism. I become more and more concerned about how the church serves me and less concerned about how the church reaches the world.
So, until recently the phrase, “my church,” scared me. Then I heard a child say it. I know that this particular child had only been going to that church for a few weeks when they said to a friend of mine, “Hey, you go to my church.” There was no ownership in it, purely identification. It was a short-hand way of saying “We worship God at the same place on Sunday morning.” Isn’t “You go to my church” so much easier to say? And it sounds better, too!
In just a few weeks, that young child had it figured out. It is his church, as much as it is my church, as much as it is your church. As long as we never forget that it is always and in all ways God’s church.
I pray that we will share our church with others. And, I pray that we will be good stewards of God’s church. So, as we identify with this community of faith and take appropriate ownership here, we will be the church for the community outside the walls as much as we are for the community within the walls.