By Starlette McNeill
“If you are without a church home, then we invite you to come forward at this time.” This is the invitation that is extended in most, if not all, congregations after the delivery of the sermon. Having moved a bit as a child and now looking back retrospectively as an adult, the pairing of church and home has gained even more meaning for me.
These church homes served as a primary residence and a familiar setting no matter the city or state my family was in. They allowed me to maintain some sense of normalcy and stability, faith connection and community. I never felt alone or new in the neighborhood because the doors of the church were always open to me.
And when I say that I grew up in the church, it should be taken literally, as the pastor, Sunday school teachers, deacons, ushers and parishioners served as a kind of fictive kin who celebrated milestones, offered support, provided healthy role models and correction and created memories for which I am deeply grateful. They were interested in me beyond Bible study and Sunday morning attendance but inquired about my school schedule, graduation dates and plans for the future. These churches hosted special Sundays for children and youth, and offered sermons and school supplies for those returning to school. They provided college tours, summer camps, after-school programs and vacation Bible school. These church homes were deeply involved and committed to my life in its various facets.
So, I am a bit confused by the language of some Christians who speak of the Church as if it is a part of some passing fad. I am aware of the e-church movement and the continued advancement of digital communities. But, just because the word technology does not appear in the Bible does not somehow mean that we are living in an age that is beyond its usage.
There are also those who suggest — whether knowingly or unknowingly I can’t be sure — that there is something bigger or better than the church. I am hearing more use of catch phrases like the “kingdom of God,” the “beloved community” or the “global village.” I know that some of us have shied away from using the word religion and have traded it in for the word relationship, the latest model of discipleship. But, has the word church become a dirty word too? Is it not progressive enough? Though attached to seemingly outdated constitutions and bylaws, cluttered with hymnals and tied down with the red tape of business meetings, its foundation is the apostles and prophets and Christ is the cornerstone (Eph. 2.20). Have our smartphones convinced us that there is an app for this, that we can practice our faith better if placed in our hands and not on an agenda?
At first, our emphasis was missional. Our focus was placed on moving beyond the four walls of the church and not just taking care of our members or fighting about the color of the carpet and the curtains, the budget and the bottom line. We focused on being sent and emphasized the Great Commission.
Don’t get me wrong. This was and remains the right thing to do. But, don’t go tearing down the building and please don’t forget about those of us who want to come home. And we want to come home to a community, not a community center, to a sanctuary, not a 501(c)3 organization, a shopping mall or a gymnasium.
We also encouraged persons to leave the church, to be the church, to be the “hands and feet of Christ.” But, don’t forget that we are the Body of Christ and a body of believers. We belong to Christ and to each other (Rom. 12.5; 1 Cor. 12.27). So, there are some of us who still desire to come home to family members and not be consumers of a religious product. I don’t want the gospel of Jesus Christ to be pitched to me but practiced with me. I don’t want to simply come home for a rally in order to be sent back out to work; instead, I want to come and worship with other believers, to fellowship and share the good news in our lives.
So, I may not have the latest iPhone or be as technologically savvy as I would like to be, but I also don’t think that makes me a better Christian. I don’t know when we decided that technology determined our testimony as believers or became a suitable sanctuary for worship. I don’t know how we are to shepherd digital disciples through social media. Maybe I need an upgrade since I still carry a Bible around. I suppose it appears unnecessary and outdated these days. But, I am not one for keeping up appearances anyway.
I still like to go to church. Sure, the service is not always predictable and it will not provide the organizational guidance of a Twitter feed. The choir’s musical selections are not available on iTunes so I’ll have to listen while they sing. I may not be able to sit in the same pew or secure the same parking spot every Sunday. I can’t log in or out at my leisure. Naps don’t count. I probably won’t gain any followers or likes while I worship.
But, it’s home, and for me it is the heart of the body of Christ. I don’t think we would be able to function without it. Our phones may assist us in the illusion of appearing larger than life, but we will never be larger than the church. There’s simply no place like a church home.