When it comes to “church,” it’s easy to get way too caught up in issues of style and structure. The Orthodox Church is the oldest expression of church around. Not much has changed about their style or structure for close to 2,000 years. As church leaders, I think sometimes we are too quick to make such changes. As church members, I think we’re sometimes way too quick to leave one congregation in order to attend another that’s of a different flavor.
The substance of what constitutes “church” isn’t about style or structure.
Back in the nineties I left one church because it was “program based” and joined another because it was “cell based.” I’ve seen people leave smaller churches in order to go to big church. I’ve seen people leave big churches to go to a small church. I’ve seen people leave contemporary expressions of church in order to find something a bit more organic, a bit closer to the first century model we find in the book of Acts. I’ve seen churches transition from one fad to another over the years, constantly trying to tweak style and structure in order to facilitate growth.
But those kinds of changes will never make something authentically “church.” This is because church is a community of believers who gather together and, in their gathering, experience the presence of Jesus. Are there common things we do? Yes. We, regardless of style, receive Communion. We baptize new believers. We read the scriptures. We pray. We hear teaching from the scriptures. But there are so many different styles and structures through which these things find expression.
I think sometimes we spend too much time trying to find the right style and structure and not enough time experiencing Christ in our midst. We are looking for the wrong thing. We are focused on wine skins instead of wine. You can’t drink a wine skin. I don’t think you can even eat one. They’re necessary, but they’re just containers. Whatever church you’re at–don’t make a big deal about “how” your church does Church. Of course, do it in the most effective way you can. Excellence is a great value. But make a big deal about Jesus. If you do that, I’m quite sure your structure will contain Him just fine. As much as He can be contained anyway.