I read something yesterday that really got me thinking. Here it is:
“Reaching your potential in Jesus without being fully part of a local church is like trying to grow a cedar of Lebanon in a patio pot” (Jonathan Stanfield, a pastor on the Isle of Man said this)
Now it struck me that, ironically, the opposite is true. Being part of an institutional local church is more like a patio pot. I say this from both experience and observation. I can understand, though, that those who have a vested interest (especially a financial interest) in sustaining and growing their local churches and perpetuating the organization’s existence would want to encourage church attendance and people being “plugged in”, “knitted in”, “connected”, “committed”, etc etc. And to say that if you aren’t fully part of a local church, you won’t realize your full potential in Jesus is kind of like a veiled and ominous warning… a subtle way of outgrouping people who have chosen the free road beyond the restrictive confines of man made traditions, rules and regs, programs, et al. And a subtle way of keeping people committed, nose-to-the-grindstone, volunteering, serving, shoveling coals in the furnace room of the great Machine – the institutional church. To put it more succintly, this quote is really saying: If you are not under the ‘covering’ of church leadership, you will never realize your full potential as a Christian. YOU, the laypeople, need US, the leaders.
Now I am not suggesting that church leaders, Stanfield included, are even aware of the dynamics I described above or that these things are at the forefront of their mind. I think many church leaders have simply inherited this paradigm from the leaders before them or become assimilated into church cultures that operate this way. So I don’t want to malign anyone or call into question people’s motives.
But I digress. Here’s the question:
What are the irreducible features of the local church? When we tell people to find a good church, join a local church, etc, what do we MEAN? What makes the First Baptist Church on the corner a bona fide church, but the couple friends you meet with to pray together or discuss theology or just eat burgers with are NOT church? Does a legit church need a logo, website, building, pulpit, statement of faith, tax exemption, weekly service times, staff, etc?
what features do YOU think make a church?