Do you begin by renting yourself a local office in town and then maybe gathering a few of the other followers to strategize with you? Maybe you convince them that if they will give you a certain amount of money you can spend your whole day telling people the truth. You talk about how you are going to get into the streets, the alleys, and the walking paths, into people's homes and their places of work in order to make God known. Finally, you and the followers decide to build a building and see if you can get all of these new people you meet to come to your place instead. Someone asks the question, “Why are they going to come to our place?” You explain that you will just give them a few catch lines concerning what the meeting is about, and they will be hooked. It seems simple enough. A few people are not sure this will work, but they decide to watch and see.
Is that really how you want to begin? I mean, Jesus was on the road, walking from town to town. He was sharing in houses, on mountain sides, and in the streets. Why didn't He just call everyone to the local synagogue where they could form neat rows? What if it rained while He was on the mountain? Then what would they do?
Jesus sat in the homes of the unchurched, the unclean, and the sinful and taught them, places the pastors of the day wouldn't even venture. Eventually you decide that you should do it like Jesus. You think about the lady who was unclean, bleeding for twelve years. She wouldn't have been able to come into your building. You think about the man they called Legion that had so many demons. Jesus healed him and changed his life. You don't think he would have come to your office. You probably would have made the roof to your building up to code so that the four friends couldn't have dug a hole through it. No lowering of paralytics into your building, only a good, strong roof. The more you think about it the more you realize that all of the experiences you had with Jesus just wouldn't have happened in your building.
We discovered a few years ago that “church” has to happen where the people are. Jesus' way might not have been the most efficient or the easiest way, in fact it was often messy and uncomfortable, but man, listen to His stories! Don't you want stories like that? We do, and we are here in Karamoja, Uganda, trying to live out those stories. How do we plant churches? We make friends in a village and ask them if they would like to sit under the tree with us and talk about God and His kingdom. Sometimes once a week, in other places multiple times a week we sit, read the Bible, and talk about what it says. When someone wants to follow God we have a church. I don't say “church” because we start doing it more formally, but because there are now two of us, two children of God gathering together. Sometimes we sing, but sometimes we don't. Usually we read, but sometimes we don't. We almost always pray for one another because we have yet to find a day when someone doesn't need it. We do this under trees, in homes, and wherever works. The Spirit of God is moving, and people are gathering to hear the word, deciding that it is what they want for their lives.
The other day a man's son went missing. A search could not produce any results, so we prayed. The next day the son came back! He was lost and then found, and our friend's faith increased. A woman came into our home almost dead. We cared for her as well as we could, but she died anyway. Despite her death her village was able to see God's love, and another church was birthed. We have made loads of mistakes like asking the wrong man to lead. I didn't know he was an alcoholic and thief, and we start over and try again. Oops! No big deal. I think God is being glorified, and lives are being touched so I am excited.
I find that people get excited when we tell these stories, and they encourage us to keep on. My question is, why don't we do this at home? Why is this great for missionaries in foreign countries but not for America? What keeps us from inviting coworkers to Starbucks or into our homes for a meal and talking about God and His kingdom? Why does church need to be more complicated than that?
Let's dream together. Imagine our “churches”, as we will call these gatherings. Imagine a place where someone has a need, and the group uses their tithe to pay that person's rent for the month. Their money is not being used to pay off buildings, pay utility bills, pay pastors' salaries, put in new carpet, run their programs, or buy new choir robes. Imagine a place where everyone's prayer requests and needs are made known...a place where everyone can use their gifts of music, hospitality, teaching, service, etc...a place where when someone's husband or wife dies, the whole group mourns together...a place where everyone gets a chance to share the truths God is teaching them. In this place you can worship God together with your children. They don't have to be completely quiet because we believe that God speaks through our kids. Imagine a church where a homeless person comes to Christ, and the group loves on that person until they are back on their feet. I like the early church as described here:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47
I can go on and on in my dreams, and I imagine you can too. Dream with us. Don't be content to accept the status quo. If we can dream more then we can be more.