Photo by Jo Naylor
When my blogging and Twitter friend Preston asked me to participate in a blog series he was organizing about “church,” I hesitated. The answer to the question “What is church?” is at once too easy and too complex.
The too easy answer, at least for me, is this: A building where people who believe in Jesus gather. But the head-scratching aspect quickly overshadows the easy answer. Just writing the first sentence of this post made me pause and second-guess. Do I write church, Church, “church,” or The Church? Each approach carries its own connotations and triggers different reactions. The word “church” is obviously anything but clear cut.
“What is church?” is one of those questions that’s inevitably followed by a dozen more questions: Are you referring to the static space or a living organism? The church of Acts or the churches of today? A specific community of people or a broad institution? And if it’s a broad institution, do you include all Catholic and Protestant churches across the world?
All of these technical matters of definition are also colored by the very personal experiences and stories people bring to the conversation. If we grew up in a church or go to church now, we inevitably think of these specific places when we think of church. What are the connotations for you? Maybe church is boring or fun, a place filled with old people and donuts, the only place where we got to sing our hearts out, or the only place where we weren’t allowed to ask questions.
For those who haven’t had good experiences with church (or perhaps haven’t had any experiences at all), the word “church” might conjure defensive feelings—church can be seen as a place of judgmental, close-minded, old fashioned people who want everyone else to change and be more like them.
I’ve had my own share of experiences with churches, which means I have a full collection of associated words—everything from “boring” to “moving,” and “judgmental” to “fully accepting in love.” I’ve been “hurt by the church” as well as “rescued by the church.” That’s why I decided to be a part of Preston’s blog series. I realized, sadly, that “hurt by the church” is a far more common phrase than “rescued” or “loved” or “accepted” by the church, so I need to tell that hopeful story—the one that always seems to be less loud.
My post is scheduled to go up on Preston’s blog tomorrow—Saturday, February 11. Preston describes this project as simply “a series of over 50 posts from varying authors about the beautiful, mangled Church.” The idea came to him in the very same sort of confusion I’ve felt (and described above). Here’s how he put it:
I’ve been reflecting for the past few months on a lot of the polemics thrown around in modern Church. We don’t like the word “religion” and ritual seems frightening. We run from “institution” and jump on an idea of faith alone that, at times, loses our actual Lord and Savior in the process.
I hope you’ll take some time to read several of the At the Lord’s Table posts, and be a part of the conversation—it’s an important one to be having as we look back and move forward in faith.
When you hear the word “church,” what words, images and feelings bubble to the surface?