The Church Has Left the Building

I like the idea.  It is a wonderful point to emphasize. 

The church must not see itself as bounded by or confined by the four walls of its building. We have always known that the church is not the building but somehow we have tended to think or at least act as though the Sunday morning assembly is the center of Christian faith and practice.

While I think the assembly has tremendous sacramental importance and is transformative (as Gathered People seeks to demonstrate), it is just as important (perhaps more important given the traditions that have encrusted the assembly) to emphasize the significance of “leaving the building.” Spirituality is lived out 24/7 rather than one or two hours a week.

But I think there is a deeper problem here.  In fact, the church leaves the building every Sunday. They don’t stay inside–they go home as families, they go to work, they go play. The church is on the go. The church has already left the building.

The problem is, it seems to me, that when the church leaves the bulding we have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives. When the church leaves the building, we leave “church” behind in the building. We go to “work” and our careers become an insulated dimension often devoid of spirituality.  We go to “play” and our recreation becomes an isolated reality disconnected from our spirituality.  We go “home” and our families become a separate entity detached from “church.”

But we are still “church” even when we are with our families, at work or at play.  And, I think, we are often “being church” in those contexts except we sometimes don’t have a sufficient understanding of “spirituality” or “practicing the kingdom of God” to appreciate how deeply connected we already are to those environs as church.

For example, most Christians are invovled in kingdom-building in their careers and they perhaps don’t even realize it. Teachers in the public schools (not just “Christian” schools) are doing the  kingdom work of equipping young people for productive future lives; health-care workers are doing the kingdom work of healing and caregiving; lawyers (we hope) are doing the kingdom work of justice; etc., etc., etc.  

This is where we need a deeper theology of vocation.  Our identity is that we are the image of God and our vocation is to participate in the mission of God. Our careers should express our vocation; our “work” life serves the kingdom of God, the mission of God. Can we identify how our career–our jobs–participate in the mission of God? When we do, we are partly on our way to recognizing, at least in part, how the church has already left the building as church.

Yes, let us emphasize the fact that the church must leave the building. Let us challenge and call “church-goers” to also be the church in every aspect of their lives.  At the same time, let us recognize that many are actually being the church in their work, famlies and recreation as they “practice the kingdom of God” in every aspect of their lives.

8 Responses to “The Church Has Left the Building”

  1.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    There have been a few times that I wanted to throw a stick of dynamite in a church building just because it seemed to hinder the church’s kingdom business rather than serve it.

    Grace and peace,


  2.   Carolyn Jo Gower Says:

    John Mark, Thanks! I pray the Lord will continue to bless you and your ministry.
    Jo Gower, Donor Relations for World Radio (White’s Ferry Rd Church of Christ)
    A wound of the heart, left unattended, will fester and affect many… “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:15

  3.   Randall Says:

    John Mark,
    If only this were generally true of the Churches of Christ. When I was growing up I did things like hitchhike around the country – east coast to the west and back. Though I never had to fall back on it, I always “knew” I could contact the local CofC and would find people willing to give me a bed to sleep in, food to eat and a willingness to assist e.g. contact my family and assist me in getting home or whatever. Granted, I chose to sleep under an overpass and scrounge food where I could, but I knew I had alternatives.

    I knew little or nothing of other views of human nature ( I was raised a Pelagian) nor the extent of God’s grace, but I was confident there would be CofC folks that would treat me as family wherever I might find myself. I was confident of the kind of compassion I read about that was displayed by Lipscomb and Harding. I wonder if that is still true today – and I honestly don’t know the answer to that.

    I hope the church has still left the building and that we would show compassion to those associated with the CofC and those of different church backgrounds. There have always been some that remained on the “wrong” side of the tracks in their hearts even after the CofC moved to the more “right” side of the socio-economic tracks.

    My views of the nature of both God and man have changed so much that I simply don’t feel “at home” in the CofC as I once did. I hope this is just my feeling, but I fear our entire culture – CofC and American culture at large – have changed so much from the 1950s and 60s that the warmth I once “knew” is rarely there like it once was.

    Please excuse my rambling. Perhaps the CofC is far more supportive of those in physical need than I give them credit for. For Jesus sake, I hope so.

  4.   Dee Andrews Says:

    I’ve not stopped by, nor commented for quite a while, but have just read this post and want to thank you for it, John.

    I’ve lived this life out (church has left the building) for a long time now, and try to “preach it” to all around me who will listen. We are ALL ambassadors for Christ in our daily lives and in everything we do, say, or experience with all others.

    Thanks for such a good post. I’ll be back again soon. Sorry about the absence.


  5.   Gardner Says:

    Good thoughts as usual. Acts 2:44-47 shows that early Christians were in no ways “compartmentalized” in their spirituality. Verse 46 gives an often overlooked key to their closeness. They ate their meals in each others homes. That’s something missing so much among modern disciples. Thanks, Gardner

  6.   Matthew Says:

    Good seeing you today.

  7.   ozziepete Says:

    Hi John Mark,
    I think most Christians have a poor sense of vocation as calling. In part, because preachers who haven’t had another career have a difficult time moving past their own “calling” to present a vision of “secular” jobs as God’s work.
    I’ve come across a good little (CoC) book on the topic available from Austin Grad bookstore, “God on Monday”. It’s an excellent starting point for developing a theology of vocation.

  8.   Gary Cleveland Says:

    Thanks John Mark,
    I couldn’t have said it better. Although, I did say it different once and almost got tarred and feathered. I said to a group of preachers that we should try to steal the phrase from the witnesses and call our facilities “Kingdom Halls”. It’s just a place and time to meet, strategize, commune, think, talk etc. etc. and then get on with Kingdom business. Maybe it’s time we quit going to church and started assembling at the hall.

    Your work, your life and your stimulating words are always greatly appreciated.


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