Today’s guest post comes from Richard Jacobson, a brother in Nashville, TN. Richard is a former pastor and a published author. Check out his book and his blog over at Unchurching.com. (We’re doing an interview with Richard about his book, Unchurching: Christianity Without Churchianity, later this month!) Thanks, Richard!
A running theme in much of my work is that you can have genuine church community without any organized church hierarchy. A common response I receive is, “But the church is a hierarchy!” Whereas I separate the organized church model from the actual church community, many believers don’t make this same distinction. Not only can this lead to a lot of misunderstandings, but it can lead to two parties trying to dialogue across the fence, yet having two very different conversations. Sometimes it leads to my brothers and sisters feeling as if I’m actually attacking them.
It’s kind of funny. If I were to publish a critique of today’s educational system, no one would think I was criticizing the actual teachers and students. In fact, they might think me a great advocate of teachers and students, since I would be trying to improve their circumstances. But that’s exactly what I’m trying to do whenever I publish a book, a blog post, an animation, or a cartoon about today’s organized church model: I’m trying to set more believers free to have a richer, more biblical church experience. However, I totally understand why many don’t see it that way.
So, if there is ever to be more understanding in this growing conversation about the way we do church today (and the conversation is indeed growing, by the way), which party bears the burden of building a bridge to those on the other side? Personally, I think it falls to those on our side of the fence. Paul talked clearly about what to do when one believer has more freedom than another; he said we are not to use that freedom to trip up our brothers and sisters:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. ~ Romans 14:1-2
Surely, something similar must apply here. If I have a freedom that allows me to experience genuine church community without buildings, services, sermons, or senior pastors, I need to be the one who creates a safe space to have a dialogue with my brothers and sisters whose church experience relies upon such things. If I try to push my ideas about church on them, even though they cause a stumbling block to my brother, I am ignoring Paul’s example.
Actually, if I truly want to follow Paul’s example, perhaps I must go even farther. Perhaps there is, as he put it, “a more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31) Perhaps more of my conversations should simply be about Christ, rather than my concepts of how we do church. That’s not to say I’m going to quit publishing books, blog posts, podcasts, animations, and cartoons that express my various ideas about church. In fact, I think that’s something God has called me to do. I think the millions of believers who are currently leaving the organized church need to know there is a biblical alternative.
But whenever my work draws believers into an actual dialogue, and we don’t seem to be finding that common ground we’re longing for, maybe I need to become more intentional about changing the focus of that conversation. Maybe we simply need to “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2), without “quarreling over disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). After all, if what we have in common is Christ, then we have infinitely more in common than we don’t, because Christ is infinite!
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. ~ Ephesians 4:4-6