Whenever a man introduces me to his wife for the first time I tend to ask the same question, “how long have you two been married?” From time to time I’ll ask this question of a couple only to then be told, “well, we’re not really married, but we’re just as serious as those who are.” This sounds good on the surface, but is faulty at its core. Because words mean something, we must be careful about saying one thing when we really mean another.
“Going to” vs. “Being a Part of”
This brings us to a relevant discussion about the Church and her nature. It’s not uncommon to hear people ask, “what church do you go to?” However, a cursory study of the usage of the word “church” in the Bible quickly identifies the word to mean something other than a building you enter or an event you attend. Long ago, I abandoned the saying in favor of the more precise, “are you a part of a church?” Buildings and events in and of themselves are not bad, but the Bible calls us to more. The Church is described as many things (a body, a bride, etc.) but at its very core it is a collection of people redeemed by the blood of Christ. It may be more than “just people” but it certainly is not less.
Just as a couple “playing house” is a distortion of marriage, regularly attending a church service without committing to the community misses the big picture. The Father in heaven is not a fan of people treating the Church (His people) as a consumeristic provider of goods. Simply put, like in marriage, God desires His people to enter covenant with Him and commit to His people. There is a peculiarity to this sort of commitment, it has the aroma of heaven because it is uncommon in our culture of noncommittal relationships. Marriage doesn’t make two people love each other, it simply recognizes publicly their commitment to remain faithful until death. Similarly, public baptism doesn’t save or set a person apart for Christ (only faith in His work on the cross is needed), it simply recognizes publicly one’s commitment to Him and His people and their desire to fight the things that would separate them from these things.
When we are weak, then we are strong?
That brings us, finally, to Engage Church’s present context in the diverse city of Albany, NY. Many in our city are unfamiliar with the Bible’s teaching and simultaneously uninterested in the Church. A majority of people have dismissed the Church as simply a building where out of touch people go to listen to antiquated stories that have no relevance to their modern lives. There are unique challenges to ministering in our city and the people who call it home. Currently, we are growing as a people who call Christ Lord and call Engage home (read: a community or a church!), even without a permanent location.
This will change at a future time, but for now, this seeming disadvantage holds great potential to live out the truth we’ve been unpacking so far. For the immediate future, there is an opportunity to display this otherworldly family to a city that longs for community but balks at commitment. You can’t have one without the other; let’s display the beauty of God’s design in intentional community! Strategically we have a great advantage to dismantle the preconceived notion that the Church is simply a building. We will continue to gather semi-regularly for full worship services as we grow together as Christ-followers on mission scattered throughout the city. The locations for these worship services will vary, because at the end of the day buildings are simply a means to an end. The end is glorifying and enjoying our great God as a servant community and inviting others into this eternal joy. So what to some might seem like a disadvantage, I pray, may actually be a strength in achieving this goal.
While the Church is more than just a building, there is stability and permanence that comes with having one. Eventually we will settle into a location. But for now, we want to embrace the season God has us in, and recognize the advantage it holds for the present moment. As we continue to grow as a community and grow in stability, the distance between our worship gatherings will grow shorter and shorter, eventually landing on a weekly Sunday worship gathering at the time and place that God makes clear to us. As we are welcomed as guests in various locations for our semi-regular services, let’s be prayerful about where God may open a door for us to zero in on a more permanent location.
Opportunities, Challenges, Offerings, and Advancement
For this season, I’m excited to embrace the missionary force that is the Church (ie: covenant community) while not having a permanent meeting location (with both the opportunities and challenges that presents). We’ll continue to keep the DNA we are living out, being a church that is scattered for mission in Engage Groups throughout the city, and determined to multiply (for now, our small Engage Groups, but in the future through planting other churches).
We were encouraged by the generosity of the offerings we received for our first worship gathering, and in order to put our money where our mouth is a generous portion of the funds given at our first service were given back to church-planting efforts through our local association and national network. We believe that the DNA and values of a church are developed early on, and as such we want to embody radical generosity and aggressive gospel multiplication right out of the gate. Both of these traits find their source in Jesus who generously gave His very self for us on the cross in order to multiply God’s grace to us. Join us as we look to him in eager hope for the future as His body in Albany.