Many believers are on the hunt for “the perfect church.” The one with music just the right style. With Starbucks in the front lobby. A church filled with young people who look good. Nice people, who have no problems of their own, but who will listen carefully to all of mine and pray for me every day.
We want a church with the perfect Biblical interpretation: mine. The preacher can’t disagree with my views on homosexuality or abortion. Some refuse to go to any church that spews politics from the pulpit; others will only go to the progressive church, or the conservative one.
The church has to look pretty. The pews have to be comfortable. And, above all, the sermon can’t be too long.
We church-shop. We think of church as a consumer product. We talk about “getting something” out of church. Was worship good, or not-so-great? Did the band sound awesome? Or was there—gasp—a mistake in the bulletin?
I was talking to a man recently who had been expelled from the worship team in his church. Not because he was sinning or causing problems in the church; because he got too old. The worship leader was concerned that he wouldn’t be promoting the right image. And what made me truly sad as this man was telling me his story, was that he didn’t question that decision at all.
I’m not against having excellent worship. I understand that, in order to attract seekers, we are called to share the message of Christ in the most compelling way possible.
But in this emphasis on presenting a perfect product to expand our church, are we losing sight of our true calling?
Because if we have a great worship service, a nice inspirational message, and then everybody goes home and keeps living the way we were before, fighting with our families, spending our money, keeping our heads down—then we are essentially a movie theater.
Jesus Christ did not die on the cross for a movie theater.
Jesus Christ did not die on the cross so we could go to church.
He died so we could go church.
God didn’t mean for the church to be a building.
He meant for church to be a verb. A new way of living, of doing this thing called life.
Our word “church” comes from the word “ecclesia.” It’s where we get the word “ecclesiastical.”
The book of Acts uses this word “ecclesia” more than any other book of the Bible. But what our English word “church” lacks is the original meaning of the word “ecclesia:” “ecclesia” originally comes from the verb “calling” and means “the called out ones.”
The verb is God’s calling us. We are the people who God calls. That’s who we are.
Church is not a building. Church is not an institution. Church is not about religion.
Church is about a new way to do this thing called life.
Actually, that was our first name. The Book of Acts talks about how people called this new movement “The Way,” “hodos” in Greek. When Jesus left his followers to continue his work, their first reaction to witnessing the resurrection and receiving the fire of the Holy Spirit was to completely restructure their lives.
The first church didn’t have a building. They met on a porch.
They didn’t have full time staff with a pension plan.
They didn’t even have a Bible.
What they had was the passion, purpose, and power of being set on fire with the Holy Spirit.
This book is not called “The beginning of a new religion.” It is called “Acts.” It is the book of actions. The book of deeds. The book of people going out to do something.
And I contend to you that God wants you and me to have that passion, purpose, and power here today.
A lot of the commentaries I read on this passage did some dancing around the radical way of life of the early believers. It was really amazing to read; commentators who often take the Bible hyper-literally do a lot of work to convince their readers that God didn’t really want us to sell everything and give it to the poor among us. Didn’t really want us to restructure our entire lives. Didn’t want us to do anything radical.
And I totally empathize with that. There’s some stuff here that’s really scary! Ananias and Sapphira get killed for holding back from the church! This is not the nice friendly repentant Peter from Pentecost! This is Peter saying, “Ananias, why did Satan fill your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” I mean, can you imagine if today, someone in the church said, “Pastor, I’m going to have to cut back my tithe this month” and I replied, “Brother, why has Satan filled your heart?”
I don’t really like what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, but what I take from it is that God wants genuine worship, genuine praise, truly changed lives. God doesn’t want tokens from us. God doesn’t want our leftovers. God wants switched on lives.
What does a switched on life look like? When I break down Acts 2:42-47 I see four verbs, four acts here in Acts:
The first is devotion. That the believers devoted themselves to worship, the teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. Is that what we do on Sundays? Would you say to your family, to your friends, “I’m going to devote myself to God?” Worship was not a consumer product for this community. Worship was a moment of giving everything to God.
Worship was for them a time, not of getting something out, but giving something up—giving their hearts fully and without reservation to Jesus Christ.
The second action is seeing God everywhere. Verse 43 says awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. In thinking about this verse, what’s really important here is not the signs and wonders; it’s the awe. I watched the movie Miracles from Heaven the other day with Diana Mae. I explained to her beforehand what would happen, because I didn’t want her to be scared. I told her, “a little girl’s going to get very sick in this movie. But God’s going to heal her.” And part way through the movie, Diana says, “Mommy, this movie has the right title. It’s not just one miracle that happens in this movie. I’ve seen twenty-eight so far.” And she goes on to tell me how the mother’s love is a miracle, how the family’s friends are a miracle, how the kind doctor who helps the girl is a miracle. And I’m like, we don’t have to watch this movie, kid, you could write this movie. Children live life with a sense of awe and they see signs and wonders everywhere. And God wants us to live like children. To see the signs of his presence that are all around us, and to share those stories, and use them to lift each other up.
The third action is sharing everything you have. This is the scariest and hardest for most of us. But when you are set on fire by the Holy Spirit, when you live your life switched on, you do hard things. You make radical changes. You do things other people would say are completely nuts and you do it because you have found something, felt something, met someone who makes life worth living.
The fourth act is hanging out. Eating pizza. Watching movies. Sharing the ups and downs of our lives. Being genuine with each other. Over and over and over in Acts we hear, they were together, they spent a lot of time together, they were all in one place. You can’t be a Christian on your own. God meant to create a community of faith. We need each other, to hold each other accountable, to care for one another, and to do more good than we could ever do alone.
Church is a verb. We are called by God to do amazing work.
Because the truth is, there is no perfect church.
If you’re church-shopping for perfection, you’ll be shopping a long time. We’re full of sinners and imperfect people.
But there was a time we taught the world what love meant.
And if we let God switch us on, if we stop going to church and start churching, we can do it all over again.
This is an ISO guard mask. It is an invention that delivers oxygen to a patient in the Intensive Care Unit. But it also does something else. For a long time, doctors and researchers knew that patients recovering from surgery in the ICU were transmitting waste anesthesia gas, or WAG, into the air around them. These harmful gasses created disproportionate health problems for ICU nurses who breathed in these gasses every day.
John Menning is a surgeon who knew about this problem and had an idea of how to fix it. He’d been thinking about it for some time. But he never did anything about it.
Until one day at church.
At Northview Church in Carmel, Indiana, Pastor Steve Poe had a radical idea. A nutty idea. It was for the church, instead of taking money, to give money away. A “reverse tithe.”
The ushers took the collection plate money, divided it up randomly into envelopes, and passed them out to the whole congregation. Pastor Steve said, “I don’t care what you do with it. Just do whatever God wants you to do. And the only condition is, please tell us what happens.”
One church member was a police officer. He pulled over behind a woman who had run off the road. She had no money for a tow. Her infant daughter was in the backseat. The cop put her into his own car. He drove her to work. He dropped her daughter at day care. He shared the Gospel. And he gave her the envelope.
Another man was a restaurant manager. He started looking a little closer at his employees. He felt that God wanted him to give one of them the money. He noticed that one of his waitresses was working extra hours. He asked her what was going on and she broke down. He didn’t even know her son had recently died, and she didn’t have money to pay for the funeral. The manager gave her the envelope, then started a crowdfunding campaign on social media that raised thousands of dollars so she could honor her son.
But Dr. Menning could not shake the thought that he needed to make this mask. He had been carrying this idea a long time—but now, he was switched on. He had to use this money in the envelope. He developed a prototype and had it patented. He sold it to a medical equipment company and it is being used in hospitals around the country today. Improving the lives of nurses and patients—and making money that’s being given right back into the church.
God didn’t mean for church to be a building, he meant for us to be building a new world. He meant for us to be living the way of Jesus. To be loving others, serving others, to work together to make a better world. He wanted us to show the world who Jesus is.
So go out and church.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.