New Year's Greetings to you all!
I saw a comic illustration on social media the other day. Jesus and a friend are standing before a Christmas tree. Jesus is holding a small model of a church building that is about the size of a large birdhouse. Jesus' friends asks, "Hey Jesus, what did you get?" I guess the model was a Christmas gift. Anyway, Jesus' answer is, "It's a church, but I can't get it out of the box." I don't know if I've described this accurately but what the cartoonist is trying to say is this, "The church is not a building." The implication of this is that we've given Jesus what we think is a church - the building. And Jesus is looking for what he thinks a church is - people who follow his way.
We all are capable of reducing church to a box, a building where certain things happen. We are all also able to say, at times, that we experience beloved community together, and it happens because of people and not the building they happen to gather in. "Beloved community," is one way to translate the Greek word, EKKLESIA, which we usually translate simply as, "church." When the Hebrew scholars in the fourth century BCE translated their scriptures into Greek, they used the word, EKKLESIA, to translate a Hebrew word that meant simply, "congregation." And in 1972, Richard Avery and Donald Marsh wrote a hymn together with this verse: "The church is not a building, / the church is not a resting place, / the church is a people."
The truth of the matter is this: this is a "both-and" situation. Our church IS a people, a congregation, a beloved community. But our church is also the place where we can reliably come and gather as that people: for services, celebrations, funerals, meals, lessons, and even fun. Some of us tend to focus more on the one than on the other, while for others it is the other way around. The chorus to Avery and Marsh's hymn holds a key idea. "I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we're the church together!" Truthfully, we ARE the church together. We need each other's skills and talents. The Apostle Paul tries to get at this when he writes that the church is one body with many different members. What I think Paul's metaphor misses however is this: Not only do we possess certain individual talents for the church and each other, but we can learn to develop other talents with the help of those who are already using those talents. So, here is a bit of a challenge that I pose to you in the new year (and to myself): what things to do with the church (people, building, organization) do you have the ability to develop more and use more in the coming year? AND, what abilities that you have been using are you willing to teach others?
We know and accept that our church has some limitations in the numbers of people available who do the ministries and care for the programs. I happen to know that there are folks who would love to have time for different things, perhaps fewer things. Sharing our skills is one way we may enliven the ministries of our church. Empowering new leaders while assuring "experienced" leaders that the church is in good hands, is a good and faithful use of the human resources we bring to the church. It is a faithful response to Jesus who, after all, is looking to get our (the) church "out of the box."