WE ARE THE BUILDING
The goal of God is to build a church made up of people, so His presence can dwell among us all the time, everywhere. In seeking to build a church made of living stones, we intentionally ask God to re-write our understanding of “church.” We don’t “go to” church we are the church. Church is not a building, at all. We are the building built on Jesus Christ, the Living Cornerstone.
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house(or “temple of the Spirit”) to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”(Isaiah 28:16) 7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” (Psalm 118:22) and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” (Isaiah 8:14) They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:4-9
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Our own bodies (individually) (and the body, collectively) are the places in which God lives and moves, not in a building. WE are the primary outlet for His ministry to others and to the entire world, not a building or program.
WHERE GOD WANTS TO BE WORSHIPPED
Listen to Jesus explaining what was then a future reality to a Samaritan woman. She was asking where people should worship in Jerusalem or in Sychar, where Jacob’s well was. It was a question about where God wanted to be worshipped.
“believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:21, 22-24
She was confused and said.
“I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you am He.” John 4:25-26
Interestingly, Matthew mentions Jesus building his church (ekklesia-called out people) on the Rock following Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah.
LIVING STONES BUILT TOGETHER ON THE CORNERSTONE OF THE PERSON OF CHRIST
This new thing Jesus is building—this new synagogue, this new “place of worship,” is built on the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, the deliverer, the one who changes everything by His sacrifice and triumph over death. Keep that in mind.
Looking at the possible original words for church there, the Greek word ecclesia (called out people) or in Aramaic knista (assembly)—both words referred to “people” and both words came to refer to the place where those PEOPLE met. Our contemporary concept of church has become very connected to place. We go to church. Which church do you attend. Church growth. Church models. Church planting. The thing we plant is in a place. It is where we go, and who we are as connected to that place—going out FROM there. Most of the times we think about needing a building in order to be the church.
But imagine Christ as a huge stone upon which we, living stones are being built together by the apostles and prophets and by His Spirit connecting us. This is a picture of the church, a living container for the presence of God to be found AMONG us when we are gathered in community—anywhere and everywhere. When we conceptualize the church like this, we’re unstoppable, by governments, by pestilence, or by any power of hell.
In Hebrew, there are “three synonyms for synagogue:
bet ha-tefilla (“house of prayer”)
bet ha-kneset (“house of assembly”)
bet ha-midrash (“house of study”).
The term synagogue is of Greek origin (synagein, “to bring together”)
Remember when Jesus said, My Father’s house will be called a house/abode/dwelling place of prayer.
Jesus’s response was aligned with God’s heart as seen in the prophets. He was sick of the sacrifices and festivals and yet offended that people were not even making pure sacrifices acceptable to Him. He did not ask David to build a temple for Him, but said instead that the earth was His footstool and heaven was His throne! And yet, the people kept building Him things all the time. Bringing Him gifts that were beautiful in their eyes, but not in His, because of the people’s lack of love for other people and for Him. They were trying to fulfill a law outside of themselves, and fell short EVERY TIME.
Now, remember what I said about the new thing Jesus was building, this new synagogue, this new “place of worship” which is built on the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, the deliverer, the one who changes everything by His sacrifice and triumph over death. When Jesus died as the FINAL temple sacrifice, He fulfilled John the Baptist’s prophecy that He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We know that Jesus fulfilled and completely perfected the temporary model of temple worship space and in fulfilling the system perfectly, He shattered it. The Holy of Holies used to be the only physical place to experience the presence of God, because of the miraculous dispersion of the presence of God at the death of Jesus. When Jesus died, the veil of the Holy of Holies was torn in two, (Matthew 27:51) This was God’s confirmation that the model of worship had forever changed into it’s original purpose, that we would follow Him into His Kingdom as a bride in waiting. And inviting the whole world to become the stones which form the building which God’s presence abides in.
So what is the role of places in this concept of church as a building of people?
NOTHING. It’s completely irrelevant.
HOUSES provide a removed, private, intimate place where God’s people can reflect on and celebrate being the church. It is a bounded, small enough place where people are seen (they can’t hide), prayed for, healed, and where communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, confession, fresh filling with the Holy Spirit takes place. In the early church this was happening in houses and in smaller groups gathering in the synagogue building (Jewish, non-Christian).
THE PURPOSE FOR MEETING IN THE SYNAGOGUE OR TEMPLE BUILDING WAS FOR JEWS NOT CHRISTIANS.
The reason they were meeting in the synagogue was to convince the Jews to follow Christ. It was a missional, public placement of discussion and teaching. We do not see a New Testament emphasis on building “Christian church buildings,” and furthermore we acknowledge an Old Testament precedent for less extravagant places of worship (Isaiah 66:1-2). The church met in the synagogues until they were driven out so that they would be teaching in public and more people could hear and be added. But they did not go out and build spaces to meet in because they were under persecution! So they met in homes. This built a sense of family. They ate together, they knew each other, they had networks of people they were sending out and supporting in a very grassroots way, from a place of hospitality and love.
CAUTION: THIS MAY MAKE SOME PEOPLE A LITTLE MAD
Because of this early history we need to call out and offer a loving criticism to our brother and sisters regarding the exaggerated importance we have been placing on “church buildings.” We don’t reject meeting in church buildings, but we do see that church buildings can be a drain on resources and serving in/at them can very easily be viewed as our service to God, when our service to Him is supposed to take over our whole life in a public and visible way that draws outsiders into the body of Christ! When Jesus was asked the question where should we worship (In Jerusalem or Samaria), He answered: the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. (John 4:23-26). Anywhere in the world, worshiping Him who is Spiritually present EVERYWHERE, through our spirit, heart, mind and strength, empowered by His Holy Spirit, poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5) to write His law on the inside of us and then to overflow like a River, of His presence.
Jesus said in John 7:37-41:
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”
Again, this recognition of Jesus as the Messiah is tied to a NEW WAY of worship that is different from temple worship. It’s done internally, not externally. Not in a place but from the heart. In Acts chapter 2 we see the deep reality of what this new synagogue would look like. The day of Pentecost is the feast of first fruits. It also celebrated God’s gift of the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai. But on the day of Pentecost, God gave the disciples of Jesus a new law of the Spirit, written not on tablets but on our hearts! God’s Spirit, the Spirit that was in Christ, is now poured into us through baptism, not just of water, but of fire, meant to be in our hearts and overflowing like a River, making springs in the deserts, drawing all men to him. WE are supposed to be the container of God’s presence, our bodies in intimate community are the church, a people called of God, that is NOT walled in. It should be invading and flowing into every place we work and every person we meet. From our very private to very public lives.
Therefore, the place becomes joyfully irrelevant. This is not about tearing down the old model of church in a building. It is about empowering the body of Christ to FUNCTION as the priesthood of believers to a dying world. As sanctuaries. As places where others can meet with God! It’s time to ask God to awaken His church with His Spirit.
GROW UP, CHILDREN OF GOD
WAKE UP, BRIDE OF CHRIST!
“The paradigm shift when we think about structure…is that Jesus isn’t looking to inhabit buildings. We’ve had buildings. It hasn’t worked. So if we can begin to perceive the people as living stones, the people as the structure that’s going to bring the habitation of Jesus in our midst…then we can begin cultivating human structures of people—discipleship making movements, where we are bringing people together, understanding that THAT is the pathway that brings the glory and the presence of Jesus.” Sheep Among Wolves II
What happened when we got a small group of believers together in our house was that we realized our poverty. We needed teachers, prophets, shepherds, apostles, and evangelists. We needed people who were able to extend mercy, hospitality, helps, healing, and all the other gifts mentioned in scripture. We found ourselves asking God to equip us to be the church. Trying to function as a body as a small group showed us that we actually needed more from God. Because if we really assessed the body of Christ we would see that we are, as a whole, very poor and immature because we have relied on a few gifted teachers and not asked God to equip us. And guess what, God answered our prayer. In this simple motley crew, God started raising up evangelists, shepherds, teachers, prophets, apostles, healers, hosts, mercy workers, intercessors, and administrators and we saw an explosion of gifts among us. We started looking to scripture for models of how to anoint people into these gifts as they sensed God calling them into these new, and for many of us, scary things. We started recognizing ourselves in the book of Acts—oh yeah—we are seeing that happen among us. We started sharing our money, our food, giving what people needed. Sending people out to the world with our own resources, holding nothing as our own. We started traveling to them to encourage them as they were placed in different places. God would open up places of peace for us to stay, and we started seeing vibrant new life springing up like rivers. See God IS doing a new thing. We have been receiving milk for so long we have gotten drowsy and sleepy like the babies we are. But we are not babies, we are meant to be a bride.
It’s time to wake up, Bride of Christ! Prepare the way of the Lord!
BIG IDEAS THAT COULD CHANGE EVERYTHING (otherwise subtitled: THIS MIGHT ALSO MAKE SOME PEOPLE FEEL BAD, BUT THAT’S NOT THE GOAL)
Global worship communities can meet together in homes, outdoors, or community spaces. Anywhere that’s free (including free church spaces if invited by other congregations). In a church without “church buildings,” we would not need to pay for building maintenance, utilities, marketing, or production costs. This allows our money to be directly given in ministry—sending out evangelists, supporting local outreach, and providing for our own people in need (Acts 2:45).
If this seems a little extreme, let me just push a little harder (YIKES). If a church building already exists, we see no biblical model in scripture for building bigger church buildings when they are outgrown, which confuses the definition of “church growth.” The correct biblical response to an explosion of numeric growth is increasing faith, strength in persecution, immediate discipleship, and dispersion (Acts 6:7, Acts 9:31, Acts 16:5). We should be urgently focused on sending out and strategic placement of believers in other small unreached community places so that the gospel may be preached to every person in all nations (peoples) and new assemblies of called out people can be built on the rock of Jesus the Messiah. (Mark 13:10)
When churches meet in houses or open public spaces there is literally NO overhead. Some resist the desire for establishment of salaried “church leadership” positions when possible to work locally, reserving consistent financial support for those serving in the full-time role of apostleship/missions where working locally may be restricted (1 Cor. 9). This would serve several purposes.
The people who are most passionately learning about and teaching about God would be placed missionally in the community to encounter unbelievers. Every person in the worship community would be seen as part of the body and bride of Christ and tasked, trained and activated only to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, operate in the gifts the God gives, to study scripture and listen to the voice of God for themselves and the community (John 10:27-28), to participate jointly in corporate worship, to teach and disciple one another. In this way, those teaching and leading worship in the communities are doing so because they are compelled by God, not paid. (1 Corinthians 9:12-18). Like Paul, many pastors of these communities readily lay down our rights to be paid full time salaries, for the sake of the gospel, and instead we claim as the priesthood of believers that God is our portion and our provider.
Even the smallest worship communities begin to see themselves as the place where God inhabits, where He dwells, where He moves (Psalm 46:5). Wherever two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of you. (Matthew 18:20) In small communities, spiritual gifts have room to operate, and everyone can contribute in their own unique, indispensable way to the body of believers (1 Cor. 14:1).
The need to not seek a building space first, but a kingdom first (Matthew 6:33), makes us extremely versatile, mobile, visible, and quickly multiplying (Luke 13:20-21). This also allows us to simply focus on what is important to Him:
- The posture of doing “one thing necessary”: sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to Him (Luke 10:38-42), even if it’s hard (John 12:27-32) finding our peace and rest in Him (Mark 4, John 14:27, Romans 14:19, Isaiah 30:15)
- Walking like Jesus. In spiritual unity with God—saying what our Father says and doing what He is doing as a holy people, set apart, and spurred on by love-driven obedience (John 12:49-50, John 5:19, John 14:15).
- The good news of the Kingdom of God going out to the world. Preaching His Salvation/Healing/Deliverance through Jesus Christ alone (Psalm 3:8, Acts 10:38, Mark 16:17-18) locked safely into covenant by the Holy Spirit, and making disciples by baptizing them (by water into Christ as He baptizes them in the fire of the Spirit (Matthew 3:11) and discipling people to seek God’s kingdom in their own hearts (Matthew 28:19).
- Unity with all believers in Jesus Christ as the only true way to God (John 14:6); showing mercy and compassion (Eph.4:32) and love for our neighbors, (whoever we are around at anytime) (Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:25-37)
- Worship in Spirit and Truth (John 4) from every nation tribe and tongue (Rev. 7:10) as we celebrate the reality of kingdom to come, the foundations of which will be righteousness and justice (Psalm 89:14). But we are also celebrating the already-not-yet kingdom that is within us, growing from our lives and hearts and spreading like wildfire to the hearts around us!
Now say that you are thinking you could never do this, let me just encourage you. When we opened our home there were at least ten VERY solid reasons why I shouldn’t. And almost every person I sought council from told me it was not a great idea except one. I could think of so many reasons why I was ill-equipped, not gifted enough, not the right person, otherwise needed, overloaded, with the propensity to build my own kingdoms. God told me to lead like Moses, by a type of leadership that insisted on the leadership of God, to lead by simply seeking the face of God. And so I yielded. I told the Lord, “If all I need to do to lead this group is to seek your face, then I can do this.” Our whole leadership team took this on as our one and only strategy, to let God lead us. I’m going to talk about that principle in the next post, but the point right now is that we said yes. And the others that stepped out into this said yes. Some of them were in their first year of marriage, some were about to leave college and decided to stay, some were questioning their faith, none of us had any idea what we were doing. And God done amazing things through our simple obedience of opening our house to host an assembly of believers.