In the first chapter of Company of the Committed (1961), Elton Trueblood talks about the danger of equating church with buildings, meetings, or clergy:
When we think that religion is what goes on in a
building of recognizable ecclesiastical architecture, the damage comes
in the perfectly natural human tendency to minimize religion in other
places. When we think of religion as what transpires on Sunday morning,
the harm lies in the tendency to suppose that what goes on at other
times, in factories and offices, is not equally religious. When we
think of religion as the professional responsibility of priests,
clergymen, and rabbis, the major harm lies in the consequent minimizing
of the religious responsibility of other men and women. The
harm of too much localizing of religious responsibility in a
few–however dedicated they may be–is that it gives the rank and file
and freedom from responsibility which they ought not to be able to
I find it fascinating that he talks of people enjoying a freedom from responsibility. That’s exactly what I have found as I’ve tried to move people toward more involvement in ministry. I think there can be a somewhat romantic notion out there that people are just chomping at the bit to be more involved in the life of the church, but experience has shown me that people might like the idea of "everybody=minister" but when it comes down to practice, people find that they quite enjoy the freedom from that responsibility. But of course we are dealing with years of social conditioning, so it will probably take some time (years?) to help people out of it.
Another issue Trueblood takes on in this first chapter of Company of the Committed is the emphasis on attendance as a key indicator of success or fruitfulness for pastors, as though Christ’s call was to get a bunch of people in a room week after week.
The trouble with [people describing themselves by announcing which church they go to] is that a church, in its very nature, is not really something to which men and women can go. Rather, it is something which they may be in... if a man is really in–really belongs to–a church, he is just as much a member of it when he sits at his desk in his business house as when he sits in a pew at his meetinghouse.
In charismatic circles especially, I think part of this emphasis on getting people in a room has been fueled by a bad theology of presence and anointing. As I speak with people, sometimes the impression I get is that their assumption is that if they can just manage to get their (unsaved, hurting, rebellious, etc) friend/child/parent into the building for a church service, the presence of God will be so "strong" or the anointed worship or preaching will be too much for their resistance, and they’ll just be "overwhelmed" into the kingdom. We too often assume that ministry basically equals getting people into a building and then "doing something to them." Just get them to attend and everything will take care of itself. So we use marketing techniques and all kinds of other devices, just to get people to come, with the assumption that things pretty much take care of themselves after that point.
Now, I’m not discounted the fact that many times people meet God in meetings, or that worship and preaching can be powerful and "anointed." But when we equate ministry with certain locations, times, and people (to the exclusion of others), we kill any possibility of God working at different locations and times, or through different people. Jesus’ whole point to the woman at the well when he said "those who worship the Father must worship in spirit and truth" was that location no longer mattered ("neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem"), because he was, in fact, the new Temple. Jesus himself was the new location for worship, and after his ascension and the gift of the Spirit, that means there are no sacred places, because every place is sacred. There are no special times for worship, because every minute is consecrated to God. There are no special people necessary, for all are now priests, ministering to one another through the Spirit.
Leave a Reply