Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Doing Church vs. Being Church

I've been recently wrestling with a concept about identity and the church. At RMCC, we're beginning a long-term conversation as a church about what it means to be a "missional community." If you Google "missional community," you'll find numerous articles, books, and churches embracing the idea of missional. Missional is all over the place these days. I've already posted about "missional" before. There's one aspect of missional that's been on my mind recently, and it's doing vs. being.

I grew up in the church, attending nearly every Sunday and youth group event I possibly could. But if you had asked me why I attended church--or even why anyone should ever attend church--my answer would have either been "because that's what Christians do" or "I friends are here." Now as a leader in a church, I still see people who speak about church the same way they speak about their kids' soccer games--it's an activity that they do, a part of their lifestyle. We have to ask ourselves, why do we participate in church?

Was church ever meant to be an activity? Was it supposed to begin and end as a Christian club of sorts? Is church something that we do? Surely this is partially true. The early church in the book of Acts did lots of things--the book is called Acts for a reason. Jesus did lots of things too, for that matter, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom (not to mention His work on the cross). But the early church and Jesus served and loved and performed miracles and shared the Gospel out of an identity found in a relationship with God. Their actions weren't disconnected from their other weekly activities. Their actions were intrinsically connected to who they are.

If we're doing church, then church becomes an event. It is another activity in the week, a club that we participate in, a reminder on our calendar, a building where we gather and sing and learn. It could be connected to other activities in life, but that is not a necessity. Doing church means people need to look good and fit in. When I invite someone to doing church, I'm inviting them to a service on Sunday because that's where we talk about spiritual things. Church is something we do. It is action unattached to character.

If we're being church, then church becomes an identity. It is a lifestyle, a moment-by-moment movement that we're always participating in. We gather and sing and learn and eat meals together and play sports and make music and listen to our hurting friends and serve the marginalized and clean up a park and travel to other countries because we are the church. Being church means tearing down facades of perfection and being authentic about our brokenness. When I invite someone to being church, I'm inviting them into an ongoing relationship with myself because Jesus loves them and I love Jesus. Church is something we are. It is action flowing from identity.

Being the church doesn't mean we don't have actions or we aren't doing anything. Far from it. It instead means that we're doing something out of a love for Jesus and the mission He gives us to loves others and share the gospel. Doing church and being church can look really similar at times, but the underlying identity makes all the difference. I think of my musical gift of drumming--there is a huge difference between playing the drums (doing) and being a drummer (being). One is an activity; the other is an identity. There is a rhythm and a balance between the two, a dialectical movement where identity and activity are intertwined and working together. But being seems to precede doing, as Jesus talks about one's heart so often in Scripture.

I don't do church or go to church or serve at church. I am--or perhaps more appropriately--we are church and go into the world as church and serve people everywhere they are because we love Jesus and Jesus loves His creation.

That's my two cents.


  1. Great post, Joel. Very well written.

  2. I am going through the same stuff. Brought up in a church and now pastoring. Wrestling with the thought that doing church is not what Jesus intended. How can we BE the church. You have posted some very helpful thoughts. Thanks.