Dinner With Friends Is My Church. Is That OK?
Examining what church really is (and isn't).
Hey Eddie, without going into all the backstory, I’ll just tell you that I feel like God is moving me to be in a different kind of church. Specifically, one that has more of a home-church kind of vibe. So, is it OK for me to have church at my home? I feel like I experience God better at dinner with my friends. Thanks, man.
I applaud you for asking this question, I really do. Because while we’re clearly going to get into a lengthy talk about what church is (and isn’t), I don’t want to ignore the fact that at every turn in your inquiry, you’re doing your best to be the man God has designed you to be—and that matters. I’m proud of you for still seeking community, even if you have questions about how that community is best organized.
Now, let’s talk about your Church of The Holy Dinner Party. Question one: Are you eating good food at this party? If not, please quit this sacrilege and return to wherever you came from. However, if you are eating wonderful breads and cheeses and wine and sweet-bites, you may continue to the next paragraph.
And for this portion of the conversation, I’m bringing in a big gun, namely, Chad Turnbull, who is the (ready for this title?) Director of Distributing the Church at Northland: A Church Distributed. Chad’s role, and really his wild-eyed calling, is leading a wonderful, influential and gigantic megachurch in a conversation about what it means to “live as the Church everywhere, every day.”
Put more simply, he’s telling a lot of people that being 20,000-strong on a Sunday or 10-strong at a dinner party are both equally weighted in responsibility and opportunity. Here’s some of my conversation with Chad:
You brought a copy of Mere Christianity [by C.S. Lewis] to our conversation?
We’ll get to that.
OK, let’s start with Marc’s question: He basically wants to know if it’s OK that he have church around a dinner table instead of coming to church on Sunday. What say you?
I say that the question, while a very good and thoughtful question, is respectfully operating under the wrong paradigm. Marc, and really a lot of us, think of churches as buildings and locations, but I want us to move the center of gravity from what it means to be the Church outside of a building—and to an identity and a community. Church is not a place; Church is something that has to be rooted in relationship and common purpose.
What is the Church’s purpose?
It is a place that equips the works of saints to the work of ministry, and it’s a place that allows us to worship, glorify and celebrate the glory of God. We see this in Acts 2 and the temple courts as well as in Ephesians and all throughout Scripture.
Additionally, because we’re not seeing a building or Marc’s house as a church, we have to ask what the Church is. The Church is me—it’s us—and it’s something we can’t do alone.
The Church isn’t for you, it is you.
The Church—you—are God’s plan for the world, and if the center of gravity is on relationships and common purpose, not holding tightly to the where-I-go-to-church card, it changes how you live. It changes how you do your job, raise kids and interact with someone at a grocery store—because in all of those places, you are at church.
So because Marc’s location doesn’t define his church, what would you affirm and caution about his dinner party gatherings?
First, I think it’s really great that Marc is having a smaller, personal group of people to live as the Church and to reflect the image of God together. I think that can be an extremely effective vehicle for proclaiming the Gospel—together.
Additionally, as they think through how they can best be the Church, they must come back to who God is. This little phrase puts it well: I am equals us, for them, there. Do you see what I’m saying? Nobody can reflect the image of God in isolation, it’s impossible. We can’t live that out alone—because God’s nature is relationship.
And on a more practical level, we can’t live life alone because it robs us of the opportunity to use our gifts in a community that is proclaiming the Gospel. For example, someone who is gifted in the area of hospitality can’t express that alone—they need people to best serve Jesus.
As far as cautions go, I would warn them against staying too connected and becoming isolated from people outside their group (believers and nonbelievers). This defeats any definition you may use for church.
Finally, I’d say to Marc that it’s great that he feels closer to God when he’s having dinner with friends. But feeling closer, well, that’s not the point of your life. If it was all about feeling closer to God, you would have just gone to heaven the moment you became a Christian so that you could be right next to Him all the time.
It comes back to the reality that God’s plan is communities of people, serving Jesus and transforming the world. You can’t change the world alone. But in a group, you can do significant things as there is real power as your gifts find full expression in the collective.
Let me read something to you…
It’s C.S. Lewis time, isn’t it?
It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects—education, building, missions, holding services. Just as it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.
A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.
Marc (this is Eddie talking now), the question I want you to consider, and that I’m asking myself, is not, “Where do I go to church?” but, “How can I be formed into a ‘little Christ’?” Additionally, how are the people I’m doing this life with serving the community and the world we live in?
I think having clarity on these questions will give you and I a better understanding of what our church is about—me, or them there.
And, of course, eat great food.
P.S. I’ll send the dog-eared copy of Mere Christianity that Chad left with me to the the first person who Tweets to me, telling me they’ve never read it. Seriously, that book will change your life, and I’d love for you to have it.
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