First, Jesus never told his disciples to gather in a building and wait for people to come to their doorsteps. Sure, it can be assumed that they came together, sang hymns and listened to teaching, but that was a prelude for what was to come. It seems that the next thing Jesus taught them to do was the real purpose of their existence on the planet.
Today, the western church reasons that if we have great worship music, exceptional preaching, the latest techno-gadgets and a cool venue, people who don’t know the Lord will just mysteriously show up. While these may or may not draw a large crowd, most of the people who turn up at our church already know Christ. Most times they keep coming because they think the way we do church is cooler and better than the way the last church they attended does church. Therefore, churches trade Christians and the church that’s having the biggest draw at the time fools itself into thinking that the Kingdom is advancing when in fact we’re just swapping people. It’s not that this is wrong, and it’s certainly not sinful, but it’s not what the Bible reflects. At least, not the way I read it.
The second thing that struck me was Jesus’ calculated command to “Go.”
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Gathering together with other believers is important. Meeting together is the means by which we stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). But meeting together is no more the grand purpose of the church than a football team’s huddle is to the game. Like the football team, the purpose is to eventually break the huddle and move forward into enemy territory!
God’s church will never be complete, and dare I say we may have even become a bit dysfunctional, because all we’ve majored on is to try to make our huddle the best huddle in town. For the most part, this is a description of the American church—and it’s wrong—it’s dead wrong!
Jesus last words on earth before he ascended were, “Go…make disciples of all nations…be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." The word that pierces my heart is “Go.” Jesus was deliberate and intentional. Convenience was not a consideration. “Go” challenges my personality, my schedule and my comfort. And for me it’s very uncomfortable.
There are people in my town who know nothing of the love of God. Why? Because I, like many others, have stayed in my huddle. Now, you must know that I love my huddle! My huddle has wonderful people, great worship music and some of the best leaders in the region. I think we have one of the most unique huddles in our city. You can’t come into my huddle without being blessed! However, the blessing and problem are juxtaposed against one another, and herein lies the issue. While the huddle is necessary, it’s incomplete if we don’t break out of it. People don’t pay thirty-five dollars a ticket to see a pro football team huddle. A football team will get penalized if it stays in the huddle too long! If all they do is huddle the game’s not being played. The fans come to see their team move the ball into the opposing team’s territory and score!
A few months ago it dawned on me that I had barely spoken to my next door neighbor who now lives alone since his mother died. Never married, he stays home alone all day. The only regular visit he ever received was the ambulance driver that came regularly to pick up his mother and take her to the hospital. He had had no visitors since she died. Is he aware of how much God loves him? Does he ever talk to God? Had he ever attended a church service? I didn’t know.
Imagine, a church has paid airfare for me to fly to their city to speak, but I wouldn’t cross the street and go to my neighbor. I didn’t even know his name, much less his relationship with the Lord! After re-reading Jesus’ words in the Bible I was convicted that we have to find ways to serve people outside our circle with a heavenly purpose in mind. The only thing it will cost is personal convenience and obedience, and maybe a walk across the street, which, by the way, I did and continue to do.
I suppose that most churches, including mine, has worked to become the best and biggest huddle in town, while Jesus awaits us breaking our huddle (in whatever state we find it) to go to people who need to know that there is a God Who loves them unconditionally. Jesus added, “Start in Jerusalem” [your hometown].
So what did I learn from re-reading the Gospels? When the Lord looks at my city I don’t think He sees the size or technology or style of our individual huddles. He sees His Church, His Kingdom people, and He’s waiting for us to break from our routine, walk across the street and serve someone who has yet to hear the Gospel, that God loves them…just like they are.