Did Jesus (and His disciples, for that matter) go to church? Here's what my Bible says:
“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart….” Acts 2:46 NKJV
“Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me.” Mark 14:48-49 NKJV
Evidently Jesus and His disciples frequented the temple (Jewish synagogue). It was the local church of their day. Their “daily” church attendance is mentioned multiple times* in both the gospels and the book of Acts. Yes, they joined the “manmade institution,” those four walls encompassing empty ritual and vain religious tradition.
Talk about being a misfit! Jesus sat there daily while the Clueless read about Him in the scrolls, and far from recognizing Him for Who He was, plotted to kill Him instead.
Talk about enduring the hypocrisy of meaningless ritual! Talk about hierarchy and control! Talk about tithes and offerings! Talk about not being allowed to heal the sick or bring “heathen” friends anywhere near the building. Or nodding off while the scribes droned on with their vain scriptural recitations. Or feeling trapped in the system, surrounded by long-faced wearers of fringe and tassels!
If anyone had reason to throw in the "church towel," it was Jesus.
But He stayed. He stayed because He is not like you and me; He wasn’t in it for Himself. He didn’t go to be “fed”, “blessed”, or to check out the worship team or even to (gasp!) find “fellowship."
Jesus went willingly to the temple every day because He recognized Himself as what Christians are called to be every day of the week, inside or outside the building: He was a minister. And that temple represented a huge ministry opportunity.
To this day, when people reach the end of their rope, the place they run to is the local church. And tragically, lay ministers are leaving as fast as those who need ministry are coming in.
Thankfully Jesus showed up, because one day a man with a withered hand came to into the temple. Jesus was the only one who saw a ministry opportunity there; He healed the man’s hand while the other church members wanted to throw Him out for healing on the Sabbath. Every congregation needs more “grace people,” but sadly, they are the very ones who often choose to stay home. Because, after all, “grace.”
One day Jesus was handed the sacred scrolls to read aloud. And so began His “teaching ministry” inside the church building. That same ministry continued with the disciples in the book of Acts, where they continued to teach and minister in the temple.
There are no words to describe the sadness and frustration pastors feel about the lack of enough lay ministry in the church, all because too many people have left and taken much needed talent and expertise with them. It feels as if the doctor is alone in the delivery room, where spiritual babies are birthed and there are not enough labor nurses to assist in ensuring their survival (this is especially true when it comes to children’s ministry. Young converts are the future church, if they survive spiritually. And that depends on having enough teachers in the church, since not every child is taught of God at home).
The ratio of lay ministers to those in need of ministry is getting dangerously out of proportion as lifelong Christians either leave the church or continue to warm the pews without ever getting involved in discipling new believers.
Some haven’t left “the church” per se; they gather in homes on a consistent, regular basis to do what the church is supposed to do—“edify,” or build each other up. I champion house churches whose leaders still recognize a place for the local church, and who are willing to work alongside pastors in the business of people-restoration. It’s those who have stopped gathering anywhere, any time, I wonder about. They’ve neglected the Body of Christ. And they’ve done it all while chanting, “the church is not a building, it’s people.”
I couldn’t agree more, and that is precisely why they should stay. They’re like a man saying to his wife, “I realize there’s more to you than your body; it’s the real you on the inside that counts. But still, you’ve grown old and fat, so I’m leaving you. I’m bored, and you no longer meet my needs.”
When people leave the church building, they forget it’s what’s on the inside that counts: indeed, the church is people. Yes, it’s full of tired tradition, empty ritual, consumer-driven growth tactics, and yes, even gross error. But that didn’t and doesn’t stop Jesus from loving His Bride. When we leave her, we leave people behind who desperately need us to stay, and stay for the long haul.
Because Sunday after Sunday, people show up, not with withered hands, but with withered souls. Who will faithfully represent Jesus and remain “in the temple” to heal them?
*See Matthew 21:14-15, 23; 24:1; 26:55; Mark 11:11, 27; 12:35, 14:49; Luke 2:46, 19:47, 20:1, 21:37-38, 22:53, 24:53; John 5:4, 7:14, 7:28, 8:2, 8:20, 8:59, 10:23, 18:20; Acts 2:46, 3:1-10, 5:20-21, 25, 42; 21:26-30; 22:17; 24:6, 12, 18; 26:21.
photo credit: www.creativecommons.org