There is a well known saying in Christian circles that the church is not a building but the people.
A few years ago when we were part of a new church plant in Belfast that met in a pub, people gave us weird looks when we told them where we gathered. Before that, when we met in a house, people who came to check it out would ask me “so what Church do you belong to?”… “Eh, this one” I would reply kind of confused.
Ensue awkward silence.
Four years later , Village has grown and is now meeting in a church hall (you will be glad to hear grandma) and the community that has been built up slowly over the past few years is being complimented with time for worship together.
But Sunday’s were never the focus. Or rather the idea of worship was decentralized to include everyday life together, rather than around one hour once a week.
Now, Britt and I live in Detroit.
When we first arrived, we had to answer many of the inevitable questions from friends and family. Where are you going to church? Where have you checked out? What kind of church style are you looking for?
To be honest, I grew tired of answering these questions because we had just moved our lives to a new country and honestly finding a church where I could agree with the theology or music style was and still is the last thing on my mind.
But not because I don’t care about church. Simply because my idea of church is drastically different from where it was a few years ago.
Being part of a church plant that is fresh and small and not simply jumping into a new church which already has a sleek websiteand a name and a cool looking sign, forced me out of my comfort zone. I found those early days tough because for the first time, I didn’t just come in, sit in a pew, make small talk and leave.
Because there was only a few of us those first few months, I had to learn to talk to people I had never met before and who were complete strangers to me. Now those people are among the closest friends I have. Some of them know me better than anyone in the world, and that’s from only knowing them for a couple of years.
There wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t see these people.
We were in and out of each other’s homes and lives daily. I was comfortable being myself in their company. I could swear and not be judged. I could say something stupid and still be welcomed back. When Britt and I had an argument in front of two friends it wasn’t weird. It was real. It wasn’t fake. It was liberating.
There was nothing to hide from each other and it was freeing.
We’d study the Bible together. We’d pray together. We’d celebrate new life with each other. We’d cry together over life taken from us.
Honestly, it was the most beautiful experience of my life to be part of this community. I learnt more about what it meant to be a follower of Christ than I had in the previous 25 years or so of my life.
But, we’re in Detroit and they are thousands of miles away. I miss my friends, my family really, like crazy. Yet there is something in me that knows that being here is the right thing. That we get the chance to experience again what we experienced in Belfast.
And herein lies my problem.
Most of our experiences of church are trying to relive something that we have grown used to. This is how we worship, this is the type of theology we teach, this is the way our week is planned. So even as we moved to a new country and a new culture, I found myself yearning for the old days. For the way we used to do church. Which ironically, is the thing I loved so much about Village. That it wasn’t the way I had grown up doing church.
For the past several months we have met in a friends house every Thursday evening to study Hebrews. It feels like the early days of Village and yet feels nothing like it. Which is something I have learned to love.
So when I’m asked about where we go to church now I want the answer to be more than just about the area or the type of church and more about how I am living in relationships with people everyday. Whether that be in work, when I play football, when we meet to study Hebrews and pray everyday or how I interact with strangers.
There is something special about getting together with other followers of Christ and worshipping together but more and more I see the life of the church outside the walls. Sundays should not be where we catch up with each other from the previous week because that is all about us and not worshipping God.
I am excited to grow new relationships in our small, exciting community on Thursday nights that are like the ones I have in Belfast, while at the same time looking nothing like them.
For something to be real and alive it has to change. That is part and parcel of every sphere of life from the seasons, to growing up and leaving home and to the community we share our love of Christ with.
So church, however it exactly it looks like for us here in Detroit will be different and that’s ok. I can’t wait to meet and grow with new family, who may not be like the ones we have back home.
Something, I’m growing more comfortable with.