“What church do you go to?”
This is a common question when two Christians meeting for the first time discover that they live in the same city and worship the same God. But it’s actually a slightly complex query for me to straightforwardly answer–because there’s multiple Christian communities of which I’m part which I could happily call ‘my church’.
Church of the Good Shepherd.
The only one that actually has the word ‘Church’ in its name is the Church of the Good Shepherd, our local Anglican parish church (if you have the time you can peruse my account of my Anglican convictions here). We’ve been going here since just before Christmas 2013 – Taryn’s first service was the all-age Christingle service, which she did not know what to make of (for those of you who haven’t experienced it, it attempts to use an orange spiked with cocktail sticks to convey the Christmas story). We generally go to the 8.30am half-hour communion service (where our family is always the youngest present), but on those days where we fail to arise in time we go to the 10am family service. The Good Shepherd is a combination of all the threads that make up the tapestry of the Anglican church: liturgical, sacramental, evangelical, and charismatic.
The church that meets in our house.
One of the reasons we go to the brief early service at CoGS is so that we have time to get ready for the Sunday lunch followed by House Church that we host each week in our own little home. Ever since my Dad gave me a copy of T4T to read I have been gripped by the fact that to see a multitude of people be swept into the kingdom of God we need a movement of simple, reproducible churches. And so we have been trying ever since returning to Cambridge to gather whoever we can for simple, reproducible discipleship (church!). We used a simple discipleship course that I’d put together to get started, and then have been inductively studying the Gospel of Mark together. We have yet to see the little group that gathers in our living room multiply into a movement that will fill the city with the glory of God – but that is what we are praying for!
Then of course there’s YWAM Cambridge, our missionary family. YWAM is not a church denomination – but nor does YWAM consider itself to be a parachurch organization. Ah– no sooner have I begun writing than I’ve fallen into the trap of saying ‘YWAM considers itself’, as though the mission has some self-consciousness of its own, rather than simply being a family of people with a variety of different understandings of how what the mission is relates to what the church is. But there’s a helpful line from the YWAM.org Values page: We are called to commit to the Church in both its local nurturing expression and its mobile multiplying expression. Which is to say that we in YWAM are called to love your ‘normal’ (? !) ‘local churches’, while standing confident in our identity as an equally important expression of the Church. [Ten days after I published this post, YWAM England founder Lynn Green posted his own thoughts on the relationship between YWAM and local churches, which are interesting to read in the context of this discussion.]
Cambridge House of Prayer.
And I need to mention CamHoP as well, because as we have spent some time discussing as a leadership team, if the Cambridge House of Prayer is called to be a ‘fresh expression of church’ (my view is that we should think of Houses of Prayer as ‘fresh expressions of cathedral!‘) then it is essential that we do not shy back from calling it a church. It may be a ‘different’ sort of church, it may not be competing with other churches for exclusive members, but it is not anything less than ‘a church’: two or three gathered in the name of Jesus, committed to trusting, praying, and obeying the word of God corporately and individually.
So those are the ‘churches’ in Cambridge that I regularly attend. And I haven’t mentioned ‘my’ church in Luton – New Covenant Fellowship, where I still sometimes get the opportunity to preach. Or Taryn’s church in Delhi, DBF Central, which prayed us out from India as we departed to England as missionaries. Not to mention that although we’re no longer members, I am still very fond of my old Cambridge church, CPC. But what I really want to say is that all of us as Christians are called not just to attend some church or other, but also to multiply the kingdom of God by discipling whoever you can to grow into a greater measure of faith and obedience, while standing in humble solidarity with all the other expressions of the church in your city and across the world. It might be that the church you go to has a fantastic multiplying small group strategy, in which you should get involved and seek to be trained to lead a small-group whose members would themselves become small-group leaders who would multiply other leaders–and on ad infinitum. But if your church doesn’t have such a strategy, that doesn’t mean you need to leave your church–but it does mean that you will have to take more initiative to start some group in which you can gather people to come and be discipled.
Leading out in discipleship in non-negotiable
I am convinced that this is a non-negotiable aspect of the Christian life. How exactly you do it is up to you, though there are a few constants that you’ll need to think about.
First, there’s the question of who you can disciple. In theory, this is easy: EVERYBODY! If they don’t know Jesus, then you can be the first person to really explain the simple gospel message to them; if they do know Jesus, then you can try to mobilise them with a vision for multipying discipleship.
Second, there’s the question of where to meet. Anywhere will do – you don’t need a religious building to talk about spiritual things. Though some places are obviously better than others for a group of people to have discussion and fellowship.
Third, you need to find (or more likely, create!) a time in your weekly schedule that you can commit to being free, and that will also work for the others who you want to come and join you.
Fourth, you need to work out what discipleship material you are going to use. There are a thousand different possibilities, but my conviction is that in the long-term, the only material you need, and actually the most powerful, is the Bible itself. And in the short-term you want a fairly brief course that will help take people from where they are to a healthy engagement with the Scriptures. If it’s helpful then you are more than welcome to try and use my Simple Christianity course – and feel free to adapt it however you see fit. Or there’s the Alpha Course, which is probably the world’s best-known introductory discipleship course for not-yet Christians.
Or it might be that what works best in your situation is just to invite whoever you can to the church service that you regularly attend, and then afterwards invite them home to a meal and ask them what they made of what they heard–but it’s essential, that you don’t neglect this latter part, because if you’ve been a Christian for a while, and you’re inviting someone who is a young or not-yet Christian, then there will certainly have been a long list of things that were interesting to you but unintelligible to them.
Conclusion: ‘Be the Church you want to see in the world.’
So anyway, that’s my answer to the ‘where do you go to church?’ question. Which is probably just a long way of me saying that I believe that the church is first and foremost not a place we go to, but a people of which I am part. And those who are part of the church have been commissioned not just to go to a religious service once or twice a week, but to GO and find whoever they can, and invite them to COME and encounter the transforming love of God.