The other day my 3 year old son Judah was recalling a memory and trying to retell it to my wife Bethany. Part of my role as a church planter is to travel to other church families that are partnering with us, and share about the type of community we’re creating in northern Delaware, so our kids often get pulled along on several hour drives to come along.
We travel to lots of church families and have lots of conversations with our little guys about what “church” means. One of the things that we’ve been reinforcing lately is that church is people, and not a place, a building, or an event. So we often tell them that we don’t “go to church” anymore, and that our church (LifePath) is a group of friends who care about each other and do life together, and love God together. It actually helps that we have no building, so they get this reinforced on an experiential level as well.
But we still use the wording that “Daddy’s going to speak at a church” sometimes. Which brings us to the comment Judah made last week. He was telling a story about one church that I had shared with recently, and Bethany asked him if it was our church. His response was this comment:
“No, the church that can’t walk, the church you go to.”
Not meaning this to be a put down on the other church, which happened to have a building (that’s not inherently a bad thing!), I found his comment to be kind of profound for a kid who thinks that biting himself is a worthwhile way to pass the time. He was invertedly describing that LifePath is a church that walks (because the church is people). This got me going in a number of directions.
I’ve been thinking about that all week. What if churches became known for walking… where movement is always occuring? Churches that walk are more organic than organized. There’s life, there’s legs, feet, hands- all moving.
Scripturally, the image of walking is huge in God’s relationship with people. In Genesis, our picture of Yahweh comes as a creator who walks with his creation, strolling through the garden in the cool of the day. His question of “where are you?” to Adam hints at the idea that it was rare for Adam not to be walking along with him in those moments.
There’s something about walking that takes relationships to another level. You can sit and listen, you can even talk, but when we experience moving alongside someone, there’s a shared journey, an experience. We tend to grow closer because of it. Even in one of the paramount passages in all of the scriptures, a simple summary of God’s desires for people, is found in Micah 6:8:
No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
God wants us to walk. Not just to stand, not just to listen, but to be people of movement, constantly walking with and toward God, and with and toward others that we may love and bless.
Walking continues most directly in the gospels, when God himself “took on flesh and dwelt among us.” (John said that). Jesus walks, as Kanye so elegantly put it (maybe the only elegant thing he said?). He walks with his disciples, he walks with the cross, and he walks as the resurrected Lord. How fascinating that on the day Jesus rises, here’s what Luke tells us happened: There are these two guys talking about all the crazy weekend events surrounding Jesus and his execution, heading to a town called Emmaus. “As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him” (until later, that is).
Jesus didn’t float down to earth to impart wisdom in some cosmic kickin sermon and then disappear back to the great blue. He lived, he walked, he ate, he shared life, he served. We need to understand that this was way beyond just telling people what to do! He shared in the journey of all those he came in contact with. Instead of just proclamation (maybe the most common way the church tries to impact the world) we have incarnation. It’s hard to put yourself on a pedestal when you’re walking with someone. It’s kind of like eating together- it’s an equalizer. When Jesus walked with people, even though he was in very nature God, (Paul said that), he was both giving us a glimpse into how God wants to relate to us, as well as giving us an example as to how we are to relate to the world. So we go way beyond proclamation (spoken word) and move into incarnation (shared life).
Jesus started the Church. He appointed his apprentices to go out and do the things he had done, to follow his example, and his spirit would be hanging with them and all who followed after them every step of the way. So we call the worldwide Church the Body of Christ. We have the distinct invitation and responsibility to represent God’s Kingdom in this world- literally, to be Jesus’ visible presence. So as representatives of Jesus, we really should be appalled at the created understanding of a church as a place or event. God is living and active, not a stone shrine or well adorned cathedral. God is constantly present, not a one hour time slot that we “attend.” And if the church is made up of people who have the spirit of God in them, then “church” can’t be any of those things either. Many of us already believe that, but few have actually changed our language… and that matters.
When we see the Church as people who are on mission with God to restore the broken world and people that He loves so much, then we have to be about the business of making churches walk. We follow the example of Jesus, and we journey with people. We go out to love, we don’t just ask them to come. We listen as we stroll; we don’t just talk. We must become more known for the organism (read: alive!) than the organization (read: institution). The Church is sorely in need of a good workout- powerwalking might just be the place to start.
I really hope that my son hangs onto the current vision he has of “church”- and I deeply hope that our own faith community can live into his prophetic little word of becoming like Jesus intended- being a church that walks with others, and walks with God, in an ongoing journey of hope, discovery, and love.