a church that walks…

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.

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7 thoughts on “a church that walks…

    • Dave-
      Great to hear from you brother! We miss you guys! Yeah, those evenings percolating thoughts together about so many things with a good strong cup of coffee were great times, and were a big part of my current journey. Hope you’re well. Keep in touch!

  1. Keith my cousin, what a wonderful truth your little guy said! And thanks so much for fleshing it out in such a thoughtful and inspiring way. I resonate with it so much and can’t wait to share this post with Shan and others. One thought though that I can hear others respond to. In our current culture, would it be true that church means mainly “building where people our community gathers” and Christians would mean “people who are called to join Jesus in the world.” We both agree this definition of church is not biblical, but I could say someone making the point that language is fluid and that just because there’s different meanings behind words then what once was, doesn’t mean that people don’t agree with the desire to be a people of God. They would likely say, “I agree with you, but isn’t this just semantics?” What would you say?

    • Jeff- great thoughts. Semantics… maybe, but language creates culture, so I think we need to be careful. I agree that language is fluid, but I’m not sure I would completely agree with the fact that Christians understand the church to mean “people who are called to join Jesus in the world,” by and large. I think that ever since Constantine did us that great favor in 314, we have been prone to regress to more of a temple understanding, if not in word, then in practice. Where did the culture get the idea that churches are primarily buildings or events? I would say that comes from what they saw practiced.
      Now all that being said, my heart’s desire is about reputation more than language. I want us to be actively working toward a point that when people in our communities hear the name Cumberland Valley Church, or Manor Church, or LifePath Church, that their first thought is not, “that’s the one with the gym, right?” Or, “They have really good music there on Sundays,” or in our case, “I’ve never heard of that church,” 🙂 BUT RATHER ==>> “Aren’t they the ones who led that relief effort for the family that lost their house to the fire?” and “Isn’t that the group that hosts big meals and invites people with different beliefs to come and join them too?” and “those are the guys who tutor some of the kids in my sons 3rd grade class!” I really think that’s how the people of God can regain influence and integrity in the culture again. And I truly think that the way we talk about and understand the church can help decompartmentalize it for the rest of the world. Thoughts?

  2. Agreed. I think that too many Christians do see the church communities primary identity tied into a building and a weekly gathering rather then a people joined by a common mission to partner with God in bringing alive his Kingdom right here and now. Yet I think what happens is that churches like CVC and Manor are known for both things depending on who you ask – Sunday morning/building AND service and presence for good in the community. However, the problem is that the building/service can sometimes seem more important and thus cloud out what we want people to be seeing that we are all about. Make sense? To overcome this, I think a church that has a building and tends to see its building as the main place for ministry (aka CVC), needs to recalibrate itself. Perhaps its a season of not meeting in the building, perhaps it’s moving towards missional communities, maybe both etc. It’s important as you know because few people who are not already looking for a church are going to be drawn by a nice building with good programs. They are looking for a community that models service, authenticity, journey, sharing life and transformation – a truer picture of the church. But we have to first believe that is the kind of community we are called to be before anyone else can see it as being true.

    • Right on, Jeff. That vision has got to take hold in our hearts first. That’s why we’ve started LifePath with a small group of folks, and our first phase here was not with the intention of growing at all- simply growing deeper in how we want to live out the kingdom in our community, and what the church really is all about (a balance of UP, IN, and OUT relationships). In terms of buildings, they can be a great benefit, obviously. In our language we often talk about the real benefit of church buildings only taking hold once they become “centers of mission.” More like an airport than a resort city, you know? Helping people get mobilized to live the way that they were intended, celebrating what God is doing “out there” so that those inside the building can be compelled to live out faith and incarnate the gospel for the other 167 hours of the week (depending on your length of service 🙂 ). And of course, the other side of being a center of mission is that it becomes both a place where refueling can occur, as well as a physical place that can be utilized in social ways (ie, allowing recovery groups use of the space, hosting community events, etc… as long as that’s not used as an excuse to never actually leave the building- that’s a risk too). So I’m not necessarily anti-building. I think the key lies in exactly what you mentioned… where do we find our identity?

  3. Keith,
    I love your blog on the walking church. I think that Jesus would applaud the phrase. After all, he spent much of his timing teaching while he was walking. Would that we (the people) would be a walking church all the time. Your idea affirms a centuries old concept that church is always people never just a building or organization. Those things are extras. May they never get in the way of Christians being compassionate and merciful people. Keep walking (and along the way listen to your kids, they can say the most insightful things)!
    Blessings in Jesus,
    Woody

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