"Doing Church" and "Being Church" and Teenagers
As Youth Pastors, we are assisting parents in raising a generation of “Christ followers” that we desire to be passionately in love with the God of the universe. We want them to be grounded in their faith so that when they leave our youth groups and the watches of their parents, they thrive in this world of faith. We want them to be bold in their faith and do things that no one else is called to do. We have huge dreams for our teenagers and for the students that we lead. And I believe all of those things are awesome to think about and teach toward.
There is an underlying issue that we must begin to think about and deal with and I am seeing it more and more with kids that I am working with that are out of high school. More and more, teenagers that are out of high school are asking the question, “What exactly is church?” or more precisely, “What exactly should church be in the future?” This question is asked by the disconnected post high school students that are trying to understand what happened as they got caught up in the wake of pain that their “church” left them in. It is being asked by mildly connected students who are wanting more from their church. They are looking for a consumer fill up of their tank and don’t feel as though they are getting it. It is being asked by those that have invested themselves in the local organizational church and have bled and sweat for this organization. They are asking whether it is really all for naught or whether we are truly impacting the kingdom of God doing church the way that we are doing it.
As we think about the future of the church as leaders in our local context, I wonder if it is time to open the can of worms and begin pulling them out one by one, examining each one and determining whether they are really part of what Jesus calls “his church” or if they are only figments of someone’s innovation and imagination in the past. Are we doing church the way that we do church because it’s the way that it always has been done or are we doing it because it is mandated somehow by the God of the universe? I think that there are a lot of our students asking these questions.
Certainly, most of us would say that the church is a group of people. But if we truly begin to deconstruct the church down to that basic idea, don’t we tend to begin to lose some of the things that we hold dear? For instance, do we really need music to have a church service? And do we need to have teaching? What about leadership in a church? Obviously, it’s biblical and it is somewhat mandated, but how much of what Paul writes to Timothy crosses contextual and cultural boundaries? Are pastors supposed to be the “CEO’s” of the local church? These are all questions that begin to be asked if we stick with our simple answer of “the church is simply a gathering of those that follow Christ.”
Might I suggest that we stop answering as though there is a simple answer to this question in the American context? (I know, scary.)
I think that the issue that we sometimes pay lip service to Acts 2 as “the model” for church today. While I think there are some amazing principle in that section of scripture, sometimes we forget just a few things about that chapter in our easy answer to teenagers.
1. The beginning of Acts 2 is set in a context of utter chaos. The holy spirit takes control and there are people that understand languages that they shouldn’t understand! The people around the Christ followers have several different responses (How are they doing this? Amazement and perplexed. They must be drunk with wine.) In this passage, we find chaos. And I wonder if the American church so values orderliness that we don’t allow the spirit of God to actually control us. This could be evidenced by using phrases such as ‘being sensitive to the spirit’ or ‘following God’s spirit.” These folks weren’t sensitive or following, they were simply controlled! For the church to BE the church, we must be controlled by the Holy Spirit.
2. Acts 2 is set deeply in a context of history. In the first verse, we find that Pentacost is mentioned. For a first century Jewish Christian, they would have just got done telling the story from Exodus 12-19 and thought about the giving of the law. The giving of the law in Exodus 19 is crazy! Read it. Thunder (voices) and lightning descend upon the mountain because it’s God’s mountain. No other political power controls this mountain, God’s spirit does. The parallels between this historical event of law giving and the giving of the Holy Spirit are phenomenal. Our churches must be deeply set in the context of history.
3. Acts 2 is set deeply in scripture. And this might be the most important one. We sometimes disregard Peter’s message (although great preachers need to study this section) because right after Peter’s message is the “traditional” text when talking about the church. But Peter is speaking about the church and he references whole sections and books of scripture that the church needs to be deeply set in. The fantastic set up of God’s kingdom comes from what he says, the inspired and inerrant word of God!
4. Acts 2 gives us a model for a set up of a church as an expression of culture. In Acts 2:42-47, there are several things that are cultural representations of how church could happen in that culture. For instance, gathering together and sharing things in common wasn’t necessarily a countercultural concept. It was a concept of survival in those days. Other people and groups did this and did it well. What was countercultural was that “they gave to everyone that was in need” (even those outside their group). They were willing to bring others into their group which was countercultural and they freely shared the message of impact with their context. There are great principles here but to try and model our American churches after this particular 5 verses would be difficult if we are to be any sort of an expression of our context. I know that some will argue with me that we shouldn’t be that, but Jesus found himself in a culture and context that he somewhat conformed to. He wasn’t some completely different ‘stranger’ to the Jewish people, rather, he became one of them!
A few other things that I think we need to point out with teenagers.
A critique of culture – We have to be willing to go here. Talking about what it means to live in a decentralized relationship culture is an important discipleship discussion. When our teenagers are more connected in a digital world then they are at their youth group, we have to be willing to critique that culture by asking a lot of questions. We live in a culture that is very individualistic and so many young post high school students are asking, how can we actually live in community with others? The answer is actually found in Acts 2. They found themselves ALL together in one place. Many scholars believe that this was the 12 plus a few. Regardless, it’s not like they looked around and said, “Oh, everyone is here! We should have a meeting.” They were intentional about their community. They were intentional about meeting. They lived in close enough proximity that they could be spontaneous if necessary. I don’t know that we live in a much different context today.
A Theological Critique of “how” we do Church – Everything that we do is based in a belief. What are we teaching our teenagers about God when we place the cross in the middle of the stage? What are we teaching when we don’t have a cross and drums are central to the stage? What about the way that we set up our pews or chairs? Is that communicating implicitly that someone is to be revered higher then someone else? Is it simply a cultural understanding of teaching? These critiques are helpful in teaching teenagers and young adults how to process the idea of “doing” church.
A close study of all of Acts 2 will reveal more of a philosophy and theology of how to BE the church.
I’m excited to be part of this ongoing conversation and believe it is something that if your not already involved with, you need to be. Obviously, you are passionate about the church or you wouldn’t be doing what you are doing. Let’s pray like crazy and teach God’s word to our kids!
About Me, Chris Rollman
My name is Chris Rollman. I am married to a wonderful woman, Cassie, and we have two pretty cool kids. Isaiah is a handful but a wonderful handful and Evy is a bundle of joy and alot of fun!
My mission is 1. Lead my family well and 2. Multiply churches that multiply churches to saturate our county with the gospel and reduce the lostness. I am the "Pastor of Church Planting" at West E. Free Church in Wichita, KS.
I grew up in Central Iowa, North of Des Moines in Ankeny, Ia. I realized at a young age that church could be a real dangerous place to be and went through high school going to a solid 'safe' church. But the extreme experiences that I had with church was only mirrored with the extreme experiences that I have and had with God. He seemed distant sometimes and so close other times. I realized that discipleship and following him wasn't about whether it felt good, but whether or not I was consistent and obedient all because I was madly in love with him. I want others to experience this growth in their lives. I want those that don't know Christ to come to know him through the relationships that they have with people that know and follow Jesus!