Do you remember playing school as a child? You would rig up a desk, grab a chalk board if one was handy, gather some paper and a pencil and declare who would be the teacher and who would be the student. It was fun, but it wasn’t really school. It was, after all, only pretend.
I think today, some of us are doing the same thing on Sunday mornings. We rig up the right environment. We grab the right supplies, and we usually know who is playing what role, but are we really participating in church, or are we, too, just pretending?
The answer may depend on how we define the word “church.” Is it a building where people gather to have religious meetings, or is it the service being held? It’s both, but it also more. In its Christian essence, the church is a community of believers. And with that word “community” comes a totally different context for our Sunday morning experiences.
A community indicates people who are living together. Now, granted, not all of us live in rural areas where congregations are small and everyone knows everyone else. In fact, some of our churches have multiple services with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people attending each one. We come from a variety of backgrounds, live in different areas, have different socio-economic statuses. It is impossible to declare that in order to really participate in church, we must live together.
But try thinking of “living together” not in terms of physical relations but in terms of spiritual, emotional and mental relations. As Christians, we have a common set of beliefs that govern our world view and our lives. We have something that unites us far beyond the color of our skin, the bottom line in our bank account, the zip code on our mail, or the letters after our name. We have Jesus.
He is the unifying factor that truly defines church. And it is more than singing songs together or listening to a sermon together or even praying together once a week. Because Christianity at its very core is about a relationship—a relationship with God through God’s son, Jesus Christ. That relationship should be so full of love and power that it flows out of us and to other people, especially other believers in our church, spilling over from Sunday into Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon, and Wednesday evening—all the way to the weekend. Church, then, shouldn’t just be about a place or a service; although that is a huge part of it. It should be about the people. Outside of any close friends or family with whom you worship, I want you to consider: How often do you speak to the people in your church other than when you see them at church? Do you know what is going on in the lives of your Sunday school members or small group class? When was the last time you sent a card, made a phone call, or stopped by to visit someone who sits on your pew? Do you even know their names?
In 1 Corinthians 12:27, Paul writes, “You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.” And in Ephesians 4:12 he says, “His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ.” That’s what real church is about—getting to know, love and care for the body of Christ.
These are the thoughts I had as I sat in church this past Sunday, as I glanced around at the strangers sitting in the seats just inches away. These are the convictions that I felt. In my heart, I know I heard the Lord say, “Isn’t it time to stop playing church? After all, this is not just pretend.”