As we worshiped together at the Upper Crust this week, several thoughts came to me that led me to immense gratitude for God's providence in our young, "portable" church. What do I mean by portable? Simply that we don't have an official church building that we can call our own. So, some Sundays, like this past one, we worship at other locations together. But why should we be grateful for this? Isn't it just a big hassle? We had to load everything up in the trailer and do a whole bunch of extra setup work. Everyone had to get up even earlier. In fact, wouldn't our setup work be so much easier if we had our own building where we could just leave everything in place for the next week? Well, yes. These "annoyances" would be avoided in our own location. But the reality that hit me on Sunday was just how minor those annoyances are in comparison to the blessings. Without our own building, we are reminded every week - and particularly on weeks such as this past one - that the church actually has very little to do with the building. This is hard to remember in our culture, where we use the word church almost exclusively to describe a building or location where we go to do things like worship or have Bible study. But the church is actually the people of God. The Greek word translated church - ekklesia - literally means "the called ones." A building is not a church. Jesus promised us that "where two or three gather in my name, there I am among them" (Matthew 18:20). Nowhere in the New Testament do you see Jesus or the Apostles talking about the church as a lifeless building or place. In fact, Jesus speaks strongly against it. In John 4, he explains to a woman that the Father is not seeking worshipers who worship merely at a specific place, but worshipers who worship "in spirit and truth." So, the primary blessing for us is that we are constantly reminded that the church is the living, breathing body Christ - God's people. This people worships God wherever they gather. It was beautiful to come together in a completely different place with a totally different feel this week, and hear the voices of his people ring out strong and clear. Indeed, it is not the building that ushers us into God's presence. Rather it is the blood of Christ that makes a way to God's throne. And the Spirit is among us to bring us there.
There are many other blessings in the portable church we can thank God for. We are constantly propelled out into the community, because we don't have a place to which we can retreat. Likewise we are propelled into one another's homes throughout the week, allowing us to practice hospitality toward one another. We can easily miss out on these blessings if we have a prescribed and safe place to go for everything we do. Additionally, we are stretched as a people to corporately take ownership in our Sunday gatherings, because it does take so much service and sacrifice to pull them off. This guards us from letting only the handful of laborers make Sundays happen. Instead, we have a weekly opportunity to serve one another and to contribute to the mission by sacrificiing our time and getting down in the trenches to do humble, sometimes thankless work: plugging in cords, setting up a book table, etc. I'm amazed at how many people give to make our Sundays happen week in and week out. This is a prime avenue for God's sanctifying work as he transforms us into humble, sacrificial servants like Jesus. Plus, we just get to spend more time together on Sundays, connecting and building relationships while we serve!
Lastly, we also have an opportunity to bless the place (and thank God for it!) that we do call home, the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts. As I participated in the True/False Film Festival this weekend, I saw 90% of the films in the Missouri Theatre. I was reminded consistently by overheard conversations that this venue is a beautiful, unique place in our city. It's the premier place to gather and enjoy the arts together. So many people around me had not yet seen it in its restored elegance. They marveled at it. I paused numerous times to think, "Wow...we get to meet here and praise God like 50 Sundays out the year. That's amazing." So we should thank God for the place he has given us to meet, even as we remember that the place is secondary. He has been exceedingly generous to us. And, moreveover, that generosity has come to us through the MO Theatre staff, such as David White, Tyler Richardson and John Gilbreth. These folks have given much of their time and energy to making this work for us. We have a great opportunity to bless them and the whole Theatre by our own generosity and sacrifice to make sure we take good care of what we've been given, as well as by seeking to frequently bless and thank the people by whom God has given it to us.
So, yes, Karis. As strange as it may sound, let's thank God that we don't have our own building. And let's sieze the opportunity of being a portable church.