“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from God, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14
How many times over the past few years have you read or heard the phrase “leaving the church”? As in “the youth are leaving the church; young adults are leaving the church; people are leaving the church…” etc.
If you keep up with North American (or western) church pop culture and bleeding edge content you have no doubt heard this a lot.
I don’t like the phrase because I believe it is unintentionally deceptive.
Are people really leaving the church? Perhaps it is better to look at it from another angle – the church is leaving people.
Maybe the church is leaving youth and young adults…maybe it is the church that is doing the leaving whereas people are where they have always been…in the trenches of day to day life working through culture and adapting according to cultural requires and norms. The church is leaving people – it is leaving people where they are as it cements itself, motionless into the earth.
There is one model for church ministry and it is best articulated by John 1:14 (see above) which states unequivocally that the church comes to the people. The church recognizes as God does that people do not speak the language of God and therefore God must, in all humility, become people, with all the trappings of their culture, in their tongues and clothes, eating their food and travelling in their midst.
The church, like God, becomes Christ and dwells or tabernacles in the midst of people…whoever they are, wherever they are, however they are.
Christ is the living model of the church…Christ who chose not to cement himself within the walls of the temple in Jerusalem and bid the world come to him but rather Christ who gave up all possessions and wandered with purpose to the world. Christ who sat and spoke with those who seemed to need God the most…thieves and beggars, prostitutes and the sick; prisoners and fisherman. This is the model of the church.
When Christ settles upon the mountain to deliver his sermon those that listen listen. When he is finished and moves on it is not the people who leave him but he who moves on to other people to meet them where they are…there are many who choose to follow him in this journey.
Make no mistake, despite the many instances of people seeking out and finding Christ it is not people who come to Christ but rather Christ who comes to people…it is God who enters into the world coming from a place that we cannot go…it is God recognizing the foolishness of asking people to come to God and thus choosing to become us and journey into our lives.
This is the model of church and no other.
In this then we can firmly say that when the numbers of the church diminish it is not because people are leaving the church so much as the church is leaving the people. The church saying if you want me come to me…come to me well-dressed and polite; come to me quiet and without question; come to me…
“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” – Matthew 8:20
A homeless Christ is a wandering Christ. A homeless Christ is a dynamic Christ out in the world wandering from people to people and bringing his presence with him. A homeless Christ is a Christ who deliberately chooses to be as he is.
The church is as the church deliberately chooses to be…there are no accidents in this…only intention.
People will always be where they are – easily found in the world in the midst of their pain and poverty be that a poverty of wealth or spirit or both. People are not hard to find…the church however has been increasingly static and cemented into the earth…the church is increasingly presenting a Christ who has chosen Jerusalem and the temple as his home where people must come and bring offering to sustain him. This is not Christ.
“Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”” – Matthew 24:1-3
“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” – Matthew 27:50-51
There is no temple. There is no home for God because God destroyed it…God does not dwell but moves in and through people…seeking them out, transforming them and causing them also to move. God is fluid and like water God flows as Christ to the darkest of places bringing refreshment and life.
Christ is a nomad wearing the same clothes and speaking the same language as the people he seeks out doing so to such a degree and with such fearlessness as to be called a sinner and a drunkard and a glutton by the good people of the world…and so too is his church.